Ancient Livery Companies
From the 12th century onwards City Guilds played an important role in setting standards for the crafts they represented, in training apprentices and in supporting charitable activities: several have established famous schools. Many guilds were incorporated, usually by royal charter, and on many the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen have conferred livery status, which is reflected in the distinctive robes which are worn by the Masters, Wardens, Assistants and Clerks.
By 1515 there were 48 livery companies and the Court of Aldermen determined an order of precedence.
The first twelve are known as the Great Twelve; they are:
- Merchant Taylors
Sixth and seventh positions alternate each year because both companies have equal precedence. Some companies have lost their trade connections, but continue their social and charitable activities.
Since the 15th century, liverymen have gathered in Guildhall on 24 June to elect the two Sheriffs, and on 29 September to elect the Lord Mayor.
New Livery Companies
After the Fan Makers in 1709 (livery 1809) no companies were formed for almost 200 years. Livery was granted to:
- the Master Mariners (no 78) in 1931
- Solicitors in 1944
- Farmers 1952
- Air Pilots and Air Navigators 1956
- Tobacco Pipe Makers and Blenders 1960
- Furniture Makers 1963 and Scientific Instrument Makers 1974.
The late Alderman Sir Kenneth Cork, the well-known insolvency expert, who became Lord Mayor 1978-79, decided to encourage new companies to represent modern occupations. As a result, no less than six were granted livery in 1977-78; the Chartered Surveyors, Chartered Accountants, Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, Builders Merchants, Launderers, and Marketors.
Another 12 companies have been granted livery since, including the Actuaries, Insurers, Arbitrators, and Engineers: recent companies to be granted livery are the Hackney Carriage Drivers (No. 104), Management Consultants (No. 105) and International Bankers (No. 106). The Tax Advisers (No. 107) was the newest company for 3 years. However, in 2008 the Security Professionals (No. 108) now occupy that position.
Not all companies have Halls; some were not rebuilt after the 1666 Fire and the 1940 Blitz, and only 38 survive. Many are very fine and it is a privilege to be able to dine there with guests; we have been to Grocers', Drapers', Fishmongers', Goldsmiths', Skinners', Haberdashers', Salters', Ironmongers', Vintners', Clothworkers', Dyers', Brewers', Pewterers', Barber-Surgeons', Cutlers', Bakers', Wax Chandlers', Butchers', Saddlers', Founders', Plaisterers', Stationers' and Apothecaries' Halls.
There is more information available on the Corporation of London's website - Livery Section.
See also liverycompanies.com which gives a complete list of the Livery Companies, with one-click links to their websites, pictures of their Masters, and good maps of the location of their halls.