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.
|Actuaries||Actuarial profession, mathematics|
|Air Pilots||Aviation industry|
|Apothecaries||Medicine, Surgery, Pharmacy|
|Arbitrators||Arbitration, Mediation and dispute resolution|
|Armourers and Brasiers||Materials science|
|Arts Scholars||Historic and decorative arts|
|Builders’ Merchants||Builders’ Merchants|
|Carpenters||Building trade and woodworking|
|Chartered architects||Architecture and the built environment|
|Chartered secretaries and administrators||Corporate governance and administration|
|Chartered Surveyors||Surveyors and property professionals|
|Clockmakers||Repair, restoration – manufacturing of all kinds of clocks and watches, musical boxes etc.|
|Coachmakers||Automative, aerospace and coachmaking industries|
|Cooks||Cooking and the food industry|
|Cordwainers||Fashion and shoemaking|
|Dyers||Colour chemistry and dyeing|
|Educators||Teachers and lecturers|
|Fan makers||Aerospace industry|
|Farriers||Craft farriers, veterinary surgeons|
|Firefighters||Fire fighting and prevention|
|Fishmongers||Fish and fisheries industry|
|Framework knitters||Knitting industry|
|Furniture Makers||Furniture industry|
|Glass sellers||Glass industry|
|Glaziers||Stained glass industry|
|Gold and silver wyre drawers||Jewellery making|
|Grocers||Significant charitable and education interests|
|Haberdashers||Significant charitable and education interests|
|Hackney Carriage Drivers||Hackney carriage trade|
|Information Technologists||Information Technology|
|Insurers||Insurance, reinsurance and women in the industry|
|International Bankers||Financial services|
|Joiners and Ceilers||Joinery and Ceiling including woodworking|
|Makers of Playing Cards||Playing card industry|
|Management consultants||Management consultancy|
|Master Mariners||Merchant and Royal Navies|
|Mercers||Significant charitable and education interests|
|Merchant Taylors||Significant charitable and education interests|
|Needlemakers||Medical and surgical needles|
|Parish Clerks||Serving the church in the 21st Century|
|Pattenmakers||Shoe trade particularly orthopaedic shoes|
|Paviors||Road and paving industry|
|Public Relations practitioners||Public relations|
|Saddlers||Saddlery trade and equestrianism|
|Scientific Instrument makers||Science and engineering Measurement standards|
|Scriveners||Notaries, calligraphy, handwriting|
|Security professionals||Security profession|
|Shipwrights||Maritime industry, shipbuilding|
|Skinners||Significant charitable and education interests|
|Stationers||Communications and content industry|
|Tallow Chandlers||Oil and edible fats industries|
|Tax Advisers||Taxation related practitioners|
|Tin Plate Workers alias Wire Workers||Materials engineering, Design in non-precious metals|
|Tobacco pipe makers and Tobacco blenders||Tobacco industry|
|Tylers and bricklayers||Tiling and bricklaying industries|
|Upholders||Upholstery and furniture making|
|Water conservators||Water and environmental management|
|Watermen and lightermen||Watermen on the river|
|Wax chandlers||Wax industry and beekeeping|
|Woolmen||Wool industry, textiles and agriculture|
|World Traders||World trade|