The livery companies of the City of London comprise London's ancient and modern trade associations and guilds, almost all of which are styled the "Worshipful Company of..." their respective craft, trade or profession.
London's medieval guilds evolved into corporations responsible for training as well as regulating their respective trades, such as wage control, labour conditions and industry standards. Like most organisations during the Middle Ages, these livery companies were obliged to forge close ties with the Church of Rome (at least prior to the Protestant Reformation) by endowing religious establishments such as chantry chapels and churches, by observing religious festivals with hosting ceremonies and their well-known mystery plays. Most livery companies retain their historical religious associations, although nowadays members are free to follow any faith or none.
Most livery companies maintain their original trade, craft or professional roles; some still exercise powers of regulation, inspection and enforcement, while others are awarding bodies for professional qualifications. The Scriveners' Company admits senior members of legal and associated professions, the Apothecaries' Company awards post-graduate qualifications in some medical specialties, and the Hackney Carriage Drivers' Company comprises licensed taxi drivers who have passed the "Knowledge of London" test. Several companies restrict membership only to those holding relevant professional qualifications, eg. the City of London Solicitors' Company and the Worshipful Company of Engineers. Other companies, whose trade died out long ago, such as the Longbow Makers' Company, have evolved into being primarily charitable foundations.
London's livery companies, currently 110 in number, play a significant part in City life, not least by providing charitable-giving and networking opportunities. Liverymen retain voting rights for the senior civic offices, such as the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs and City of London Corporation, its ancient municipal authority with extensive local government powers.
After the Carmen received City livery status in 1746 no new companies were established in London for 180 years until the Master Mariners in 1926 (granted livery in 1932). Post-1926 creations are known as modern livery companies. The Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars, the newest, was granted livery status on 11 February 2014, making it the 110th City livery company in order of precedence.
The Honourable Company of Air Pilots is exceptional among London's livery companies by having active overseas committees in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the United States.
Livery companies are governed by a Master (alternatively styled Prime Warden or Bailiff in some companies), a number of Wardens (holding various titles such as the Upper, Middle, Lower, or Renter Wardens), and a Court of Assistants (board of directors), responsible for company business and electing its Master and Wardens. The Clerk to the Company is invariably its most senior permanent member of staff, who as chief executive officer runs its day-to-day activities.
Membership generally falls into two categories: freemen and liverymen. One may become a freeman, or acquire the "freedom of the company", upon fulfilling certain criteria: traditionally, by "patrimony", if either parent were a liveryman of the company; by "servitude", if one has served a requisite number of years as an apprentice to a senior company member; or by "redemption", upon paying a fee. Most livery companies reserve the right to admit distinguished people, particularly in their sphere of influence, as honorary freemen. Freemen may advance to become liverymen, after obtaining the freedom of the City of London, and with their Court of Assistants' approval. Only liverymen are eligible to vote in the annual election of the Lord Mayor of London, the Sheriffs and various other City civic offices, including the Ale Conners and Bridge Masters.
The livery companies elect a majority of the members of the Livery Committee, a body administered at Guildhall. The Committee oversees the elections of Sheriffs and the Lord Mayor, educates liverymen regarding the City and its activities, represents the livery companies in communications with the City.
Today 39 out of 110 City livery companies own premises in London, as well as the Watermen and Lightermen which although not strictly a "Livery Company", retains headquarters still in regular use. Among the earliest companies known to have had halls are the Merchant Taylors and Goldsmiths in the 14th-century, but neither theirs nor any other companies' original halls remain: those few which survived the Great Fire of London were destroyed in the Blitz during World War II.
The oldest hall now extant is that of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, dating from 1672. Several companies that do not have a hall of their own share office premises within the hall of another company on a semi-permanent basis, examples being the Spectacle Makers' Company, which uses part of Apothecaries' Hall, and the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights, which co-habits with the Ironmongers. Many livery halls can be hired for business and social functions, and are popular for weddings, commercial and society meetings, luncheons and dinners.
