What exactly ARE the Liveries of London?

When we were invited to visit the Liveries of London in 2003 by the Director of the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, (which became The National Churches Trust in 2007) we had no idea what a special treat this would be.  We weren’t familiar with the significance of the grand halls and were overwhelmed by their grandeur and history.  On our walking trek, we quickly learned to recognize a Livery Hall by the discreet Coat of Arms on the exterior of the building which often gave a clue to the trade it represented.

Painting the livery halls was a natural progression from the project we had just undertaken–watercolors of some of the ancient churches in England.  These churches had been heavily supported over hundreds of years by members of the guilds who often endowed them with treasures to assure their “acceptance into heaven”.   At the time of our visit, the Director of the National Churches Preservation Trust was also a member of the Leathersellers guild, so he helped us gain access into halls which had historically been closed to members only.

We were told that in 1515, 48 Livery Companies were in existence in London, and their order of precedence was officially established based on economic or political power at the time.  A long-standing argument over place 6 and 7 actually resulted in an annual ‘swap’ which continues to this day!

Vitner's ExteriorToday only 40 of the 77 companies established before 1926 have great halls within the square mile of London and often share them with other guilds.  None of the halls survived completely intact after the Great Fire of London in 600AD and many were further damaged by the London Blitz of WWII.  However, their grandeur and opulence remains unsurpassed and the halls remain a vital and historic part of the City of London.  We were able to visit 30 of the 40 great halls. (See some of the paintings by clicking HERE)

History of the Liveries of London

Merchant societies all over Europe began to loosely form as trade and crafts associations around 1100AD.  After the Middle Ages, these fraternities or guilds (named for the gold that was deposited into common accounts)  were legalized to protect members with similar skills as they aged, or became disabled, to protect widows and orphans, to build chapels, etc. and many developed schools to perpetuate their trade in the form of apprenticeships.  As they grew in economic power and importance, the guilds were allowed special privileges issued by the king, including the ability to maintain funds, and to ‘hold’ and inherit property from members.

This special ‘holding’ privilege allowed the guilds to accumulate enormous wealth and power over hundreds of years.  Many created grand halls where their members met to socialize or to conduct business.  Through sheer numbers and economic strength, they were able to minimize competition, and shape labor, production, and trade.   They became powerful secret societies with member legacies and an aristocratic aura.  However, toward the end of the 18th century with the advent of industrialization, their power began to be questioned and eventually ‘free trade’ and antitrust laws prevailed.

How the Guilds function today

Today, in the City of London, the ancient guilds now survive as Livery Companies, often referred to as “The Worshipful Company of …” and although some retain ties to their original craft,  their trade power is vastly diminished.  Membership is coveted although the guilds are now primarily ceremonial and philanthropic.  Today, the Lord Mayor of London still governs over the liveries, presiding over the Square Mile in the heart of the city, and must invite Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth to enter the city, a ritualized reminder of the long struggle between the powerful merchant class and the monarchy.  After 800 years, the magnificent Guildhall is still the home of the City of London Corporation and is the site of honorary and royal occasions.

During the height of their power, the London Guilds were required to locate their great halls in the heart of the city, within the square mile of London, and they gathered for annual ceremonies at Guildhall.  Here is the list of those formed prior to 1826.  The oldest 12 are called The Great Twelve City Liveries.

List of Livery Companies, in order of precedence

  1. The Worshipful Company of Mercers (General merchants)
  2. The Worshipful Company of Grocers
  3. The Worshipful Company of Drapers (Wool and cloth merchants)
  4. The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers
  5. The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths
  6. The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors (Tailors) (alternates with the Skinners)
  7. The Worshipful Company of Skinners (Fur traders) (alternates with the Merchant Taylors)
  8. The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers
  9. The Worshipful Company of Salters
  10. The Worshipful Company of Ironmongers
  11. The Worshipful Company of Vintners (Wine merchants)
  12. The Worshipful Company of Clothworkers
  13. The Worshipful Company of Dyers
  14. The Worshipful Company of Brewers
  15. The Worshipful Company of Leathersellers
  16. The Worshipful Company of Pewterers
  17. The Worshipful Company of Barbers (Barbers, surgeons, and dentists)
  18. The Worshipful Company of Cutlers
  19. The Worshipful Company of Bakers
  20. The Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers
  21. The Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers
  22. The Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers (Armour makers and brass workers)
  23. The Worshipful Company of Girdlers (Sword-belt and dress-belt makers)
  24. The Worshipful Company of Butchers
  25. The Worshipful Company of Saddlers
  26. The Worshipful Company of Carpenters
  27. The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers (Fine leather workers)
  28. The Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers
  29. The Worshipful Company of Curriers (Tanned leather dressers)
  30. The Worshipful Company of Masons
  31. The Worshipful Company of Plumbers
  32. The Worshipful Company of Innholders
  33. The Worshipful Company of Founders (Metalworkers)
  34. The Worshipful Company of Poulters
  35. The Worshipful Company of Cooks
  36. The Worshipful Company of Coopers (Barrel makers)
  37. The Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers
  38. The Worshipful Company of Bowyers (Longbow makers)
  39. The Worshipful Company of Fletchers (Arrow makers)
  40. The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths
  41. The Worshipful Company of Joiners and Ceilers (Wood craftsmen)
  42. The Worshipful Company of Weavers
  43. The Worshipful Company of Woolmen
  44. The Worshipful Company of Scriveners (Court document writers and notaries public)
  45. The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers
  46. The Worshipful Company of Plaisterers (Plasterers)
  47. The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers
  48. The Worshipful Company of Broderers (Embroiders)
  49. The Worshipful Company of Upholders (Upholsterers)
  50. The Worshipful Company of Musicians
  51. The Worshipful Company of Turners (Lathe operators)
  52. The Worshipful Company of Basketmakers
  53. The Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass
  54. The Worshipful Company of Horners
  55. The Worshipful Company of Farriers (Horseshoe makers and veterinarians for horses)
  56. The Worshipful Company of Paviors (Road and highway pavers)
  57. The Worshipful Company of Loriners (Harness makers)
  58. The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries (Medical practitioners and pharmacists)
  59. The Worshipful Company of Shipwrights
  60. The Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers
  61. The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers
  62. The Worshipful Company of Glovers
  63. The Worshipful Company of Feltmakers (Hat makers)
  64. The Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters
  65. The Worshipful Company of Needlemakers
  66. The Worshipful Company of Gardeners
  67. The Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers
  68. The Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights
  69. The Worshipful Company of Distillers
  70. The Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers (Wooden shoe makers)
  71. The Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers
  72. The Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers
  73. The Worshipful Company of Gunmakers
  74. The Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers
  75. The Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards
  76. The Worshipful Company of Fanmakers
  77. The Worshipful Company of Carmen
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