The Livery world
Not heard of Livery Companies before? Confused by what they are? Discover why they're here, what they do, and all you need to know in our simple guide.
What is a Livery Company?
Livery Companies have existed in London since before the Norman Conquest, and were the original trade and networking associations, responsible for regulating working conditions, ensuring the quality of goods, and resolving trade disputes. They were also responsible for training apprentices and providing a forum for members to meet, socialise and look after members and their dependents in times of distress.
Much of this has now passed to professional regulatory bodies, but the Companies have retained their fellowship and philanthropic role. They also help govern the City of London, contribute time, talent and funding to good causes, and continue the City's many ceremonial traditions.
Some Livery Companies such as the Farriers, Goldsmiths and Gunmakers still perform a regulatory, inspection or enforcement role in their trades.
There are 110 Companies, including modern ones such as those for Bankers, Accountants and Insurers. Ancient companies include the inevitable Butchers, Bakers and two different types of Candlestick makers!
Why are they called Worshipful Companies?
In mediaeval times livery Companies had a strong religious connection and were associate with City churches. While the Livery retains links with the Church of England, the Companies welcome those of all faiths or none, so don't be put off by the vocabulary!
The first step to becoming a full Worshipful Company is to form a Guild, and put in place the people and structures needed to run the organisation. The Guild of Investment Managers is currently at this stage.
How are they run?
The Company is headed up by a Master, who is assisted by a Court of Assistants (or Board of Directors) that helps decide the general shape and direction of the Company. Day to day activity is carried out by sub-committees, and usually includes a charity committee, an events committee, a membership committee etc. These positions are voluntary, and rely on members who are willing to give their time freely for the benefit of the Company.
The larger and wealthier Livery Companies may own a hall, employ staff and accrue investments and treasures.
Why join a Livery Company?
Companies offer the benefits of a modern, 21st Century networking and industry association with the opportunity to participate in the oldest traditions of the City of London and engage in philanthropic contribution to society. They also provide a route to decision makers and key influencers within the City’s government and business world.
What is a 'Freeman'
Right up until the 19th Century, tradesmen were not allowed to do business in the City of London without being authorised as “Freemen”. This title also came with a whole host of attractive benefits not open to your average city dweller (that’s where the sheep herding across London Bridge you may have heard of comes from).
Nowadays, becoming Freeman is the first step to becoming a "Liveryman" (the term used for a senior member of the Company). Liverymen elect the City’s Lord Mayor, Sheriffs and certain other officers. Persons wishing to stand for election in the City must also be a Freeman.
The ceremony that every new Freemen undertakes is one of the oldest surviving customs in existence (dating back to the 13th century) and is wonderful way to connect yourself with traditions and ceremonies of London’s past.
How do I become a Freeman
You will need to be nominated by two sponsors, who need to be Aldermen, Councilmen or Liverymen. Our Guild encourages members to apply to be 'admitted to the freedom' and are happy to nominate suitable applicants. To find out more about becoming a Freeman, get in touch.
Is the Guild some sort of secret society (or is it connected to any)?
No, but we get asked this a lot! We are essentially a professional fellowship and networking association with a fantastic social scene, and with a charity arm attached. We also continue the ancient traditions associated with Livery Companies (which do involve a number of robes and mediaeval ceremonies, so we may sometimes look like one!).
The best way to find out for sure is to come and meet us, and discover for yourself! Check our events page for details of our meet and greet events.