London is, of course, pretty ancient. It’s position on a tidal river means it has always been a trading port and attracted craftspeople from the rest of the country and the wider world. As Britain’s influence and power grew and its wealth blossomed, guilds to protect these trade people also developed, starting in Medieval times and continuing to the present day. They are in a way the precursor to the trade unions, but for the self employed.
These morphed over time into
a number of Companies of the City of London descended from the medieval trade guilds. They are now largely social and charitable organizations
You cannot work in the City without coming across one or more of these entities, whether it is a lunch in a grand Victorian piece of splendour, the charitable fund raising sponsored by a company or a friend who corners you on the benefits of joining a Livery – these days you do not need to be a vintner or salt maker, leather-worker or goldsmith to belong: pay a fee and sign a form and you are in.
The thing about Livery companies and Livery halls is their longevity; they’ve been around from hundreds of years, they remain for the most part well heeled and, with the talents of the City at their disposal, pretty well run. Best of all their Halls, their centres of operation, add an architectural addition to the City’s landscape.
Many are obvious
Ironmongers, Gun makers and Joiners
Some less so
In total there are 110 Livery companies and the number is growing; the oldest Charter is for the Weavers in 1100s and the most recent, the Arts Scholars in 2014.
In 1515 the Aldermen of the City of London…
(Digression coming: one of the quirky traditions of Local Government in England is that there isn’t an entity that is the City of London (Or Westminster or wherever)
but it is made up of the current incumbents of certain posts who comprise
The Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the City of London
And when writing a legal document this is how you describe the contracting party)…
determined the priority of the Livery Companies and created a notable 12 (some of whom are amongst the richest such establishments anywhere)
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
Even humble (cough cough) Solicitors have a livery which we were all encouraged to join but, like so many organisations that populate the city, membership seems to involve a vaguely camp fancy dress and I am congenitally opposed to the mass slaughter of ermine just to create a stole. So sadly for you there are no photos of me dressed like a penguin auditioning for a place in the Village People line up.
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