Livery Companies of London

The first Mayor of London - Henry Fitzailwyn - was appointed by Prince John in 1189 - as head of a sworn association of townspeople. He held office for 24 years until his death in 1213.

In return for the support he received from the City, King John granted a Charter on May 9th 1215, confirming the citizens' right to choose their own Mayor and instituting an annual election.

The privilege granted to the guilds in 1319 gave their Freemen the right to be admitted to the Freedom of the City by the Court of Aldermen.

Records in 1376 list 48 Mysteries of the City of London.

Dick Whittington, a man of peasant origins became Mayor of London three times - in 1397, 1406 and 1419.

There are currently 100 livery companies. They still elect the lord mayor of London,

The Livery's combined contribution to national charities is impressive.

The city of London shall enjoy all its ancient liberties and free customs, both by land and by water. We also will and grant that all other cities, boroughs, towns, and ports shall enjoy all their liberties and free customs.

Magna Carta

William Hardell, Mayor of the City of London was the only signatory of the 25 who was not a Baron.

Livery was adopted by the guilds of London in the reign of Edward III. It consisted of a surcoat for the Freemen with the addition of a hood for Liverymen. Livery refers to uniform clothing adopted by retainers and officers of great households as means of identification.

The medieval trade and craft guilds originally consisted of a "commonalty" in which all members were equal, but in time a necessary hierarchical structure developed, with wardens and their assistants to govern the guild. The word "guild" derives from the Saxon word for payment. Guilds comprised masters, apprentices, and journeymen. The masters were the owners of the shops and instructors of the apprentices. The apprentices were bound to the masters; they were accepted for a stipulated sum paid to the masters for training and were given a subsistence wage for a number of years; the amount paid and the length of time varied from one craft to another and one place to another. The apprentices were strictly under the control of the masters, but the conditions of control were set by guild regulation. The yeomen or journeymen were paid a daily wage. They had finished their training as apprentices but could not attain the status of masters, the number of masters being limited.

The early guilds in London evolved when craftsmen in specific trades tended to congregate in a common area for both practical and mutual convenience. It is natural therefore that the members of a particular craft who worshipped together at their local church should form a community of interests and it was from these religious congregations that voluntary associations (as opposed to the compulsory ‘frith guilds’ of Saxon times) were formed for the mutual aid and protection of their members.

In mediaeval times religion played a very important part in guild life and each company had its own patron saint and adherence to a particular church; the Society of St Simon and St Jude (Shipwrights); the Fraternity of Corpus Christi (Salters); the Brotherhood of St Clement (Founders). Fraternity of Our Lady and St Clement (Bakers) Guild of Jesus, a religious fraternity at St Paul's Cathedral (Wax Chandlers)

From 1506 onwards the Court of Aldermen controlled the grant of livery by allowing it to be adopted by companies only under Letters Patent and the Mayoral Seal. At the same time, the City gained the power to limit the number of liverymen in all companies incorporated after that date.

The ranking of the companies which existed in 1516 has no direct connection with their age or seniority. The famous dispute between the Skinners and the Merchant Taylors as to which should rank 6th and which 7th was settled by the Judgement of Mayor Billesden in 1484,

The guild system reached its zenith in London in the 16th century, being eroded thereafter by the "custom of London" which allowed any Freeman to follow any trade, regardless of his original calling, and by the improvements in the transport of goods,

In 1684 Charles II decided to bring the City of London under his direct control and ordered a surrender of its Charters, together with those of the Livery Companies, under a writ of Quo Warranto, and issued new charters of his own

Liverymen were the controlling elite of their guilds. In addition to regulating conditions of apprenticeship and standards of work, they elected the local government of the City of London and had the sole power to confer on members the freedom of the city, a necessary prerequisite to the practice of any trade until the Reform Act of 1832 abolished all restrictions on the exercise of trade within the City. There are currently 100 livery companies. They still elect the lord mayor of London.

Thus the present-day structure of livery companies evolved: the Freedom, which included all new entrants; the Livery, which was composed of the more influential members, and the Court of Assistants, from whom the Master and Wardens were elected annually to govern the company. Although all the livery companies share this common structure, the internal organisation varies from one company to another. One matter which concerns each and every livery company is that of charity, which is ongoing and covers the whole range of activity from the relief of distress to almshouses, schools and higher education. No new company may be granted livery without the possession of a substantial charitable fund, and all the older companies have charitable trusts or funds which have been in existence for many years, and have grown with good management and the passage of time. The Livery's combined contribution to national charities is impressive.

Introduction . TOP