Livery companies have a proud history and traditions. Their survival has been achieved by doing what they have always done: fostering their professions, crafts and trades in a wide context, serving the community, supporting the City of London and promoting modern skills and professional development.
Livery companies are the source of, and take a prominent part in, many of the great ceremonial occasions and add a colour and richness to the City’s heritage.
Links with the City of London
The livery companies and the City of London have grown up together, developing and adapting over the centuries to help sustain London’s pre-eminence as a financial and business centre. They share many common goals and objectives and work.
The election of the Sheriffs and certain other officers is the prerogative of liverymen alone and the election of the Lord Mayor of the City of London is a shared responsibility between liverymen and the City Aldermen.
The modern companies
Long established callings have formed livery companies, such as the Master Mariners, Solicitors and Farmers. The newer companies represent professions and trades such as Firefighters, Air Pilots and Air Navigators, Chartered Surveyors, Chartered Accountants and Marketors. The International Bankers and the Management Consultants illustrate the involvement of the most modern professions. Companies whose original crafts have virtually vanished have adapted; for example, the Fanmakers to air conditioning, the Carmen to transport and the Horners to plastics.
A digest of news from the City livery companies available on the first Monday of every month (1MB)
Find out about liveries facts and figures (479KB)
Livery Companies of the City of London
Hosted by the Livery Committee, this website is primarily intended for the members of the Livery Companies, and their Clerks
The work of the liveries
Charity and community
One of the first charitable tasks undertaken by the early guilds was to care for their members in sickness and old age.
Richard Whittington (c.1354 - 1423), the best known name in the history of the City of London, left some £6,000 - the equivalent of many millions today - for almshouses. The trust still exists and has a substantial income which provides comfort and dignity for elderly people and others in need.
Charitable trusts still exist today and centuries of careful stewardship have resulted in a broader vision extended to developing countries, people with disabilities, young people, housing, museums and libraries, the arts and medical research.
Companies have been involved in university education for many centuries. Support still continues in the form of scholarships and bursaries for young people to study for scientific and technical careers.
Run by the Guild of Educators, the Livery Schools Link acts as a brokering service promoting the support of schools in inner London by livery companies. This stems from three main areas for development which include
- building long term links with, or adopt, schools in the boroughs bordering the City
- promoting apprenticeship in response to a concern that Britain underperforms in training people for technical and craft skills.
- encouraging breadth in young people’s education and in their training for working life
The livery companies probably had their origins in this country before 1066 and are similar to the fraternities and guilds (or mysteries) that flourished throughout Europe for many centuries.
Members paid to belong and the word guild derives from the Saxon “gildan”, meaning “to pay”. These early guilds controlled the provision of services and manufacture and selling of goods and food in the City of London, preventing unlimited competition and helping to keep wages and working conditions steady in extremely unstable times.
In medieval times, the term 'livery' was used for clothing, food and drink provided to the officers and retainers of great households. The term became associated with distinctive clothing and badges which were symbols of privilege and protection, and since the members of each guild were distinguished from other people in this way, the guilds gradually became known as livery companies.
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