Associated with the England Project | Click here for the England Project - Topics Team
This topic page is about the Livery Companies in the City of London and England.
- Team Leaders: Vacant & Susie Officer
- Team Members: Rachel Bulmer | Oscar Evans | Lizzie Griffiths | Madelaine Kirke | Rob Pavey | Andrew Sansum | Elizabeth Viney | Gill Whitehouse
- Questions/Suggestions: Please post a comment below.
Things we need to do
- Document a proposal for the creation of Livery Company Stickers for use on Profiles. Propose it in G2G.
- Review the Categories in use and propose any updates/changes considered to be required to the England Project Category manager. Include a link to the Category page on this page.
- Potentially introduce a new maintenance category for Profiles of members requiring improvement.
- Seek out Profiles to be added to this page to showcase prominent Livery Company members? Or just use Category pages (per Profile section below)?
- Expand on sections below and add some images.
Background and Context
Livery Companies have been part of the social, commercial and political fabric of London and England since medieval times. Some Livery Companies can trace their origins back to the 12th century. They were originally founded to protect the interests of various trades and their practitioners - to guarantee that a member was trustworthy and fully qualified, and that the goods they produced were of reputable quality. The aim being to protect the public and to protect members from unscrupulous activites. They were given their authority by being granted a Royal charter.
The word 'livery' refers to the distinctive clothing and regalia worn by members to distinguish them from those in other companies. This is how they became known as livery companies. Each Livery Company has its own colours and its own coat of arms. Each company had it own hall where its members could gather for business and social meetings. Some of these halls, including records, were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Some halls are still standing today and actively in use.
To work in a particular trade in the City of London, you first had to work as an apprentice learning your trade. You would be bound by indenture to a master, usually for many years, with an accompanying fee to be paid to the master, often by the apprentice's father or another sponsor. Eventually the apprentice would become a freeman (an apprentice who has been granted freedom of the company). Becoming a freeman was important as once awarded the status it meant the individual could carry on business and prosper in trade with in the Square Mile [expand on Square Mile, when it changed and what it meant].
The various stages of the guild are; apprentice, freeman, liveryman, Master, Warden, Assistant and Clerk. There was also a Company's Court (board of governors). [expand on roles].
There are over 100 Livery Companies in the City of London now and today they mainly act as charitable patrons and keepers of their history. The livery companies have always been benevolent giving help to members of the Company or their dependents who might fall on hard times.
The Great 12
The "senior" Companies are known as the Great 12 and they have an Order of Precedence. They were given their Order of Precedence by the Lord Mayor 1516 [check]. At the time there were many more companies but only the 12 most powerful and influential companies were identified to be ordered. To be Lord Mayor, one had to be a member of one of the Great 12, or if elected Lord Mayor, leave their Company and join one of the top 12 - such was the importance of this 12.
- Worshipful Company of Mercers (general merchants)
- Worshipful Company of Grocers (spice merchants)
- Worshipful Company of Drapers (wool and cloth merchants)
- Worshipful Company of Fishmongers (sellers of fish and seafood)
- Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (bullion dealers)
- Worshipful Company of Skinners [The Skinners' and Merchant Taylors' Companies alternate their precedence each year.] (fur traders)
- Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors [The Skinners' and Merchant Taylors' Companies alternate their precedence each year.] (tailors)
- Worshipful Company of Haberdashers (clothiers in sewn and fine materials, eg. silk and velvet)
- Worshipful Company of Salters (traders of salts and chemicals)
- Worshipful Company of Ironmongers
- Worshipful Company of Vintners (wine merchants)
- Worshipful Company of Clothworkers
Full List of the Companies
Full lists of the Companies can be found here:
Finding a member
Various online geneaology sites have apprentice records which are worth searching.
- For example FamilySearch.
The Records of London's Livery Companies Online (ROLLCO) is a site which provides records of Apprentices and Freemen in the City of London Livery Companies between 1400 and 1900.
- https://www.londonroll.org (London only)
Most of the Companies have an extensive archive and if you contact their archivist, they can provide valuable information about individuals who were once members. You can usually find a contact via the History page, or Contact Us link, on their website.
Property owned by the Livery Companies
The Companies generated some of their wealth by owning and leasing property. Members would sometimes bequeath property to the Companies also.
The British History Online has: London Livery Companies; A Survey of Documentary Sources for Property Holding in London before the Great Fire. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 1985.
Other Cities with Guilds and Companies
Several other Cities in England had similar systems in place;
- The Company of Merchant Adventurers of the City of York
- City of York
- City of Exeter (possibly more connected religious and social aspects of the city rather than its economic life)
- Durham City
- [Others? eg. Liverpool?]
Other related organisations
There were several other Companies involved in the importing and exporting of goods into and out of England. Some of them were;
- The East India Company
- The Levant Company
- A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, Borough of Southwark And Parts Adjacent : the Whole Being an Improvement of Mr. Stow's and Other Surveys, by Adding Whatever Alterations Have Happened in the Said Cities, Etc. to the Present Year By John Stow, John Mottley · 1735.Google Books online. Page 337. Accessed 20 January 2022.
- Livery companies, The Origins, Date updated: 30/06/2021. City of London Corporation. Accessed 20 January 2022.
- Wikipedia contributors, "Livery company," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Livery_company&oldid=1056816563 (accessed January 20, 2022).
- "The Coats of Arms", The Heraldy Society website.(https://www.theheraldrysociety.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/CoA-213-Gadd-paper.pdf). Accessed 20 January 2022.
- The history of the twelve great livery companies of London; principally compiled from their grants & records; with an historical essay and accounts of each company, its origin, constitution, government, dress, customs, halls, and trust estates and charities; including notices and illustrations of metropolitan trade and commerce, as originally concentrated in those societies; and of the language, manners, and expenses of ancient times; with attested copies and translations of the companies' charters by Herbert, William, 1772-1851. The Internet Archive online. Accessed 22 January 2022.
- Merchants and Revolution; Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London's Overseas Traders, 1550-1653, By Robert Brenner · 2003. Google Books Online. Accessed 20 January 2022.
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I think this page should be categorised under "England, Topics" rather than "England Project", to be consistent with the other topics. Thanks!