Origin of the Society of Knights Bachelor

The founding of the Society was due to a case which was fought with the Walker Trustees in Edinburgh who, as holders of the office (originally by purchase) of Usher of the White Rod under the Walker Trust Act of 1877, were entitled to receive certain dues from those persons receiving honours from the Crown. Many Knights objected to this.

In 1902 a change had been made in the procedure connected with promotions of honour. The Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood (instituted by King Edward VII in that year) was given control of procedure for the ceremonial admission and promotion of all members of the statutory orders. One exception to this concerned the Knights Bachelor.

The Walker case highlighted the fact that Knights Bachelor had no representative body to speak for them in the matter of the Walker Trustees and Sir William Bull MP called a meeting of Knights Bachelor in the House of Commons to discuss the problem. As a result of this, a formal meeting was convened at 31 Essex Street, in the Strand, on 27th April 1908 at which the Society of Knights Bachelor was founded.

The Office of Usher of the White Rod was an ancient one, existing before the Union of England and Scotland on the accession of James VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1603. The earliest document referring to this office is in 1393.

The case for the payment of dues to the Walker Trustees on behalf of White Rod was heard in March 1909, when judgement was given by the Court in Session in the Outer House of Lords in favour of the Walker Trustees.

However, on 1st December 1911 the Lord Advocate and others appealed to the House of Lords and the judgement was reversed with expenses, so that the right of the Walker Trustees could not be enforced and therefore they were not entitled to claim fees from recipients of honours. The prime motive in the formation of the Society had thereby been achieved.

Had the Society not been founded, as the Central Chancery for the Orders of Knighthood was only empowered to act for the Statutory Orders, it was possible that dues payable by a Knight Bachelor on his creation might still have been levied.

It is interesting to note that for certain honours the sums to be paid on their creation to the Walker Trustees were as follows:

For a Duke £21 13s 4d
Marquis £18 6s 8d
Earl £15
Viscount £10
Baron £6 13s 4d
Baronet £5
Knight Bachelor £3 6s 8d

Constitution of the Society

On 21st June 1908 the constitution, regulations and byelaws of the Society were adopted. The objects were to uphold the status, maintain the Register and rights of precedence and generally to protect and advance the interests of Knights Bachelor. Official recognition of the Society was given in that year by the Home Secretary, when there were 770 Knights Bachelor, of whom 232 became members.

In 1912 HM King George V permitted by Royal Warrant the Society the great privilege of adding to its name the title ‘Imperial'.

Locations of the Society

Following the formation of the Society, subsequent meetings were held at Clements Inn, at Westminster and at Stone Buildings, Lincoln's Inn. In 1911, following numerous suggestions for a permanent home for the Society where members from across the Empire might meet, a Habitation Committee for this purpose was set up under Sir Henry Pellatt, Sir William Bull and Mr Willoughby Bullock, the Secretary and Clerk to the Council.

After protracted negotiations, a portion of Clifford's Inn was purchased and the first meeting was held there on 15th May 1912. The premises comprised a hall for entering, a library, smoking room, writing room, and porter's lodge.

The hall was large enough to entertain 80 persons, so presumably there were kitchens as well. The cost was £37,000, half being promised by the Knights Bachelor of Canada. Sir Henry Pellatt gave £7,000. The company administering the property was called ‘The Company of Knights', so that no financial responsibility would rest on the Society or its members. The outstanding amount was held in debentures. It was intended that, as further subscriptions from Knights Bachelor were received, the debentures would be redeemed. However, because of the Great War of 1914–18 insufficient contributions came in and no lettings were made of the Hall, so the Company went into liquidation. No trace of the original Clifford's Inn now remains, other than the entrance gateway off Fleet Street.

Meetings thereafter were held at various places, until in 1923 a room was allotted by Garter King of Arms at the College of Arms. It is not clear if this was intended as a temporary home for the Registry or just for the meeting held there on 15th November. Subsequently accommodation was taken at No.1 King's Bench Walk at a rent of £22p.a.

Various ideas were put forward for a permanent home, including the crypt of one of London's churches. This idea was overruled. Finally Sir William Bull reported on 3rd March 1927 at a meeting held at 21 Old Buildings, Lincoln's Inn, that he had taken a lease on those chambers in his own name at £65p.a. The Imperial Society remained there until 2005 when it moved to 1 Throgmorton Avenue, London. In 2013, the Society's office moved to Magnesia House, Playhouse Yard, Blackfriars.

Old Buildings, Lincoln’s Inn – the office of the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor from 1927 until 2005.

Clifford's Inn and Hall were the first home of the Society.


The new Register of Knights Bachelor

In the Middle Ages individual heralds made notes of the dubbing of knights, but such notes were incomplete, partly because if a knight refused to pay the fees of his honour his name was not registered. However, should he pay his fees at a later date, his name would be inserted into the Roll; this led to confusion concerning seniority.

