The craft of farriery is as old as Christendom. Horseshoes of various types were used by migratory Eurasian tribes about the second century before Christ, but the nailed-on horseshoe appeared in Europe somewhat later.
The custom of burying the horse with its master is very old, and horseshoes found in ancient graves have shown that the Celts were probably the first people to protect the feet of their horses with nailed-on shoes. The practice then gradually spread through Germany, Gaul, and to Britain.
There is evidence that iron shoes were in use in Britain before the Roman invasion, and certainly during the occupation.
The Roman armies here often employed as many as 5,000 cavalry, plus other horses and mules. These horses were not the robust chargers found in later history, but were much lighter, very hardy, animals probably standing 13 or 14 hands. The Romans also used pack animals in large numbers, and all these were shod.
The Roman army, for its time, was a highly organised and efficient force; it contained specialists of many kinds known as 'immunes' who, by their conditions of service, were granted exemption from the heavier fatigues.
These immunes included farriers and blacksmiths, as well as grooms and possibly horse-trainers, so the farrier was recognised as an important Roman soldier. It is not so certain that horseshoes were in common use by the civilian Romans.
Following the departure of the Romans from Britain at the beginning of the fifth century there does not seem to have been much change in the pattern of horseshoes until the arrival of the Normans with William the Conqueror.
The Norman shoes were probably a little heavier and broader - possibly because the horses were bigger - and without doubt the Normans attached great importance to shoeing, bringing their farriers with them.
These Norman farriers had considerable influence on the art in Britain, and in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries farm horses began to be shod. As more and better roads were developed, and heavier types of horses were imported from the Continent, the necessity for shoeing increased. When Edward II took his army to France in 1359 forges for making horseshoes were included in its equipment.
It was about this time, in 1356, that the farriers in the City of London were called together by the Mayor and first established as a Fellowship.
Although little or nothing of what transpired in the next three hundred years or so is now recorded - practically all the Company's records were lost in the Great Fire in 1666 - we do know that in 1692 the Company was recorded by the Court of Aldermen of the City as having been in existence since 1356 as Marshalls of the City.
The Ordinances of 1356 were in Norman French, and there is no doubt that in this context 'Marshalls' meant 'Farriers'.
Between 1356 and 1674 the Farriers were undoubtedly continuing to practise their craft, and at this time farriers also treated horses for their ailments. There is evidence that during this period the Farriers, in common with other City Guilds, were going about the business of controlling their trade in and around the City of London, and were certainly subject to the jurisdiction of the City.
The Guilds protected alike customers, employers, and employees by searching out inferior work and punishing offenders; ancient Companies had severe penalties for those who broke the rules.
The Farriers were, as always, trying to control the quality of the work done and to punish those who did not do it sufficiently well or who overcharged "...and the Farriers chose Richard de Westminster and John Beverle, farriers, to govern their trade and to present defaults to the Mayor and Aldermen, and they were sworn accordingly".
The modern history of the Company begins with the grant of the first Charter by King Charles II on 17th January, 1674. The Charter reads
Whereas we have been informed by ... the humble petition of our wellbeloved subjects the Brotherhood of Farryers within our Citties of London and Westminster that their art and trade is of great antiquity and of great use and benefitt to our subjects for preserving of horses and that diverse unexpert and unskilfull persons ... within the said citties ... have for want of due knowledge and skill in the right way of preserving of horses destroyed many horses in or near the same citties ... and that the said Brotherhood have not power to search and oversee such as profess the said art ... soe that the said abuses doe dayly increase ... and to invest them with power and jurisdiction for the well ordering and governing of the said Art and Trade and all such as use the same.
It goes on:
Now know yee that wee considering of what advantage the preservation of horses is to this our Kingdome and being willing to prevent the dayly destruction of horses both by provideing against the said abuses and by increasing the number of skilfull and expert Farryers in and about our said Citties ... doe declare and grant that our well-beloved subjects Gregory Costen (the first Master) ... Andrew Snape our Serjeant Farryer ... and all others that professe the said Trade. . . and have used the same by the space of three years within our said Citties and the suburbs and liberties thereof and within seaven miles distant ... and all others that shall hereafter exercise the same and shall have served as apprentices. . . by the space of seaven yeares at the least shall be from henceforth one Body Politique and Corporate by the name of Master, Wardens, Assistants, and Commonalty of the Company of Farryers of London ... and they shall have succession for ever.
The Company thus owes its existence and allegiance both to the Crown - every Master, Warden, Assistant, Clerk, Liveryman, Freeman, and Beadle affirms on entering office "I do solemnly and sincerely declare that I will be good and true to our Sovereign Lady the Queen's Majesty and to her Heirs and lawful Successors" - and to the Corporation of the City of London, of which it is a part.
The Register of Farriers
In January 1887, the Court appointed a Committee to consider the establishment of a register of farriers and the setting up of practical examinations in the art of making shoes for, and shoeing horses. In 1889, the Court provided funds to a special Registration Account, together with the setting up of the Institute of Horse Shoeing and an organisation under the auspices of the Company, of a Register, of qualified farriers not only in London but, throughout the country.
Training and Examinations
In 1890, the Court invoked the assistance of the Lord Mayor, the Royal Agricultural Society, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and others interested in the welfare of the horse to create a scheme for training, examination and registration of farriers. Mindful of the need to improve quality, the Company introduced in 1907 further tests, which gave rise to the AFCL qualification (Associate of the Farriers Company of London), followed by a even more difficult examination in 1923 to give holders the title, Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Farriers - FWCF.
A great deal of work by the Company and the National Association of Farriers, Blacksmiths and Agricultural Engineers led to the passing of the Farriers (Registration) Act,1975 amended 1977 "to prevent and avoid suffering by cruelty to horses arising from the shoeing of horses by unskilled persons; to promote the training of farriers and shoeing smiths; to provide for the establishment of a Farriers Registration Council to register persons engaged in farriery and to prohibit the shoeing of horses by unqualified persons".
Today the membership of the Worshipful Company of Farriers consists of craft farriers, veterinary surgeons and an amalgam of persons committed to the welfare of the Horse, the continuing of the craft and contributing to the success of the City of London.