Frequently Asked Questions

In 1467 the Corporation of Bristol drew up Ordinances for a Fellowship of Merchants providing that ‘the Mayor and Sheriff choose a worshipful man that hath been Mayor or Sheriff to be master of the fellowship of merchants’. At that time, the Guild and the Corporation were effectively one. The prime role of the Guild was to regulate maritime trade within the City, ensuring that outsiders did not benefit at the expense of Bristolians. The Society’s role was recognised in 1552 by the grant of a Royal Charter by Edward VI, followed by another from Elizabeth I. The Royal Charter granted by Charles 1 in 1639 is celebrated on Charter Day each year in November.

Yes. The Society’s records, dating back to 1493, were given to the Bristol Archives on indefinite loan in 2005 so that they could be accessed by members of the public. The archives can be researched online here.

The Clifton and Durdham Downs is one of Bristol’s most precious assets, providing 440 acres of open green space for everyone to enjoy. Clifton Down was bought by SMV in 1676, with the City Council purchasing Durdham Down almost 200 years later. The Society’s members wanted to protect the land from future development and ensure that it remained available to the people of the city. The creation of the Downs Act in 1861 brought together Clifton Down with Durdham Down, setting out a long-term partnership to protect this amazing space.

Today, several groups work together to maintain and preserve the Downs, including the Friends of the Downs, the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project, Bristol City Council and SMV. Protecting the environment, landscape, wildlife and heritage of the Downs sits alongside a far-reaching education programme for people of all ages to become involved with and learn about the Downs, as well as all the hard work that goes into planning and delivering a wide range of sport, music, cultural and recreational activities that take place on the Downs week in, week out.

Representatives from Bristol City Council and members of SMV form the Downs Committee. This group meets regularly to ensure that the Downs is maintained and improved for the long-term so that people from all over Bristol and beyond can continue to enjoy this wonderful space forever.

To apply for a charitable grant from the Society of Merchant Venturers Charity you must submit an application form. For details of the grant application process, including the application criteria, please click here.

To download an application form please click here.

The next 2021 application deadline is:
– 5pm Monday 13 September for consideration at the October meeting.

We’re privileged to be working with many fantastic organisations who share our determination to help communities across Greater Bristol to thrive. Collaborating and sharing ideas allows us all to be more effective and to have a greater impact.

For example, at Colston’s School and across the eight academies managed by the Venturers Trust family of schools, the talented teachers, staff, governors and central team work incredibly hard every day to provide an excellent education for over 4,600 young people. SMV is the joint sponsor of Venturers Trust, alongside the University of Bristol who provide not only hands-on support in schools as active governors and trustees, they also provide amazing development opportunities for teachers as well as preferential university places for Venturers Trust students.

The experienced team at Quartet Community Foundation help us to ensure that the 100 and more grants we donate each year are making a real difference. We rely on their expertise and on-the-ground knowledge to direct our charitable giving where it’s needed most.

Social enterprise is another route to removing barriers and increasing opportunities for everyone. We’re privileged to be able to work with and support the great work of Bristol & Bath Regional Capital, who focus their skills on helping local projects that champion inclusion and community empowerment.

Our relationship with Bristol City Council (BCC) dates back over 160 years, when we came together to manage and maintain the Downs so that it would be freely available to everyone. Today, this partnership reaches much further and because of BCC’s expertise and support, especially in the areas of education and care for older people, the positive impact of our activities is far greater.

Quality apprenticeships are life changing for young people and we’re actively developing new partnerships across the public, private and charitable sectors to create many more of these within the region. Increasing the number of high-quality apprenticeships, work placements and mentoring opportunities will help young people to be better prepared to enter the world of work and build successful careers.

One Bristol is a proactive group of people who share a vision for Bristol where everyone can work together to recognise and remove barriers to resolve inequalities.

When One Bristol was launched in 2017, the first members represented historical organisations from across Bristol drawn from education, business, the arts, culture, the church, and also members of the black community. With the city’s historic links to the transatlantic slave trade, the members of One Bristol recognised the need to explore their role in healing divisions within the city, starting by acknowledging the historical organisations’ connections with the transatlantic slave trade.

Today, the membership of One Bristol has grown to include many key partners who are helping to connect and support proactive conversations and initiatives to secure a future for Bristol as an equal city.

SMV is proud to be part of One Bristol, learning from and working with others to achieve long-term positive change.

Whilst the Society itself did not invest in slaving voyages, it is understood that at some point in the eighteenth century one quarter of the Society’s members were themselves involved directly in this abhorrent trade, representing approximately one fifth of the 536 slave traders in Bristol.
It’s important that we have a better understanding of the Society’s historic involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. As well as commissioning  independent research into the Society’s history to discover the truth, we’re listening carefully to the many discussions and debates taking place across the city, including the ‘We Are Bristol History Commission’ and the ‘Bristol Legacy Steering Group’.

Yes, Edward Colston was a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers. He attended two meetings during his lifetime, spending most of his time in London.

Yes. Much of our work is regulated and assessed by official bodies including the Department for Education, Ofsted, the Regional Schools Commissioner, the Education and Skills Funding Agency, the Charity Commission, the Care Quality Commission and Bristol City Council. To find out which organisations we are accountable to across our core activities, click here.

SMV looks for individuals who are interested in making a contribution to one or more of the Society’s main activities: education, care for older people, social enterprise, charitable giving or the management of the Downs. Membership is by invitation and is drawn from individuals who have been successful in their chosen career and who are already actively involved in voluntary activity across the Greater Bristol area.

The Society is an apolitical organisation. Of course, each member has their own views, but the Society itself has no political bias.

Social purpose describes an organisation whose work is focused on helping to create a better world for everyone. Social inclusion means improving opportunities and removing barriers so that everyone can take part in society.

The Society currently has 75 members. Membership is capped at 80.

The Society of Merchant Venturers celebrates Charter Day each year on 10th November (or on the closest Monday after the 10th if the 10th falls on a weekend). Charter Day itself commemorates the granting of the Royal Charter by Edward VI in 1552, endorsed by Charles I in 1639. On this day, the new Master of the Society for the ensuing year takes office and is sworn in at Merchants’ Hall after a special service in Bristol Cathedral.

The Treasurer is de facto the Chief Executive and therefore oversees all of the Society’s activities and, together with the membership, sets and drives forward the strategic direction of the Society.

Each year Merchants’ Hall participates in ‘Doors Open Day’, part of the national Heritage Open Days, which takes place across England in September, enabling members of the public to visit and explore interesting buildings. We also welcome private group tours, by appointment only, and we offer Merchants’ Hall for private hire for weddings, events, conferences and corporate functions. You can find out more by visiting our Hall Hire website.

Generally speaking, the two are very similar, particularly in their charitable outlook and the types of activities that many London Livery companies are involved with. The Society largely differs in the size of its membership, which is much smaller than London Liveries, but with a significantly higher percentage of actively engaged members.