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 Brief History

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A brief history

The future of the Livery Companies is inextricably linked to their historical roles, so we must examine their origins to see where they are heading.

Livery Companies arose from medieval guilds which were associations of those involved in a particular trade or profession - whether they manufactured goods themselves or simply sold them. The livery was the name for the uniform they wore to identify which company they were from - and is still worn by liverymen today.

Street names like Milk Street, Poultry or Bread Street still exist today and show us which parts of London livery members used to practise their trade.

The Livery Companies were something like trade unions are today - but they were far more powerful. They were quality controllers - checking workmanship or quality of goods sold - and could throw out members for falling below their standards. This meant the offender could not ply his trade anywhere in London. The companies also looked after their members and their families in sickness or old age, and organised funerals for deceased members of the company - attendance at which was mandatory.

As the companies grew more prosperous in the 15th and 16th centuries, they built halls where their members could socialise, settle disputes and elect the officers of the company. Some of these halls still exist today. All Livery Companies were associated with a particular church and some companies were linked by religion e.g., the Salters' Company was also known as the Fraternity of Corpus Christi.

An important part of a Livery Company's duties was to train young apprentices in their trade. Regulations laid down by each Livery Company governed the training and living conditions of the apprentices and they could discipline both apprentices and their masters for any breaches of the regulations.

Becoming a member of a Livery Company was the most common way of obtaining the Freedom of the City, thus becoming a member of the Corporation of London and having a say in its government.

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