Notes on a 'Westminster Guildhall' Hanoverian Tablespoon

The terms London and Westminster are now seen as synonymous in most circumstances but this was not always the case. London has been the most populous city in England from Roman times onwards and for much of the time has been its capital. The Guildhall within the City of London (an area still defined by the Roman walls) is the centre of administration and justice for the City.

However the majority of what we now think of as Central London was, and is, not a part of the City of London, an area now colloquially referred to as the Square Mile. This was bordered in part by the county of Middlesex and from 1585 by a second city formally established to the west of the City of London-- that of Westminster which had its own Guildhall.

The Westminster Guildhall
Fig 1
The 'Westminster Guildhall' was located in a number of buildings from the eighteenth century onwards and a new building for it was erected in 1805.


Spoon with arms of Westminster Guildhall
Fig 2

The crest and motto on this spoon seem to have been specific to the Westminster Guildhall, as opposed to the City itself, and highlight the primary role of the building as a Court of Justice. The special characteristics of the 'Westminster Justices', and the silver badges they wore, has been explored in detail by John Salter in his definitive article published in 1990 [Note 1].

This spoon is one of five known by the author to have survived [Note 2], and is engraved with the arms of the City of Westminster beneath a sword and the scales of justice above the motto "Discite Monte Justitiam" and the date 1760. This motto was once found on a clockhouse opposite Westminster Hall and translates as 'Be advised, learn justice' (a phrase from Virgil's Aeneid).

The Westminster coat of arms on the spoon

Fig 3

All five extant spoons from this institution have been engraved with a name, different in each case, in the nineteenth century. It has generally been assumed that each man whose name was so engraved was associated with the Westminster Guildhall. As such, the spoons may have been used on formal occasions or could have been a gift on appointment or retirement. Sadly, no records relating to this arrangement appear to have survived.

The name on this spoon confirms this association between the Westminster Guildhall and the subsequent owner. It is engraved with the name "Alexander W. Mckinnon Esqr". This refers to a recorded Magistrate and Member of Parliament.

The engraving of McKinnon's name on the spoon

Fig 4

His Christian names may have been reversed but the engraving refers to William Alexander Mckinnon (1789-1870) who was described as 'a Magistrate for the counties of Hants, Middlesex and Essex' [Note 3] in 'The Assembled Commons' published in 1838. In 1844 Mackinnon spoke in parliament relating to the Criminal Justice (Middlesex) Bill and began his speech 'as a magistrate of Middlesex...' [Note 4]. The link between the Magistrates of Middlesex and Westminster was established by 1763 [Note 5] and in 1786 the funeral of the Duke of Northumberland was attended by the 'six Magistrates of Middlesex and of the City and Liberty of Westminster' [Note 6].

Mackinnon, who owned extensive estates in Antigua, the South of England and in County Dublin, served in parliament from 1819-1820 and 1831-1865 representing a number of constituencies. In addition to serving as both a magistrate and an MP he wrote a pioneering pamphlet in 1828 entitled 'On the Rise, Progress and Present State of Public Opinion in Great Britain and Other Parts of the World' and served as Colonisation Commissioner for South Australia in 1835. Outside Parliament Mackinnon was a Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries of London. He also chaired the AGM of the RSPCA, of which he had already been Vice President, in 1858.

This spoon can, therefore, be seen as a both a rare survivor of the eighteenth century justice system and to have been owned by a prominent nineteenth century politician with a wide range of interests. In addition to all of the above he was also recognised as head of the Clan Mackinnon, and sought to repurchase some of their ancestral lands in Scotland which he had visited in the company of Sir Walter Scott in 1812.


Luke Schrager

[1] Salter, John: City of Westminster Magistrates' badges: London and Middlesex Archaeological Transactions 41 (1990): pp. 29-38.

[2] Two other examples are known to be in private collections and two others have appeared for sale or at auction.

[3][Anon.]; The Assembled Commons....: 1838: p. 150.

[4] Hansard; House of Commons Debates 25th July 1844 Vol 76 cc 1444-1452.

[5] Salter, John: City of Westminster Magistrates' badges: London and Middlesex Archaeological Transactions 41 (1990): p. 29

[6] The Gentleman's Magazine ...., volume 56, Part 1: 1786: p. 530.


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