What is a Livery Company

There are 110 Livery Companies based in the City of London. The Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers are numbered 84 in precedence. They are London’s original trade associations and guilds representing crafts, trades or professions. London’s Liveries play a significant part in the City’s life by providing networking opportunities and a significant amount of charitable giving.

The companies were originally formed in the 12th century. They guaranteed that a member was trustworthy and fully qualified and that the goods they produced were of reputable quality. They also proved alms for members in difficulty and education for those who had no access to it. Many were formed until the 17th century, when political upheaval and the growth of London around the City meant the companies, which only controlled trade in the City itself, began to struggle to compete.

From the 1870s however, there was a revival, with the companies extending their original educational purpose to technical education. They started to support new industries and provide training. Perhaps the most famous example is the City and Guilds of London Institute.

Most livery companies still maintain contacts with their original trade, craft or professional roles. Some still exercise powers of regulation, inspection and enforcement, while others are awarding bodies for professional qualifications. The Scriveners’ Company admits senior members of legal and associated professions, the Apothecaries’ Company awards post-graduate qualifications in some medical specialties, and the Hackney Carriage Drivers’ Company comprises licensed taxi drivers who have passed the “Knowledge of London” test. Several companies restrict membership only to those holding relevant professional qualifications, e.g. the City of London Solicitors’ Company and the Worshipful Company of Engineers. Other companies, whose trade died out long ago, such as the Longbow Makers’ Company, have evolved into being primarily charitable foundations.

After the Carmen received City livery status in 1746 no new companies were established in London for 180 years until the Master Mariners in 1926 (granted livery in 1932). Post-1926 creations are known as modern livery companies. The Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars, the newest, was granted livery status on 11 February 2014, making it the 110th City livery company in order of precedence. The Guild of Nurses are soon to follow suit in 2020.