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Bristol Merchant Adventurers

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  • Nicholas Cutt (b. - 1582)
    John Cutts conveyed the family manor in Burnett in 1599 to Bridget Cutts, widow of Nicholas John Cutts, a Wine Merchant of Bristol, another son [5th] of John Cutt. John Whitson grew up in Clearwell i...
  • John Whitson, MP (c.1554 - bef.1629)
    John Whitson (c. 1555 – 1629) was an English merchant and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1605 and 1626. He is buried in the Crypt of St Nicholas church in the City ...
  • John Becher (1677 - 1743)
    John Becher was born on 1 September 1677 at County Cork, Ireland, the son of Colonel Thomas Becher and Elizabeth Turner. He married, firstly, Hester Duddlestone, daughter of Sir John Duddlestone, 1st B... The Society of Merchant Venturers is a charitable organisation in the English city of Bristol.

The society can be traced back to a 13th-century guild which funded the voyage of John Cabot to Canada that marked the origins of the British Empire.[1] The society its first Royal Charter in 1552 and for centuries had almost been synonymous with the government of Bristol, especially Bristol Harbour. In recent times, the society's activities have centred on charitable agendas.[2]

The Society played a part in the development of Bristol, including the building of Clifton Suspension Bridge and the Great Western Railway. It also influenced the development of educational institutions in Greater Bristol, including University of Bristol, University of the West of England, University of Bath, City of Bristol College, Colston's Girls' School and Merchants' Academy.

History A Guild of Merchants was founded in Bristol by the 13th century, and swiftly became active in civic life. It funded John Cabot's voyage of discovery to Newfoundland in 1497. The society in its current form was established by a 1552 Royal Charter from Edward VI granting the society a monopoly on Bristol's sea trade.[3] The society remained in effective control of Bristol's harbour until 1809.[4] Further charters were granted by Charles I, Charles II and Elizabeth II. The society's members were active in the English colonisation of North America, helping to establish the Bristol's Hope and Cuper's Cove settlements in Newfoundland.[4]

In 1694, the Merchant Venturers Society petitioned parliament against the monopoly held by the Royal African Company in the slave trade, leading to the ending of this monopoly in 1698.[3] During the eighteenth century one quarter of the individual members of the Society were to be directly involved in the slave trade with such prominent Bristol slave traders as Michael Becher, John Duckenfield, and Isaac Hobhouse.[5]

The first light on the island of Flat Holm was a simple brazier mounted on a wooden frame, which stood on the high eastern part of the island.[6] In 1733 the Society of Merchant Venturers of Bristol found the brazier to be unreliable and petitioned the General Lighthouse Authority, Trinity House, for an actual lighthouse, but the petition failed.[7] In 1735 Mr. William Crispe of Bristol submitted a proposal to build a lighthouse at his own expense. This initial proposal also failed but negotiations resumed in 1736 when 60 soldiers drowned after their vessel crashed on the Wolves rocks near Flat Holm. Following this disaster, the Society of Merchant Venturers supported William Crispe's proposal.[8] Crispe agreed to pay £800 (£110,552, $220,241 in 2008) for the construction of the tower as well as the fees permits.[6] The construction of the tower finished in 1737 and it began operating on 25 March 1738.[9]

The costs of the construction of Bristol's Floating Harbour, completed in 1809, were far beyond the limited resources of the Society and necessitated the setting up of the Bristol Docks Company. Although the Society was represented on the Board, it ceded its role in the management of the port of Bristol, which had dominated its activities throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[4]

In the 19th century the Society helped to fund the building of Clifton Suspension Bridge and members of the society helped to establish the Great Western Railway. In the 1860s the Society acted with the Bristol Corporation to put Clifton Down and the adjoining Durdham Down under the control of a single Downs Committee. Alderman Proctor's Drinking Fountain on Clifton Down was built in 1872 by G and H Godwin in a Gothic Revival style to commemorate the Society's presentation in 1861 of "certain rights over Clifton Down made to the citizens" of Bristol.[10]

In the sixteenth century the Society had maintained a free school for mariners’ children under the Merchants’ Hall in King Street. A century later sailors were being instructed in the ‘Arte of Navigacion’.[4] This was to evolve into the Merchant Venturers’ Technical College in Unity Street towards the end of the nineteenth century when over 2500 students were enrolled. When Bristol's University College finally achieved its charter as the University of Bristol in 1909, the Merchant Venturers’ Technical College provided the faculty of engineering, whilst the remaining departments of the college eventually became the University of the West of England. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Society took on Edward Colston's 'Colston's Hospital', a school for 100 boys. This was to move to Stapleton in 1861, becoming co-educational in 1991. In 1891 Colston's Girls' School was opened on Cheltenham Road using funds from Edward Colston's endowment. It became an academy in 2008, when Withywood School reopened as Merchants' Academy. In 2016 the Bristol Autism Free School, now called Venturers’ Academy, opened nearby. Since 2017 the Society and the University of Bristol have jointly sponsored five primary schools, a secondary school, an all-through school and a special school in Bristol. The overarching Venturers’ Trust now oversees the education of more than 3,200 students.[11]

The Merchant Venturers cared for twelve poor mariners in the sixteenth century and the Society continues to be involved with the care of the elderly. The Society has managed Colston's Almshouse on St Michael's Hill since its foundation by Edward Colston in 1696. Since 1922 the Society has been the endowment trustee for the independent charity, the St Monica Trust, enabling very substantial developments in recent years. The Society has also been sole trustee of the Cote Charity, set up in 1968, which in 2009 opened Katherine House, a residential care home and in 2016, Griffiths House for those living with dementia.


Records of the Society of Merchant Venturers including foundation and membership, administrative, financial, charities, education, estates management, trade, associated clubs and societies, the Seamen's Hospital Fund, and various name indexes are held at Bristol Archives (Ref. SMV) (online catalogue) as well as further papers and correspondence related to the Society of Merchant Venturers' interests (Ref. 12152) (online catalogue). Other deeds and estate papers related to the Society's interests in Somerset and Dorset are available at Somerset Heritage Centre.[12] link to catalog record

Current status

Merchants' Hall on Clifton Down. The Society of Merchant Venturers comprises men and women, prepared to give their time and skills to support the organisation's objectives.

The Merchant Venturers work closely with the wider community and many of its members play a role in Bristol's commercial life and the institutions within the city. Its objectives are to:

Contribute to the prosperity and well being of the greater Bristol area through active support of enterprise and commercial and community activity; Enhance the quality of life for all, particularly for the young, aged and disadvantaged; Promote learning and the acquisition of skills by supporting education; Act as effective stewards of the charitable trusts, heritage, ancient buildings and open spaces for which the society is responsible. Company of Merchant Adventurers of London

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Arms of the Merchant Adventurers The Company of Merchant Adventurers of London was a trading company founded in the City of London in the early 15th century. It brought together leading merchants in a regulated company in the nature of a guild. Its members' main business was exporting cloth, especially white (undyed) broadcloth, in return for a large range of foreign goods.

In the early seventeenth century, similar groups of investors were formed to develop overseas trade and colonies in the New World: the Virginia Company (which later split into the London Company settling Jamestown and the Chesapeake Bay area, and the Plymouth Company, which settled New England). The Company of Adventurers in Canada sent forces during the Thirty Years War that achieved the surrender of Quebec in 1629...