A Taste of the History of Livery Companies

The forerunners of Livery Companies were the Trade Guilds and they can trace their origins back to the 12th century or earlier. In the early days the Guilds set standards of professional competence so that their customers were assured of a certain quality of goods and workmanship. Complaints of bad workmanship were enquired into by the relevant Guild and, if proved, the Guild would remove the members from the Guild's register thus depriving him or her of their livelihood. There were lady members because widows or daughters would inherit the family business. By the 14th century, the Guilds had increased in number to 48; they needed to develop a way of distinguishing themselves in gatherings of tradespeople and so introduced their own distinctive clothing and regalia – or livery. They soon became known as Livery Companies. There then followed a turbulent time. Although there were many Guilds throughout the country, the London Guilds' trades were limited to within the walls of the City of London and they struggled to compete with cheaper traders springing up outside the City walls as suburbia began to develop in safer times when the City gates could be left open at night. There were also expensive wars and Tudor and Stuart monarchs levied hefty charges on the Livery Companies.  However the revival of the Livery companies stemmed from their willingness to encourage and embrace new technologies associated with their crafts, and they also became prominent supporters of industry through research funds, excellence awards and sponsorship.  From their earliest days the Companies emphasised the importance of good training and from the 1870s many forms of technical and new industrial training were supported. The City and Guilds Institute was founded in 1878 and is still prominent in vocational training today.

The early Guilds put a strong emphasis on caring for their members in old age and sickness and many companies today still support the alms-houses. In the 21st century, their charitable giving extends into many other areas of modern life both at home and abroad.

Since the Second World War a further 31 have been formed bringing the total to 110. These Livery Companies continue to play an active role in nurturing their crafts and professions and the charitable dimension of their work now amounts to their granting over £40 million a year to beneficiaries. Worldwide, there are currently over 25,000 Livery men and women, all of whom are Freemen of the City of London. We would like Nurses to be included in this impressive array of professionals.

There are old and ancient traditions associated with Livery Companies, including the right of Liverymen (a dual gender descriptor given that almost all Companies have lady members) to elect the City Sheriffs and the Lord Mayor. The Livery companies have a role in the election of the Lord Mayor and also play a prominent part in many great occasions such as the Lord Mayor’s Show in the City of London, and at the United Guilds’ service held at St Pauls Cathedral.

The wide range of Livery companies include Barbers (formerly the Barber-Surgeons), whose main charitable activities are educational; Apothecaries, those who are involved with medicine but including pharmaceutical chemists and who still grant post graduate medical qualifications today; Spectacle Makers, who are both a training provider and a nationally accredited awarding body for optical technicians and optical practice support staff. Cutlers, who make surgical instruments and many more. The more modern (post 2000) Livery Companies include World Traders, Water Conservators, Tax advisers, Security Professionals, Hackney Carriage Drivers, International Bankers, Management Consultants, Fire-fighters, Educators, and Arts Scholars.  Nurses need to be here too.

More information about City of London Livery companies can be found at https://www.liverycommittee.org/

The latest report on philanthropic giving by Livery Companies is here.