At the western end of Cheapside in the City of London, the Sign of the Golden Bottle marked the goldsmith’s establishment where Richard Hoare completed his apprenticeship on 5th July 1672. He opened his first ledger on 6th September 1673 and by May 1674, he was paying the rates for the shop, so it is likely he took over the business in November 1673 when his master, Robert Tempest, died. Typically, a goldsmith’s services would include the buying and selling of gold plate and jewellery, as well as engraving, gilding and varnishing goods brought in by customers. A look at Richard’s workbook reveals that the most common items to pass through his hands were porringers, trencher plates, candlesticks and snuffers (more unusual entries mention ‘ear pickers’ and a cheese toaster).
Nearly all the businesses in that small corner of the City were goldsmiths’ workshops; there was a tight cluster of them, known as Goldsmith’s Row, between Bread Street and Friday Street. The house at the Sign of the Golden Bottle was new, as were all the houses in the street and many of the buildings in London. Most of the City had gone up in flames in 1666, when Richard, the son of a Smithfield horse trader, was in the second year of his apprenticeship. But by the time he qualified, the goldsmiths’ quarter had been reconstructed in inflammable stone.
As old London rose from the ashes of the Great Fire – ‘a medieval growth crystallised in Stuart and Georgian brick’1 – a newer London began to take shape to the west of the City. Grand houses and fashionable squares were built into the open fields north of St James’s Palace and in the pastureland of Soho beyond. Commerce was growing as fast as this new ‘west end’. In 1690, Richard who, like many goldsmiths, had diversified into banking, left Goldsmith’s Row and moved to new premises on Fleet Street – still within the City boundary, but closer to the homes of the people making use of the financial services he was able to offer.
Then, as now, customer relationships were the heart of the business. Trustworthiness was the defining trait of Richard Hoare’s business and character. It was a genuine commercial asset, more real and reassuring than any of the padlocked strongboxes in his cellar. His banking activities had made him wealthy by the turn of the century, and he became well-known and respected in the City. In 1712, Richard Hoare served as Lord Mayor of London – the first of several Hoares to hold that post.
Richard Hoare brought the sign of the Golden Bottle with him to Fleet Street. The sign itself, a simple leather bottle that was gilded to catch the attention of passers-by, may once have been affixed above the entrance to the shop, but now takes pride of place in the bank’s museum. The original object is rather less resplendent some three centuries on, but the stylised version of the Golden Bottle that serves as C. Hoare & Co.’s logo remains above the doorway at 37 Fleet Street – a shining symbol of the bank’s longevity.
1 J Summerson, Georgian London, 1962