Three livery companies (the Glaziers and Painters of Glass, Launderers, and Scientific Instrument Makers) share a hall in Southwark, just south of and outside the City of London, while the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers has long been based at Proof House, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and the Master Mariners' "Hall" is an historical ship, HQS Wellington, moored on the Thames which is shared by the Scriveners' Company. Companies without halls customarily book use of another livery hall for their formal gatherings, giving members and guests the opportunity to visit and enjoy different City livery halls by rotation.
Blue Plaques throughout the City of London indicate where companies formerly had halls. Whilst several livery companies may aspire to owning or regaining their own hall it is appreciated that any increase in the overall number of livery halls would inevitably lead to some dilution of use of the existing halls. There is also attraction in belonging to a company which is peripatetic.
In 1515, the Court of Aldermen of the City of London settled an order of precedence for the 48 livery companies then in existence, based on those companies' contemporary economic or political power. The 12 highest-ranked companies remain known as the Great Twelve City Livery Companies. Today there are 110 City livery companies, all post-1515 companies being ranked by seniority of creation.
The Merchant Taylors and the Skinners have long disputed their precedence, so once a year (at Easter) they swap between sixth and seventh places. This mix-up is a favourite theory for the origin of the phrase "at sixes and sevens", as has been pointed out by at least one Master Merchant Taylor; however, it is possible that the phrase may have been coined before these two companies (Taylors and Skinners) resolved their dispute, which arose from their both receiving Charters in 1327 with no proof surviving as to which was granted first.
List of companies in order of precedence
- Worshipful Company of Mercers (general merchants)
- Worshipful Company of Grocers (spice merchants)
- Worshipful Company of Drapers (wool and cloth merchants)
- Worshipful Company of Fishmongers
- Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (bullion dealers)
- Worshipful Company of Skinners* (fur traders)
- Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors* (tailors)
- Worshipful Company of Haberdashers (clothiers in sewn and fine materials, eg. silk & velvet)
- Worshipful Company of Salters (traders of salts and chemicals)
- Worshipful Company of Ironmongers
- Worshipful Company of Vintners (wine merchants)
- Worshipful Company of Clothworkers
- Worshipful Company of Dyers
- Worshipful Company of Brewers
- Worshipful Company of Leathersellers
- Worshipful Company of Pewterers (pewter and metal manufacturers)
- Worshipful Company of Barbers (incl. surgeons and dentists)
- Worshipful Company of Cutlers (knife, sword and utensil makers)
- Worshipful Company of Bakers
- Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers (wax candle makers)
- Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers (tallow candle makers)
- Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers (armour makers and brass workers)
- Worshipful Company of Girdlers (belt and girdle makers)
- Worshipful Company of Butchers
- Worshipful Company of Saddlers
- Worshipful Company of Carpenters
- Worshipful Company of Cordwainers (fine leather workers and shoemakers)
- Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers
- Worshipful Company of Curriers (leather dressers and tanners)
- Worshipful Company of Masons (stonemasons)
- Worshipful Company of Plumbers
- Worshipful Company of Innholders (tavern keepers)
- Worshipful Company of Founders (metal casters and melters)
- Worshipful Company of Poulters (poulterers)
- Worshipful Company of Cooks
- Worshipful Company of Coopers (barrel and cask makers)
- Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers (builders)
- Worshipful Company of Bowyers (long-bow makers)
- Worshipful Company of Fletchers (arrow makers)
- Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths
- Worshipful Company of Joiners and Ceilers (wood craftsmen)
- Worshipful Company of Weavers
- Worshipful Company of Woolmen
- Worshipful Company of Scriveners (court scribes and notaries public)
- Worshipful Company of Fruiterers
- Worshipful Company of Plaisterers (plasterers)
- Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers (journalists and publishers)
- Worshipful Company of Broderers (embroiderers)
- Worshipful Company of Upholders (upholsterers)
- Worshipful Company of Musicians
- Worshipful Company of Turners (lathe operators)
- Worshipful Company of Basketmakers
- Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass
- Worshipful Company of Horners (horn workers and plasticians)
- Worshipful Company of Farriers (horseshoe makers and horse veterinarians)
- Worshipful Company of Paviors (road and highway pavers)
