Whilst their origins are ancient, the underlying purpose and the driving forces that have sustained livery companies for so many centuries are timeless. The nature of the companies gives them huge flexibility, diversity and capacity for innovation. Their work today is as relevant to the good health of the City as it has always been.
A to Z list
All Livery Companies, including details of each Livery and their Clerks, are listed on the Fishmongers' Company website.
LiveryCompanies.com also has a list of the liveries, their Masters (with photos), their badges and maps of their halls.
Briefings and courses
The Livery Committee and the City Corporation run a range of different courses. For more details and to find out more about what courses are currently available, you can visit the Livery Committees Courses pages.
Find out about the many ceremonial events, elections, and inter livery sporting, educational and social occasions of specific interest to liverymen.
Read the Livery Live (1mb) available on the first Monday of every month.
Livery Halls available for hire
Find details are on our Venues for hire pages. These include all the venues in the City. All venues are listed in alphabetical order.
Find out more in the livery profile (479KB).
The liveries and...
...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. Many livery companies still support or maintain almshouses for elderly people throughout the country. As guilds grew wealthier in the Middle Ages, rich liverymen left specific sums for the provision of shelter and food for their own members who were in need. Some of the charitable trusts formed in this way still exist and centuries of careful stewardship have resulted in the Livery being able to supplement the state's provision in many cases of real hardship.
The best known name in the history of the City of London was responsible for one of these long-lived trusts. Richard Whittington, a Mercer who died in 1423, left property worth at the time 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.
In addition to this traditional use of their own charitable funds, livery companies have broadened their giving into many other areas of modern life, both at home and abroad. Developing countries, people with disabilities, museums and libraries, housing, the arts, young people, and medical research are among the many deserving causes which benefit.
Companies have been involved in university education for many centuries, often as founders or funders of the more ancient institutions, and with the growth of higher education in the 19 th century, this support grew considerably. Companies helped to found the technical colleges and institutes which were so necessary if Britain was to keep up with other industrialised countries.
In 2004 the Livery Schools Link was launched, run by the Guild of Educators. The 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
Support sill continues with the endowment of chairs and the supply of expensive equipment together with scholarships and bursaries for young people to study for scientific and technical careers.
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”. To a greater or lesser extent, these early guilds controlled the provision of services and manufacture and selling of goods and food in the City of London. This prevented unlimited competition and helped to keep wages and working conditions steady in extremely unstable times.
In medieval times “livery” was the term used for the clothing, food and drink provided to the officers and retainers of great households, such as those of barons, bishops, colleges or guilds. The term became restricted to the distinctive clothing and badges which were symbols of privilege and protection. Since the members of each guild were distinguished from other people in this way, the guilds gradually became known as livery companies and also denoted a strong link with the City of London. It is still the custom to wear ceremonial dress on official occasions.
...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.
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.
...The modern companies
The social and economic conditions which gave birth to the medieval guilds have long been overtaken by the development of industry and commerce, but livery companies survive and flourish. Some still own halls, schools, almshouses, investments, land and substantial charitable funds. They have proud histories, traditions, records, magnificent treasures and above all, a determination that their work should continue. 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.
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.
It may not be appreciated that today the majority of companies support their trade, craft or profession in one way or another. Much support goes to universities and other institutions which train young people for careers in particular industries. A growing number of companies support either new or existing apprenticeship schemes and concern for young people and their future still exists in very large measure.