Livery Companies/Guilds

Some basic definitions:
Livery Companies: had their origins in England before 1066. Guilds (or mysteries, from the Latin misterium, meaning professional skill): were active throughout Europe for many centuries.
           The word guild is from the Saxon word gilden which means to pay or payment as the members had to pay a fee.
          The word livery basically refers to the uniform that identified the company.
The guilds in the Middle Ages were an important and integral part of Medieval life in England. The early guilds were the medieval equivalent of a trading standards system and their power was considerable and expulsion from one meant that you could not make a living. There were two kinds of guild namely merchant and craft and very often there were tensions and disputes between the two. The merchant guilds controlled the trades practised in the towns and they checked the quality of the products as well as the weights and measures. Craft guilds were separate from the merchant guilds but operated under the same rules as the merchant guilds and regulated the quality, working hours and conditions of its members. The craft guilds were formed in a similar way to the merchant guilds where a group of tradesmen or craftsmen pursuing the same occupation joined together. Examples of the trades included:  apothecaries, bakers, carpenters, cloth makers, masons, painters, shoemakers and tanners. There were three levels of craftsmen (yes it was almost exclusively for males!) namely masters, journeymen and apprentices. Usually parents paid a fee to for the apprenticeship that would place their son with a master craftsman. So one can see the power the guilds possessed as between them they managed, monitored, regulated and controlled business practices and imports, established wages, defined working conditions and trained apprentices. The master would provide food, lodgings, clothes and the necessary instruction during the period of the apprenticeship. Both the merchants and crafts guilds created monopolies within Medieval towns and cities as no one could practice a craft and trade without being a member of the appropriate merchant or craft guild. Members of the guilds were very often involved in civic affairs and often occupied important and influential positions in the community. Each guild had its own hall and its own coat of arms. The guilds represented many of the jobs and occupations of the time. Clearly London was the centre for most of the guilds although guilds did exist outside the City of London e.g. the Cutlers of Hallamshire in Sheffield, the Merchant Venturers of Bristol and the Fellmongers of Richmond in Yorkshire. Both Scotland and Ireland had strong guilds as well as mainland Europe where France, Germany and Switzerland had very active guilds. In the 18th century London had eighty-nine guilds ranked according to a hierarchy of precedence with the twelve Great Companies at the top (see below for list of the twelve). The guilds also developed strong links and associations with religion and politics.
There were three ways of becoming a member of a guild namely by completing a seven year apprenticeship, patrimony (i.e. one’s father was a member) or by redemption (i.e. payment of a fee). Most guilds were composed of men from a variety of backgrounds and even by the 18th century most did not include women, though sometimes widows could by default become a member and could take over the training of apprentices BUT were excluded from participation in company business.
Example of the rules operated by the craft guilds included:
·         A financial penalty or ban on any illicit practice by a non-guild member –an example of the mononopoly or closed shop
·         Strict rules of conformity to the charter of the particular craft guild and if broken subjected to fines
·         Welfare arrangements including caring for sick members and orphans
·         Protection of members belongings i.e. goods, horses and wagons when they were travelling on business
The Great Twelve City Livery Companies.  (Often referred to as ‘Worshipful Company of’ the relevant trade or profession), are in order of precedence:
1.    Company of Mercers (General merchants)
2.    Company of Grocers
3.    Company of Drapers (Wool and cloth merchants)
4.    Company of Fishmongers
5.    Company of Goldsmiths
6.    Company of Merchant Taylors (Tailors) ( alternates with the Skinners)
7.    Company of Skinners (Fur traders) (alternates with the Merchant Taylors)
8.    Company of Haberdashers
9.    Company of Salters
10.  Company of Ironmongers
11.  Company of Vintners (Wine merchants)
12   Company of Clothworkers
Gradually the number of guild apprentices declined in London and the social background of the apprentices changed. The guilds lost their monopoly as work became more available to those who had not served an apprenticeship and new areas of trade and craft developed that were not covered by a particular guild. Most of the power of the guilds was located in the City and as suburbs developed outside the City boundary craftsmen and tradesmen who were not guild members began to practice and ignored the rules and regulations of the livery companies. In addition the fee for an apprenticeship deterred many families paying the expensive premiums that were around £28 in 1716. As the numbers declined apprentices increasingly came from more prosperous families and these entered professions such as architects, lawyers and surgeons. The power of the guilds to regulate economic activity declined significantly in the 17th and 18th century as a result of a number of factors and they became more like agents for providing social prestige, business networks and a political voice for their members as well as charity work. In particular some guilds suffered greatly as a result of the Great Fire of 1666 because of the need to undertake the massive job of reconstruction. The powers of the guild were relaxed and this accelerated the use of apprentices from outside London who were not involved with a particular guild. Once restoration and reconstruction was complete the guilds found it difficult to reassert their former power and authority. This coupled with the development of new technologies and industries as a result of the Industrial Revolution, the creation of factories and free trade all contributed to the decline of the guilds. Many of the new industries that were established were not regulated by the guilds and people increasingly questioned and challenged the authority and monopoly of the guilds. Ironically a number of historians (1) have suggested when trying to explain why Britain was the first industrial nation by developing earlier and faster than their European counterparts have viewed the demise of the apprenticeship in Britain as an advantage! These commentators argue that the continued influence and power of the guilds in Europe held back the development of new techniques and stifled imagination and innovation on the continent. Clearly there are other factors contributing to why Britain was the first industrial nation e.g. massive reserves of coal etc.