- Worshipful Company of Loriners (equestrian bit, bridle and spur suppliers)
- Worshipful Society of Apothecaries (physicians and pharmacists)
- Worshipful Company of Shipwrights (shipbuilders and maritime professionals)
- Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers
- Worshipful Company of Clockmakers
- Worshipful Company of Glovers
- Worshipful Company of Feltmakers (hat makers)
- Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters
- Worshipful Company of Needlemakers
- Worshipful Company of Gardeners
- Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers
- Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights
- Worshipful Company of Distillers
- Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers (wooden-shoe makers)
- Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers
- Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers
- Worshipful Company of Gunmakers
- Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers (threadmakers for military and society clothing)
- Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards
- Worshipful Company of Fanmakers
- Worshipful Company of Carmen (vehicle drivers)
- Honourable Company of Master Mariners
- City of London Solicitors' Company (lawyers)
- Worshipful Company of Farmers
- Honourable Company of Air Pilots
- Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Blenders
- Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers
- Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers
- Worshipful Company of Chartered Surveyors
- Worshipful Company of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales
- Worshipful Company of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators
- Worshipful Company of Builders Merchants
- Worshipful Company of Launderers
- Worshipful Company of Marketors
- Worshipful Company of Actuaries
- Worshipful Company of Insurers
- Worshipful Company of Arbitrators
- Worshipful Company of Engineers
- Worshipful Company of Fuellers
- Worshipful Company of Lightmongers (electric lighting suppliers)
- Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners
- Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects
- Worshipful Company of Constructors
- Worshipful Company of Information Technologists
- Worshipful Company of World Traders
- Worshipful Company of Water Conservators
- Worshipful Company of Firefighters
- Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers (licensed taxicab drivers)
- Worshipful Company of Management Consultants
- Worshipful Company of International Bankers
- Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers
- Worshipful Company of Security Professionals
- Worshipful Company of Educators
- Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars
Note: *The Skinners' and Merchant Taylors' Companies alternate their precedence each year.
City companies without grant of livery
Companies without Livery is a status between when a Guild which is recognised by the Court of Aldermen and being granted the rights of a livery. A guild initially applies to be a London Guild, and may later apply to the Court to become A Company of the City of London. After an indefinite period, such A Company of the City of London can apply to the Aldermen for livery status; if granted, they can thereafter use the honorific prefix Worshipful Company.
Guilds aiming to obtain the grant of Livery
- Guild of Public Relations Practitioners
- Guild of Entrepreneurs
- Guild of HR Professionals
- Guild of Nurses
Neither the Company of Parish Clerks nor the Company of Watermen have been or intend to apply for livery status, which remains a long-standing City tradition. This is granted by the City Corporation in effect to control a company. The Watermen and Parish Clerks are governed by statutes and Royal Charters with responsibilities outside the City. The Company of Watermen and Lightermen was established by Act of Parliament in 1555 to regulate the watermen on the River Thames responsible for the movement of goods and passengers and remains the only ancient City Guild to be formed and governed by Act of Parliament. They are then strictly not 'Companies without Livery' at all but simply 'companies'.
The City Livery Club, The Guild of Young Freemen and the Guild of Freemen of the City of London, whilst not being livery companies, are popular clubs amongst the City fraternity.
The Southwark Manors
The City Corporation of London remains lord of three manors at Southwark (Guildable, King's and Great Liberty). These are membership organisations for those areas and are the Jurors of their manorial courts. They are not in any way Guilds as are not related to trading and occupational activities. These courts retain legal-standing under the Administration of Justice Act 1977.
- List of guilds in the United Kingdom
- Mottos and halls of the Livery Companies
- Zünfte of Zürich
- Six corps de marchands of Paris
- Cinco Gremios Mayores of Madrid
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