The City Livery Companies  

The origins of the Livery Companies of the City of London go back almost a thousand years to the ancient Guilds.  These Guilds flourished throughout Europe for many centuries, and in many parts of Britain; they continue in cities such as York, Sheffield and Bristol.  However, the special privileges granted to the City of London, and its idiosyncratic form of local government, have ensured the continued success of Livery Companies.  The term Livery is distinct to the City of London, referring to the distinctive clothing used as identification, and still worn on formal and ceremonial occasions.  The term Guild is still used in the City of London: in the formation of a new Livery Company, the first stage is to become a Guild, then a Company without Livery, before being granted full Livery status.

There are now 108 Livery Companies, two Companies without Livery, and three Guilds in the City of London.  The early Companies were the medieval equivalent of trading standards’ departments, also controlling imports, setting wages and working conditions, and training apprentices.  Membership of a specific company was often a prerequisite to carrying out a particular trade craft.  Control of areas of craft and trade were often fiercely fought over and disputes were common.  An order of precedence for Livery Companies was finally set in 1515 with the Mercers at number 1, and the Masons at number 30.  Over the centuries, the fortunes of many Liveries Companies waned; leading to the merger or disappearance of several.  After an interval over 200 years, the first Modern Livery Company, the Master Mariners, was formed in 1926.  Since that time, a further 31 have formed covering most modern trades and professions.

As Livery Companies grew in wealth, they built halls as places to meet.  Over the centuries, many of these have been destroyed by fire [most notably the great fire of London in 1666, and by enemy action during World War II.  There are now 40 Livery Halls in the City of London, amongst them some of the most beautiful buildings in the capital.

For a list of the City Livery companies and their websites click here

All Livery Companies run a charitable trust.  The earliest of these were to care for their members in sickness and old age; many continue to support almshouses to this day.  With a few notable exceptions, Livery Companies today no longer have direct links or control of the craft or trade.  However, the majority do still have close links, particularly in the fields of education and training, and continue to support charitable causes in areas close to their Livery, the City and beyond.  The last available figures, for 2011, show that the Livery Companies of the City of London gave almost £42 million to charitable causes, over half of which was to education. See Livery Profile.

Whilst the original conditions under which Livery Companies formed and flourished have long since changed, the Livery continues to have relevance.  There are over 26,000 Liverymen, and new Companies are forming at a faster rate than ever.  By continuing to adapt and embrace modern skills and professions, the Livery movement in the City of London has not only survived, but flourished.