What is a Livery Company?

Livery company coats of arms.   

The Livery Companies of the City of London can trace unbroken descent from medieval Trade Guilds. The term 'Guild' is said to derive from Saxon word 'Gild' a payment, since members paid towards the cost of fellowship.

The term ‘livery’ covers the distinctive clothing and badges, the symbols of membership. The guilds over the centuries became known as livery companies, and it is still the custom to wear ceremonial dress on official occasions.

Guilds were crafts or trade societies. They protected consumers and employers against incompetence or fraud by training sufficient apprentices to provide an adequate supply of skilled craftsmen selling goods of true quality and weight. They helped workers by preventing unlimited competition and ensuring decent wages and conditions. They searched out inferior work and punished the offenders. They settled trade and domestic disputes by arbitration, while their halls served as centres for meeting and recreation. Members paid contributions as to a benefit society, then received relief when ill, infirm or old, and had their burial expenses paid.

There was a strong religious element in the Guilds, each adopting a patron Saint and being attached to a local monastery or church. The wearing of livery arose from a practice of wearing a distinctive form of dress on solemn or festive occasions and spread from that. Eventually only the wealthier members could afford the "Livery" and became a distinct group called Liverymen.

The Livery companies have a proud history dating from the Middle Ages, when they controlled services, manufacture and the sale of goods in the City of London. Despite the changes in industry and commerce since, the Livery has flourished. Their work is timeless: fostering their trade in the widest sense, serving the community, and staying alive to modern skills. Welfare of members, spiritual and material, has always been a big concern of the Guilds.

Trades unique to the modern technological age have joined. A new livery is not like the forming of a club, that may falter through lack of interest. The Court of Aldermen expects to be satisfied that people of good repute have come together, and have held together for long enough to show they have support. A Guild's meetings must be held in the City, and its efforts to foster the profession must be beneficial.