Guild of the Holy Cross
The Guild controlled just about everything in medieval Stratford-upon-Avon.
Established in the 13th century, it became the heart of Stratford's commercial, civic, social and religious life. The Guild helped its members to network, strike business deals, and even (so it was claimed) get into heaven faster.
Both men and women could become Guild members by paying a small fee. Joining was a good idea if you wanted to meet influential people and widen your network of contacts. Most members were prosperous local tradesmen, craftsmen and their families. But local clergy, gentry and even nobility joined too. Some members came from other towns like Coventry, London and Bristol.
The Guild provided 'social services' in medieval Stratford. It helped its members when they were ill, and supported their families if they died. It also gave 'alms' (charity) to poor and vulnerable local people, building a range of almshouses (sheltered accommodation) next to the Guildhall in about 1500.
It also looked after local infrastructure like bridges, and founded the first school in Stratford. In 1295 it appointed a schoolmaster called Richard as 'rector scholarum' to teach members' sons Latin, music and the principles of Christian faith. This was the predecessor of King Edward VI School (K.E.S.), which is still going strong in Stratford today.
Over time the Guild became wealthy and powerful. But this wealth and power was its undoing. King Edward VI suppressed all the guilds in the kingdom in 1547, and confiscated their property. In Stratford it was the end of an era.