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What are Livery Companies?

What follows includes extracts from an excellent short leaflet published by the City of London in Sept 2009 plus some updates (including extracts from The History of The Clothworkers' Company - 1994 and other Livery Company leaflets.)

For a little more information on the individual Livery Companies, see the end of this Article.

Livery Company - Origins

Some trade guilds, forerunners of Livery Companies in Britain, can be traced back to the 12th C or even earlier.

The word Guild is said to derive from the Saxon word "gildan" (to pay) since members had to pay towards the cost of the brotherhood. The earliest Charter still in existence, is that for the Weavers Company (1155). Early Guilds controlled manufacture and selling of most goods and services in the City of London. As Guilds became more established they set up their own headquarters in large houses or Halls.

There was a strong religious element to the Guilds, each adopting a Patron Saint and being attached to a local Monastery or Church. Thus, the expression “Worshipful Company” (A Company that Worships). Each Guild introduced their own distinctive clothing and regalia - also called livery (possibly based on various monks’ habits) - and thus they quickly became known as Livery Companies.

The Livery Companies' had a significant trading position which gave them a key role in the government of the Square Mile (The City of London). In 1475 a charter confirmed on Liverymen the exclusive right to elect the City Sheriffs (Shire-reeves), the King's representatives. This right is still carried out today every year on the Monday after Mid-Summers Day, at Guildhall. For example, on Monday 26th June 2017. Timothy Hails JP (Alderman) and Neil Redcliffe were both Elected as Sheriffs for the forthcoming 12 months.

In 1515 there were 48 Companies. After a lethal accident on the River Thames involving various Livery Company barges, The Lord Mayor established an order of precedence for them resolving years of dispute. At their peak in the 17th C, politics, wars, the Industrial Revolution, traders from outside the City of London...., put them under pressure. The ability and willingness to embrace and encourage new technologies associated with their craft, supporting their industry through research grants gave then a new lease of life. They have also been prominent in Education and Training e.g. The City and Guilds (Founded 1878) a major provider today of vocational qualifications.

Looking after their members in sickness and old age was and still is part of the responsibility of the Livery companies and today their charitable donations across a wide spectrum are substantial.

In the 20th C, (since 1926) 29 new livery companies were formed before the 2nd World War and 33 since taking the number in July 2017 to 110. (To see all their Coats of Arms - try to get Guildhall where they are displayed all-round the wall - in order of precedence) The newer companies for example include World Traders, Hackney Carriage Drivers, IT Professionals, Insurers and Educators. Some 50,000 men and women are Members of Livery. For a full list see the Appendix below.

How is a new Company formed?

To become a new company, a group of people (usually at least 100) must satisfy the Court of Alderman that they have the resources and willingness to continue their association indefinitely. They must have strong ties with the City of London (The Square Mile) and have a significant number of members engaged in a trade, profession or craft. They will start out as a Guild.

Livery Companies today, support their Profession, Craft, Trade…. in a wide range of initiatives, whether providing funding for Education and Training, specific scholarships, Educational Qualifications…. It is estimated that Livery donates at least £45m every year.

Livery Companies - a simple summary of some of the things that they are actively involved in today.

All Livery Companies are expected to have a charity fund and in many cases, this may be available for a variety of causes.

CompanyModern interest
ActuariesActuarial profession, mathematics
Air PilotsAviation industry
ApothecariesMedicine, Surgery, Pharmacy
ArbitratorsArbitration, Mediation and dispute resolution
Armourers and BrasiersMaterials science
Arts ScholarsHistoric and decorative arts
BakersBaking industry
BarbersMedicine
BasketmakersBasketry
BlacksmithsBlacksmiths
BowyersArmed services
BrewersBrewing industry
BroderersEmbroidery
Builders’ MerchantsBuilders’ Merchants
ButchersMeat industry
CarmenTransport industry
CarpentersBuilding trade and woodworking
Chartered accountantsAccountancy
Chartered architectsArchitecture and the built environment
Chartered secretaries and administratorsCorporate governance and administration
Chartered SurveyorsSurveyors and property professionals
ClockmakersRepair, restoration – manufacturing of all kinds of clocks and watches, musical boxes etc.
ClothworkersTextiles
CoachmakersAutomative, aerospace and coachmaking industries
ConstructorsConstruction industry
CooksCooking and the food industry
CoopersCooperage
CordwainersFashion and shoemaking
CurriersLeather industry
CutlersSurgical instruments
DistillersDrinks industry
DrapersTextiles
DyersColour chemistry and dyeing
EducatorsTeachers and lecturers
EngineersEngineering industry
Environmental cleanersEnvironment
Fan makersAerospace industry
FarmersFarming industry
FarriersCraft farriers, veterinary surgeons
FeltmakersHatting industry
FirefightersFire fighting and prevention
FishmongersFish and fisheries industry
FletchersArchery
FoundersMaterials science
Framework knittersKnitting industry
FruiterersFruit industry
FuellersEnergy industry
Furniture MakersFurniture industry
GardenersHorticulture industry
GirdlersBelt making
Glass sellersGlass industry
GlaziersStained glass industry
GloversGlove industry
Gold and silver wyre drawersJewellery making
GoldsmithsGoldsmiths
GrocersSignificant charitable and education interests
GunmakersGun trade
HaberdashersSignificant charitable and education interests
Hackney Carriage DriversHackney carriage trade
HornersPlastics industry
Information TechnologistsInformation Technology
InnholdersHotel trade
InsurersInsurance, reinsurance and women in the industry
International BankersFinancial services
IronmongersIronwork craft
Joiners and CeilersJoinery and Ceiling including woodworking
LaunderersLaundry industry
LeathersellersLeather trade
LightmongersLighting industry
LorinersSaddlery
Makers of Playing CardsPlaying card industry
Management consultantsManagement consultancy
MarketorsMarketing industry
MasonsStonemasonry
Master MarinersMerchant and Royal Navies
MercersSignificant charitable and education interests
Merchant TaylorsSignificant charitable and education interests
MusiciansMusic
NeedlemakersMedical and surgical needles
Painter-StainersArtists
Parish ClerksServing the church in the 21st Century
PattenmakersShoe trade particularly orthopaedic shoes
PaviorsRoad and paving industry
PewterersPewter trade
PlaisterersPlastering
PlumbersPlumbing industry
PoultersPoultry industry
Public Relations practitionersPublic relations
SaddlersSaddlery trade and equestrianism
SaltersChemistry
Scientific Instrument makersScience and engineering Measurement standards
ScrivenersNotaries, calligraphy, handwriting
Security professionalsSecurity profession
ShipwrightsMaritime industry, shipbuilding
SkinnersSignificant charitable and education interests
SolicitorsSolicitors
Spectacle MakersOptometry
StationersCommunications and content industry
Tallow ChandlersOil and edible fats industries
Tax AdvisersTaxation related practitioners
Tin Plate Workers alias Wire WorkersMaterials engineering, Design in non-precious metals
Tobacco pipe makers and Tobacco blendersTobacco industry
TurnersWoodturners
Tylers and bricklayersTiling and bricklaying industries
UpholdersUpholstery and furniture making
VintnersWine trade
Water conservatorsWater and environmental management
Watermen and lightermenWatermen on the river
Wax chandlersWax industry and beekeeping
WeaversTextile industry
WheelwrightsWheelwrights
WoolmenWool industry, textiles and agriculture
World TradersWorld trade
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