Helena and Richard Girdler


Then God save the King! may we ever be staunch

To our worshipful Guild in its root and its branch,

And as we make merry and taste of the joys

Which the jolly old Girdlers have left for their boys,

May we never forget the Great Girdler above,

Who encircles the world with his Girdle of Love.

 Friar John Lonarius.

It was once fairly common in England for a man to be named according to the trade he practised. The name "Girdler" was therefore given to the maker of girdles and this is how the name originated. The first recorded "Girdler" was one Gerard the Girdler who was Master of the Company of Girdlers in London in 1209, whose Hall is still to be found at Moorgate in London. The making of girdles was not confined to London, however, so there were also Girdlers in other parts of the country.

A girdle was an article of clothing which for long periods of history was a prominent and important item worn by king and peasant alike. It was a band or belt worn round the waist, or later as fashion varied, round the hips. The belts had a variety of uses and therefore varied greatly in character. The simplest kind consisted of a piece of rope wound round the waist to secure the tunic, but more often they were made of leather, fastened in front with a metal buckle and with smaller straps on each side from which hung the sword or dagger. Others were much more elaborate, made of silk or velvet, heavily embroidered with jewels, gold and silver, and usually fastened in front with a large clasp or ornamental fastening and were looped in such a way that the long free end hung down in front. They could be from less than an inch to three inches wide and on them could be suspended a purse, keys, rosary, pen and ink-horn and sometimes even books. Great skill was employed in the workmanship so that it was often a very beautiful and expensive article, so much so that a person's status could be judged by the kind of girdle he or she was wearing.

Many restrictions were placed upon the quality of materials which could be used in order to uphold the standard, and accordingly only the best were considered suitable, and any girdles that were found to be sub-standard and made of inferior materials were destroyed. The following patent was issued in the reign of Edward 111 in 1326-7:-

"The Girdlers of our City of London have shown that it was the custom that no man of the said trade should cause any Girdle of silk, of wool, of leather, or of linen thread to be garnished with any inferior metal than with intone (an alloy of copper, zinc, lead and tin), copper, iron, and steel, and that if any work should be found garnished with inferior metal, the same should be burnt. And if any work of the Girdlers shall be garnished with lead, pewter or tin, or other false thing the same shall be burnt and the workmen punished for their false work."

Laws were imposed which indicated what kind of girdles were allowed to be worn by people of different ranks. No one under the rank of Earl was allowed to use a golden girdle, and in Queen Mary's time -in 1553- a penalty of £10 per day was imposed for any man under a certain rank who wore silk on his girdle. In the 14th century the punishment for the theft of a girdle was hanging.

Many girdlers during this time were exceedingly wealthy, as shown by the fact that a girdler, though not a Girdler by name, was Lord Mayor of London in 1333. Most girdlers lived within a few hundred yards of the Girdlers Hall. Some idea of the number of people engaged in the trade of girdling may be gauged from the fact that in 1666 the number of artizan girdlers in London who belonged to the Company of Girdlers was 690, and the number of officers of the Guild was 81. Each member was entitled to have two apprentices bound to him and "to set on werke his wedded wife and daughters", so that the total number of people employed as girdlers :as quite large considering that the total population of London was about 200,000 at that time, and indicates what an extensive trade Girdling was in the City of London.

The girdle gradually went out of fashion and had dropped out of general use altogether by the middle of the 18th century, but it is still used at grand ceremonial occasions and Coronations, in which a girdle of cloth of gold is placed upon the monarch. The Girdlers were no longer able to earn a living by making girdles and were therefore obliged to obtain other means of employment. Thus the Girdler name today owes its origin to the fact that our ancestors were engaged in the ancient trade of girdling.

My Girdler Family Tree

My Grandmothers Family Tree

Richards Mothers Family Tree