For several centuries, the Livery have been summoned to Guildhall for a Common Hall twice yearly; to elect the Lord Mayor (on Michaelmas Day, 29 September), and to elect the Sheriffs (on Midsummers’ Day, 24 June). Where those dates fall on a weekend or religious holiday, provisions are in place to move them to the closest available alternative.
Common Hall developed from an early assembly of citizens termed a Congregation, which itself is conjectured to be a survival of the ancient Folkmoot.
Each year, in June (for the Shrieval elections) and in September (for election of the Lord Mayor), a Precept (or Summons) is issued by the Town Clerk to all Livery Clerks for onward distribution.
All Liverymen are entitled to attend. Tickets are free and distributed through the Clerk. To vote, a Liveryman must have been clothed prior to May in the preceding year. The reason for this stems from a time when such elections were often fiercely contested. In order to swell their numbers and secure more votes for their preferred candidate, some Livery Companies would heavily recruit more Liverymen in the lead up to an election. The May rule effectively prevented this practice, and it lives on today.
Both Common Halls follow a similar pattern, and arrangements for the Livery are broadly identical at each. The key difference is that the Lord Mayor's election is preceded by a service at St Lawrence Jewry, to which Masters (and others) process. There is an opportunity for questions at the Sheriff's election (nowadays very seldom exercised).
Col Jane Carey-Harris, Upper Warden, attended Common Hall for the first time on Monday 26 June 2023. Jane was advised by our Clerk that she would attend, as is practice, through her Mother Company, the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, as her details are lodged on the Electoral Register via her Mother Company. Front rows are reserved for the Masters and she was fortunate to be seated only a couple of rows behind this section. She realised why hats are not recommended, as they would certainly spoil the view for those at the back!
At 11.50 the City Livery Committee, followed by the Masters, Prime Wardens and Upper Bailiff of all the Livery Companies walked in procession from the Crypts to the Great Hall. This is done in reverse order of seniority, so the Art Scholars as Company 110 led the procession. In 2024 it will be the Nurses. It was a true spectacle to see The Masters in their various robes, and the red of the Company’s Master’s gown will certainly stand out.
The Masters and Prime Wardens of the twelve senior Livery Companies, and the Livery Committee, took their seats on the Hustings, and the Masters, Prime Wardens and Upper Bailiff of the remaining Companies took their seats in the front rows below the dais, known as the Hustings in Guildhall.
Shortly before midday, the Lord Mayor processed from the Aldermen’s Court Room, via the West Door, to the Hustings in the Great Hall, preceded by the City Officers, in the following order:
Assistant Remembrancer (Ceremonial) Chief Commoner
Honorary Secondary Remembrancer Comptroller & City Solicitor Commissioner Chamberlain
Aldermen below the Chair (juniors first) Recorder
Aldermen above the Chair (juniors first) City Marshal
The Lord Mayor
After the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, Sheriffs and Officers were seated, the Common Cryer proclaimed silence, and directed “All persons to be uncovered in the Hall”, and “All those who are not Liverymen to depart the Hall on pain of imprisonment”. What splendid and traditional words. The Common Cryer’s voice was incredible and Jane is sure that it could be easily heard at the back of the Great Hall.
Common Hall was then opened by the Common Cryer.
The Proceedings of the last meeting of Common Hall were read by the Assistant Town Clerk.
After which, the Recorder rose from his seat, went to the front of the Hustings and informed the Livery of the occasion of their meeting.
The Sheriffs, with the Common Serjeant, advanced to the front of the Hustings, and the Common Serjeant read to the Livery a list of those in nomination for Sheriffs, Bridgemasters, Aleconners and the Auditor. If it had been contested, the election process would have been conducted by the Assistant Town Clerk.
Thankfully on this occasion there was no election process, and Dame Susan Langley (Alderwoman and Insurer) and Bronek Masojada (Alderman and Insurer) were both elected. They each gave a short speech and it was fascinating to hear of their early lives and careers to date.
There is normally one Aldermanic and one non-Aldermanic Sheriff, but if the number of Aldermen below the chair who have served sheriff dwindles, then from time to time there are just two Aldermanic Sheriffs. This was last the case in 2016.
The two Sheriffs will take office in a ceremony at Guildhall on Michaelmas Eve, 28 September (followed by the so-called "Sheriffs' Breakfast”).
The report of the Livery Committee was then summarised by the Assistant Town Clerk. The Common Cryer put to the meeting the Motion, “To agree with the Committee in their Report?” and declared the result.
The Common Cryer then dissolved Common Hall with the words “God Save The King”. All Liverymen were invited to respond, “God Save The King”. After Common Hall was dissolved the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, Sheriffs and Officers, and Masters left the Hustings in reverse order to that of the first procession.
Jane was thankful that she had left her bag in a self-service locker at Guildhall as there was a long queue at the cloakroom. A short taxi ride took her and her Consort to lunch at Stationer’s Hall, one of a number of Halls to hold a post Common Hall lunch. This was Jane’s first visit to this stunning Hall. During the drink’s reception in the gardens, the two newly elected Sheriffs attended to meet with, and thank those present.
The lunch was a most enjoyable event with a number of Companies each having their own table, with members of the various Companies, Liverymen, Freemen and guests in attendance. It is planned that the Worshipful Company of Nurses will explore having a table for lunch after Common Hall in September 2024 when some of our Liverymen will be able to exercise their right to vote.