Although the Taylors appear in the City's freemen from 1273, the earliest reference to guild organisation are the ordinances and register of members dating from 1387, and entered in the City's memorandum book among the City Archives. In medieval days the tailors were closely associated with the religious and charitable confraternity of St. John the Baptist, the fraternity that built the present Hall. During this period the York Tailors enjoyed a golden age, playing a major role in the social as well as economic life of the City. As one of the leading York City craft guilds, the tailors also played an important role in the famous sequence of York Corpus Christi mystery plays.
From the reign of Elizabeth I the Company’s archives survive in greater quantities. The earliest surviving Apprentice Register begins in 1605, and shows that during the following four years 165 boys were apprenticed within the Company, of whom about a fifth were born in the City, the remainder being nearly all immigrants from nearby Yorkshire villages. Such a pattern of recruitment remained usual for the next two centuries.
Until the 1830s the Merchant Taylors’ Company, which included a few women among its members, was essentially a working body of master tailors, York freemen of some substance but rarely of outstanding status or wealth within their City. Only by leasing their Hall for a variety of purposes, mostly educational, theatrical or convivial, did they succeed – where most other once celebrated medieval English guilds eventually failed – in preserving their buildings into the early nineteenth century.
When, in 1835, the Municipal Corporations Act formally removed all guild restrictions on industrial activity,the Company of the York Taylors – and their Hall – faced their greatest crisis by far. Indeed they were almost unknown to most residents as well as visitors to the City.
Until within living memory, the Hall itself stood in seclusion behind a row of unprepossessing cottages on the north side of Aldwark. Throughout the Victorian period the Hall provided a suitable site for elementary schooling and although the Company was continuously plagued by severe financial problems, the continuity of its membership was never allowed to lapse completely.
Thanks to the labours of Mr H E Harrowell, a well-known York solicitor, and many others, from the late 1930s onwards, the Great and Little Halls have gradually been restored to their former splendour. Now maintained by the Members of the Company, it stands as a memorial to six centuries of continuous, if ever-changing, guild history and to the endeavours of the many generations of Merchant Taylors who have preserved it from oblivion.
Taylors are first mentioned in the Freemen's rolls when they are described as Taylours and licensed to export wool.
The Guild controlled its own admission and was administered rigorously by a Master and four Searchers.
Tailors used Petre Hall (Pear Tree Hall/Peter Hall) for their communal business activities
First specific reference to the "the land and hall of the fraternity of St John the Baptist" (the earliest fabric of the present Great Hall dates from about this period)
First mention of an adjoining York Taylor's maisondieu or almshouse
Henry VI's charter incorporates a perpetual fraternity or guild of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, with a Master and four Wardens
The Small Hall first built in timber framing
Last record of the Guilds of St John the Baptist, dissolved at the Reformation
Merged with Drapers and Hosiers
Great Hall fireplace constructed
Tenements existed adjoining a Gatehouse on Aldwark
Royal Charter of Charles II
Waits' (Musicians) Gallery added to Great Hall
Henry Gyles paints Queen Anne Window in the Small Hall
Medieval maisondieu demolished.
Both Great and Little Halls faced in brick.
New almshouses built
Municipal Reform Act abolishes craft guild restrictions on industry.
Kitchens built adjacent to the Hall, providing catering facilities on site.
Royal Grant of their own Arms to the Taylors' Company of York.
New Reception Wing completed.
Commissioning of new stained glass windows to replace those in the East to mark the 600th Anniversary of the Hall.