In the seventeenth century a Register of Knighthood was instituted by King James I. A similar register at the College of Arms continues up to the year 1902. A further part of the constitution of the Society stated the intention ‘to continue and complete to the date of the constitution the lapsed roll instituted by His Majesty King Charles I, regarding the creation of Knights Bachelor, to bring into existence and continuously keep up to date a properly authenticated Roll of Knights Bachelor…' This has been done and Volumes I, II and III now reside in the Imperial Society's Chapel. Volume IV is still being compiled and this will also eventually be received by the Prelate at a ceremony and placed in the Chapel.

Volume I has the signatures of HM The Queen and HRH Prince Phillip, followed by those members of Council at the Dedication Service of the Chapel of the Knights Bachelor on 10th July 1968. Volume III contains the signature of HRH The Princess Royal and those members of the Council on 6th July 1985, when The Princess attended the Service of Dedication followed by a reception at St Bartholomew's Hospital. Other royal occasions have since been held. A separate Solander contains other signed documents commemorating visits to the Society by members of the Royal Family.

Knights Bachelor Certificate

Since its inception the Imperial Society has issued to knights a certificate certifying that they have been duly entered on the role of Knights Bachelor. This is signed by the Knight Principal and the Registrar and sealed with the seal of the Society.

The certificate was redrawn in 1922 and again in 1981, and finally in 1999 the certificate was redesigned by the then Registrar to take into account the change of date in the millennium. The artist and calligrapher was Mr Michael Ayers.

The Knights Bachelor certificate

Grant of Arms

Many suggestions were made for arms for the Society. Initially this was to be a knight's helm with three feathers between two spurs. A stained glass windowpane of this hangs in the office. Variations on this appear on early writing paper. Finally the grant of arms, crest, supporters and a badge in use today was made by the Kings of Arms in 1971 (See section on 'Insignia').

The Society's Chapel

In 1939 a proposal was made that Knights Bachelor should have their own chapel, as was the case with the statutory orders. Due to the onset of the Second World War the idea was shelved.

In 1962 this idea was again examined. St Paul's Cathedral and numerous churches were approached. Finally a decision was taken by Council, with the approval of the Bishop of London, after discussion with the relevant Church Council, to have the Society's Chapel in the Priory Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great, West Smithfield, London.

This, the oldest parish church in London, was founded in 1123 and thus was a fitting place for the Society's Chapel. The Bishop of London, Prelate of the Imperial Society, dedicated the Chapel in the presence of HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in July 1968. This service was followed by a Reception in St James's Palace. 

The Imperial Society's Annual Services were held here from 1968 until 2004 when once again the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral were approached and this time generously consented  to the Society's using in perpetuity the last available chapel in the Crypt of the Cathedral.  The first annual Dedication Service was held in St Paul's in 2005 and work began on the preparation of the new Chapel for dedication, hopefully once again in the presence of HM The Queen, in 2008, the Centenary of the Imperial Society. The new Chapel is to be known as the Chapel of the Knights and dedicated to St Martin who symbolises chivalry and charity for he is always in his iconography pictured as a knight who took his sword and divided his cloak in two, giving one piece to a beggar who later appears to him as Christ. Designs are currently (2007) being considered by the Cathedral Fabric Commission for England.

Annual service

Each year a Service of Dedication is held in the Society's Chapel and the Knight Principal, the Registrar (carrying the Ceremonial Sword Chivalry) and the Treasurer (carrying the Spurs symbolic of Knighthood) process with the Prelate (The Bishop of London), the Council and the Imperial Society's Chaplain to the Knights' Altar. An Esquire carries the Pennon of the Imperial Society. These services are occasions of reverence, pageantry and colour in the setting of Britain's foremost Cathedral. At each service there is the opportunity for new Knights Bachelor (or those who have not yet done so) to make their vows in the Society's Chapel. Many knights see this personal dedication as a solemn act which completes their admission by their Sovereign to the honour and dignity of knighthood.

The Dean of St Paul's Cathedral is the Dean of the Imperial Society and each month prayers are said for the repose of departed knights. The Clerk to the Society is also able to arrange for family weddings, baptisms and memorial services for Knights Bachelor to be held in the Cathedral at appropriate times and in accordance with the Cathedral's regulations.   At memorial services an Officer of the Council will represent the Imperial Society.


The Knights Bachelor Pennon.


The Society a Registered Charity

At various times proposals had been made to petition the King for a Royal Charter, but no action had been taken. The Regulations of the Constitution had been revised in 1962. In 1981 it was again decided to petition The Queen for a Royal Charter for the Society. The work on drafting this was undertaken by Sir Arthur Driver, Registrar at that time. After much work on his part it was decided to abandon the idea. In its place Sir David Napley drafted further revised rules, which were adopted on 12th May 1986. This effectively gave the Society charitable status, which was accorded by the Charity Commissioners on 5th August 1986 and allowed the Society to assume wider charitable objectives than those of the Chapel Foundation. Further changes were drafted by Sir Richard Gaskell, Knight Principal, in 2001 and accepted by the Council.

