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 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.
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 19th 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.
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.
The Silent Ceremony
The Lord Mayor is formally admitted to office in November, the day before the Lord Mayor's Show. The ceremony is known as the Silent Ceremony because, apart from a short declaration of office by the incoming Lord Mayor, no words are spoken. The outgoing Lord Mayor ceremonially hands the City insignia to his successor.
Common Hall is summoned by the Lord Mayor, by formal notice to the Masters and Wardens of the livery companies that they should give notice to their liverymen to attend at Guildhall on a certain day. The Sheriffs and the other officers are elected in Common Hall on Midsummer Day (24 June), and the Lord Mayor on Michaelmas Day (29 September), or the next weekday.
United Guilds’ Service
The enormously popular United Guilds’ Service usually takes place on the Friday two weeks before Easter each year, filling St Paul’s Cathedral to capacity. Members of all companies join with the Lord Mayor and Aldermen in this major religious occasion in the City, with great ceremony and an address by a leading churchman.
Although the use of carts for transport fell into disuse, a ceremony of cart marking still takes place in July each year in Guildhall Yard. The Carmen’s Company bring their trucks, veteran and vintage vans, waggons and carriages to be branded or marked, to maintain the ancient tradition. Each vehicle is brought forward for the Master’s inspection and under his supervision is then branded. Protective gloves for the ceremony are presented by the Glovers’ Company.
Since about the late 15th or early 16th century, the Vintners’ and Dyers’ Companies have had the right to share a royalty on the swans on the Thames with the Monarch. Each year in July the swan upping voyage, counting and marking the swans, takes place on the Thames