800px-VintersHall_2   A view of the Vintners hall is shown opposite.
 There are still 108 livery companies today with a membership of approximately 40,000 and some still continue to have regulatory powers e.g. the Goldsmiths, Scriveners whilst some have become inoperative except as charitable foundations. The majority are now social and charitable organisations very often with a great deal of ceremonial activity. However some continue to support education and training particularly the Goldsmiths Company which is establishing its own college and actively continues managing high quality apprenticeships working closely with CGLI. Salters and the Clothworkers’ and a few others have supported schools and colleges to develop curriculum in subjects like chemistry and mathematics. It must also be remembered that sixteen Companies played a key role in creating the CGLI (see history of technical education on this website).
Many historians are split on the value, influence and the contribution that the guild movement made to the economy of England. Obviously at the beginning they made a major contribution to the development of the trades and crafts at the time and were powerful agents in developing and maintaining quality and craft and trade standards of products. They initially prevented unlimited competition and helped to keep wages and working conditions stable in what were turbulent times. But gradually became closed shops and monopolistic, exclusive (e.g. barring women) and hierarchical (reflecting the class structure that has so dominated life in this country).  Their demise was inevitable as the Industrial Revolution evolved and the factory system developed with mass production techniques that required totally different skills. This change in the profile of the skills base for the factory workers that many have argues as a deskilling/low skill transition, arising from the repetitious nature of work did ultimately require a fundamental rethink of how training of the workers was to be managed. A number of the guilds realised times had changed and after 1970’s a number started to support technical and commercial education. It must be remembered that many Companies did provide significant funding in the founding of colleges and other educational institutions e.g. Armourers and Braziers. Carpenters. Clothworkers. Cordwainers Drapers. Goldsmiths. Grocers. Leathersellers. Goldsmiths ‘ Hall in 1835 shown below.
Goldsmiths Hall 1835
 Barry. J and Brooks. C. W.(eds) In ‘The Middling Sort of People’. Basingstoke. 1994. Particular interesting is piece by Brooks ‘Apprenticeships, Social Mobility and the Middling Classes’.
(1)  Landes. D. S. ‘The Unbound Prometheus’. CUP. 1969.
See also pen portrait on a short history of apprenticeships on this website.

