700-year-old tradition updated by Warwick businesswoman

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A Warwick businesswoman has broken into a 700-year-old male stronghold to become a director - and eventually Master - of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.

Judith Cobham, who lives close to the town’s Banbury Road, runs her own corporate strategy practice in London.

But she will now also be responsible for 120 staff in the assay office at Goldsmiths’ Hall which tests and hallmarks 2.2 million items a year for their precious metal content.

Only 1,200 people are admitted as ‘Freemen’ of the Worshipful Company. And while some women craftsmen have been allowed to join, Judith is the first female to be appointed one of four honorary Wardens (directors) since the company received its Royal Charter in 1327.

After a ceremony at the Goldsmiths’ Hall - where the term hallmark comes from - she joined three male wardens in a process that will lead to her taking over as Master warden in 2017.

Judith has lived in Warwick since 1996 after first meeting her husband, the late Major Bill Cobham, in the foyer of the Warwick Hilton hotel when they were both advising the same client.

Her stepson Edward, is a former pupil of Warwick School and now a soldier. Judith has always used her maiden name, Judith Lowe, for business and will continue to do so in her new role.

So different from the Middle Ages when women were only admitted to the company because their master craftsman husband had died or it was accepted they’d learned the mysteries of testing gold and silver from their parents.

The Goldsmiths are classed as one of the City of London’s Great Twelve Livery companies which evolved from the powerful guilds. Others represent trades such as apothecaries and haberdashers and later came Hackney Carriage Drivers - which led to all London cabbies having to familiarise themselves with every street in a test called The Knowledge.

Judith said “I was invited to join the Goldsmiths by the then Prime Warden since he felt they might need some advice on their forward strategy after 700 years!

“It’s a tremendous honour to be part of a company with ancient traditions but also a busy contemporary role - not least training the industry’s apprentices and supporting 300 charities.”

One of Judith’s first duties will be to supervise the annual inventory of the company’s collection - not only contemporary jewellery but items like the 18 inch high salt cellar given as one of many wedding presents to King Henry VIII.

Traditionally, all gold assayed in London is hallmarked with the face of a leopard; Birmingham uses an anchor and Sheffield the Yorkshire rose.