Honorary Deputy Knights Principal

In 1985 in recognition of their services as officers of the Society for many years, Sir Gilbert Inglefield and Sir Arthur Driver were made Honorary Deputy Knights Principal. This title continues to be bestowed by the Council on officers whose service to the society has been outstanding. Sir Conrad Swan KCVO, formerly Garter King of Arms, and Knight Principal, was created Honorary Deputy Knight Principal in 2000; in 2006 Sir Richard Gaskell, formerly Knight Principal was so created and in 2007 Commodore Sir Donald Gosling KCVO Kt RNR.

The Banner of the Imperial Society

The Council in 1999 authorised the hanging of a banner in the Chapel of the Imperial Society. This was designed by the Registrar and made by Turtle and Pearce of Tower Bridge, London, using real gold leaf.

The Banner shows the Arms of the Society and measures five feet by five feet. It was consecrated at the Annual Service by the Prelate.

The Banner of the Imperial Society showing the Arms of the Society

The Cross and Candlesticks

Shortly after the Knight's Chapel was established, the internationally famed silversmith Leslie Durbin was commissioned to make a silver cross and candlesticks for the altar. Unfortunately the cross was stolen from the church in the 1990s and never recovered. The Council therefore decided to sell the remaining candlesticks and to commission a new set in silver and oak to complement many of the other furnishings of the church. These were designed by the Registrar, Sir Robert Balchin, and made by a gifted young silversmith, Gerald Gilbert.

They were consecrated by the Prelate of the Society in the presence of HRH Princess Alexandra at the Annual Service in 2000.

The Cross and Candlesticks which were consecrated by the Prelate and placed on the altar in the Knights' Chapel in the presence of HRH Princess Alexandra in 2000

Golden Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II

The Knight Principal, the Registrar and the Treasurer of the Imperial Society were privileged to be invited to join the procession of the knights, which preceded that of the Royal Family, in St Paul's Cathedral for the Golden Jubilee Service of HM The Queen in June 2002. Knights Bachelor joined two Knights or Dames from each of the following statutory orders:

The Order of the British Empire, The Royal Victorian Order, The Order of St Michael and St George, The Order of the Bath, The Order of the Thistle and The Order of the Garter, who all took their allotted places before the service began.

Officers' robes (mantles) to a new design were created for use at the Jubilee Service to replace those which had been in use for some quarter of a century. Shortly afterwards, similar robes were made for the Council to wear at annual services.

New badges for the officers were made, based on a design approved in 1911. These were designed by Michael Ayers and made by Gerald Gilbert in 2003.


Commemorative Blue Plaque

To mark the Centenary of the foundation of the Society on 27th April 1908 the Society has commissioned a commemorative Blue Plaque.  The plaque has been placed on 28-31 Essex Street, London WC2 (just off the Strand) where the original meeting took place. The plaque was unveiled by Sir Robert Balchin, DL (Knight Principal) at a ceremony exactly 100 years later on Sunday 27th April 2008 in the presence of members of the Council and their guests. 




Sir Robert Balchin unveils the plaque


Sir Robert Balchin – Knight Principal (centre), Sir Paul Judge – Registrar (right), Sir Colin Berry – Treasurer (left)


The Centenary Dedication Service of the Imperial Society

The Centenary Dedication of the Imperial Society was held at St Paul's Cathedral in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen on Thursday, 13th November 2008.


Her Majesty the Queen is welcomed to St Paul's Cathedral by Sir Robert Balchin


Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh depart after the Centanary Dedication Service

photographs courteously of GWL Photography – www.gwlphotography.co.uk.


The Chapel of the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor

The new Chapel of the Knights Bachelor was dedicated by Her Majesty the Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh on Thursday, 13th November 2008 as part of the proceedings of The Centenary Dedication of the Imperial Society on 13th November 2008.

The Knights Bachelor Procession leads the Queen to sign a Memorial commemorating the founding of the Chapel

The new Chapel is located within St Faith’s Chapel at the east end of the Crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. The new Chapel is open on weekdays for visitation by members of the Imperial Society, unless there is restricted access to the Cathedral because of a special service. Normal Cathedral entry fees will apply.

The Chapel of the Knights Bachelor

The Imperial Society holds an Annual Service each summer in the Chapel and Knights are invited by letter to apply for tickets. Memorial Services for members of the Imperial Society, Weddings of members or their children and Baptisms of the children or grandchildren of members may take place in St Faith’s Chapel up to a total of twelve services a year. Weddings and Baptisms take place on Saturdays and memorial Services take place Monday to Friday.


Centenary Dinner in the presence of HRH Prince Michael of Kent GCVO 

The Centenary Dinner of the Imperial Society was held at Goldsmith's Hall on 2nd November 2009 in the presence of HRH Prince Michael of Kent GCVO.

HRH Prince Michael of Kent is welcomed to Goldsmith's Hall by Sir Robert Balchin

The Knight Principal concludes with an address to the Hall