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. An even more important Royal Charter, granted by Charles 1 in 1639, is celebrated on Charter Day each year in November.
The Society currently has 75 members. Membership is capped at 80.
Membership is by invitation. The Society looks for individuals who are interested in making a contribution to one or more of the activities of the Society: education, care for older people, social enterprise, charitable giving or the management of the Downs. Membership is drawn from individuals who have been successful in their chosen area of business and who are already actively involved in voluntary activity across the greater Bristol area.
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 2020 application deadline is:
– 5pm Wed 2 December 2020 for consideration at the January 2021 meeting
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.
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.
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.
The Society is an apolitical organisation. Of course, each member has their own views, but the Society itself has no political bias.
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.
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 is important that we have a better understanding of the Society’s historic involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. As such, we are supporting the ‘We Are Bristol History Commission’ as they work to uncover Bristol’s past, as well as conducting our own research to discover the truth.
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.
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.
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. Find out more by visiting our Hall Hire website.