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. These Guilds set standards of professional competence so their customers were assured of quality of goods and workmanship.

Complaints of bad workmanship were investigated by the relevant Guild. If proved, the Guild would remove the member from the Guild's register thus depriving him or her of their livelihood. There were female members of Guilds where widows or daughters inherited the family business.

By the 14th century, the number of Guilds was 48.  Each Guild needed a way that distinguished themselves and their members. So distinctive clothing and regalia (or livery) was introduced. They soon became known as Livery Companies.

From their earliest days the Companies emphasised the importance of good training. 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.

Despite turbulent times over the Centuries the Livery Companies were willing to encourage and embrace new technologies associated with their crafts which kept the Livery movement current and relevant. They became prominent supporters of industry through research funds, excellence awards and sponsorship.

The early Guilds put a strong emphasis on caring for their members in old age and sickness. In the 21st century, their charitable giving extends into many other areas of modern life both at home and abroad. The Livery collectively is one of the top 6 grant makers in the UK with £75 million of financial support being given to worthy causes.

The number of Livery Companies continue to increase. The total is now 111. Liverymen is a gender-neutral term. Worldwide, there are over 25,000 Livery men and women. All of whom are also Freemen of the City of London. Liverymen have a right to elect the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs of the City of London and so the Livery Companies are integral to the City's governance.

Ancient and more modern Livery companies include Apothecaries, Barbers (formerly Barber-Surgeons), Spectacle Makers, Cutlers, Weavers, World Traders, Security Professionals, Tax Advisors and Educators. They all continue to play an active role in nurturing their crafts and professions and undertake charitable work.  The Nurses joined this impressive array of professionals, becoming the 111th Livery Company on 15th May 2023.

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.