List of  current companies:

  1. Worshipful Company of Mercers (general merchants)
  2. Worshipful Company of Grocers (spice merchants)
  3. Worshipful Company of Drapers (wool and cloth merchants)
  4. Worshipful Company of Fishmongers
  5. Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (bullion dealers)
  6. Worshipful Company of Skinners* (fur traders)
  7. Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors* (tailors)
  8. Worshipful Company of Haberdashers (clothiers in sewn and fine materials)
  9. Worshipful Company of Salters (traders of salts and chemicals)
  10. Worshipful Company of Ironmongers
  11. Worshipful Company of Vintners (wine merchants)
  12. Worshipful Company of Clothworkers
  13. Worshipful Company of Dyers
  14. Worshipful Company of Brewers
  15. Worshipful Company of Leathersellers
  16. Worshipful Company of Pewterers (pewter and metal manufacturers)
  17. Worshipful Company of Barbers (incl. surgeons and dentists)
  18. Worshipful Company of Cutlers (knife, sword and utensil makers)
  19. Worshipful Company of Bakers
  20. Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers (wax candle makers)
  21. Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers (tallow candle makers)
  22. Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers (armour makers and brass workers)
  23. Worshipful Company of Girdlers (belt and girdle makers)
  24. Worshipful Company of Butchers
  25. Worshipful Company of Saddlers
  26. Worshipful Company of Carpenters
  27. Worshipful Company of Cordwainers (fine leather workers and shoemakers)
  28. Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers
  29. Worshipful Company of Curriers (leather dressers and tanners)
  30. Worshipful Company of Masons
  31. Worshipful Company of Plumbers
  32. Worshipful Company of Innholders (tavern keepers)
  33. Worshipful Company of Founders (metal casters and melters)
  34. Worshipful Company of Poulters (poulterers)
  35. Worshipful Company of Cooks
  36. Worshipful Company of Coopers (barrel and cask makers)
  37. Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers (builders)
  38. Worshipful Company of Bowyers (long-bow makers)
  39. Worshipful Company of Fletchers (arrow makers)
  40. Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths
  41. Worshipful Company of Joiners and Ceilers (wood craftsmen)
  42. Worshipful Company of Weavers
  43. Worshipful Company of Woolmen
  44. Worshipful Company of Scriveners (court scribes and notaries public)
  45. Worshipful Company of Fruiterers
  46. Worshipful Company of Plaisterers (plasterers)
  47. Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers (journalists and publishers)
  48. Worshipful Company of Broderers (embroiderers)
  49. Worshipful Company of Upholders (upholsterers)
  50. Worshipful Company of Musicians
  51. Worshipful Company of Turners (lathe operators)
  52. Worshipful Company of Basketmakers
  53. Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass
  54. Worshipful Company of Horners (horn workers and plasticians)
  55. Worshipful Company of Farriers (horseshoe makers and horse veterinarians)
  56. Worshipful Company of Paviors (road and highway pavers)
  57. Worshipful Company of Loriners (equestrian bit, bridle and spur suppliers)
  58. Worshipful Society of Apothecaries (physicians and pharmacists)
  59. Worshipful Company of Shipwrights (shipbuilders and maritime professionals)
  60. Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers
  61. Worshipful Company of Clockmakers
  62. Worshipful Company of Glovers
  63. Worshipful Company of Feltmakers (hat makers)
  64. Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters
  65. Worshipful Company of Needlemakers
  66. Worshipful Company of Gardeners
  67. Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers
  68. Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights
  69. Worshipful Company of Distillers
  70. Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers (wooden-shoe makers)
  71. Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers
  72. Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers
  73. Worshipful Company of Gunmakers
  74. Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers (threadmakers for military and society clothing)
  75. Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards
  76. Worshipful Company of Fanmakers
  77. Worshipful Company of Carmen (vehicle drivers)
  78. Honourable Company of Master Mariners
  79. City of London Solicitors’ Company (lawyers)
  80. Worshipful Company of Farmers
  81. Honourable Company of Air Pilots
  82. Worshipful Company of Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Blenders
  83. Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers
  84. Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers
  85. Worshipful Company of Chartered Surveyors
  86. Worshipful Company of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales
  87. Worshipful Company of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators
  88. Worshipful Company of Builders Merchants
  89. Worshipful Company of Launderers
  90. Worshipful Company of Marketors
  91. Worshipful Company of Actuaries
  92. Worshipful Company of Insurers
  93. Worshipful Company of Arbitrators
  94. Worshipful Company of Engineers
  95. Worshipful Company of Fuellers
  96. Worshipful Company of Lightmongers (electric lighting suppliers)
  97. Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners
  98. Worshipful Company of Chartered Architects
  99. Worshipful Company of Constructors
  100. Worshipful Company of Information Technologists
  101. Worshipful Company of World Traders
  102. Worshipful Company of Water Conservators
  103. Worshipful Company of Firefighters
  104. Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers (licensed taxicab drivers)
  105. Worshipful Company of Management Consultants
  106. Worshipful Company of International Bankers
  107. Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers
  108. Worshipful Company of Security Professionals
  109. Worshipful Company of Educators
  110. Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars
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