London Explained – Livery companies…

The City of London is dotted with halls for the city’s livery companies. But ever wondered what they are?

There are 110 livery companies in the City, representing ancient and more modern trade associations and guilds, including everything from grocers to saddlers, ironmongers to musicians. The newest livery company is the Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars which was created in 2014.

Members of livery companies taking part in the Lord Mayor’s Show. PICTURE: David Adams

Many of today’s livery companies have their origins in the city’s medieval guilds which were responsible for such things as regulating wages and conditions and setting industry standards (while many of these responsibilities have since passed to other bodies, some – such as the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers and the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths – still play important roles in quality control).

These days the companies are also known for their support of the industries they represent and their philanthropic work.

Livery companies – many of which also traditionally had religious links – built halls as central meeting places – about 40 companies today still own or have a share in a hall.

Members of the livery companies (known as liverymen after the distinctive clothing or uniform they wore) – who are awarded the Freedom of the City of London – have the right to vote for senior offices in the City such as the Lord Mayor of London and sheriffs.

The livery companies of the City of London are listed in an “order of precedence” which was settled in 1515 for the 48 then in existence based on their political and economic power (the Worshipful Company of Mercers comes in at number one). All the companies created since then are ranked according to their date of creation.

Hall of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers. PICTURE: David Adams

The 12 highest ranked companies are known as the Twelve Great City Livery Companies. Among them in the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors which disputes its position at number seven and so once a year at Easter swaps places with the Worshipful Company of Skinners at number six.

The oldest livery company is said to be the Worshipful Company of Weavers while the oldest livery company hall is that of the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries.

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