What exactly is a Livery Company?

The tragic events of Friday 29th November 2019 in and outside Fishmongers’ Hall at the northern end of London Bridge have thrown a spotlight on that building and the organisation that owns it, but also more widely on these curious City of London institutions called Livery Companies.

The events that took place in the hall and then spilled out onto the pavement have caused, and will likely continue to cause for some time, a peak in interest on social media about the Fishmongers’ Hall, not least because of the heroism of the staff as reported by the Company's Clerk (Commodore Toby Williamson) on the BBC News. 

There is a time and a place for calm analysis of the events that took place in the hall, and my thoughts are with the loved ones of all who were killed, injured or otherwise affected by the actions of a terrorist. This blog seeks only to explain what a Livery Company is for those who may wish to learn more.
A thing without comparison

The first challenge one faces when explaining a …

Vote for Vellum! The 'roll' [sic] of parchment and vellum in preserving history and heritage

Every Freeman of the City of London receives a small certificate as the physical token of admission into the Freedom. In times past this document was carried in a wooden tube and had to be available for inspection, something akin to a license to trade.

Most Freemen choose to have their Copy of Freedom (as it is described) framed by the Chamberlain's Court before they leave Guildhall. Because of this the Freemen rarely, if ever, handle the document to feel its texture, perhaps they assume it's just a piece of paper.

Every Copy of Freedom is written on fine quality parchment rather than paper. The parchment is made from the skin of a sheep and is produced in the UK by William Cowley of Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire (a family owned business founded in 1850).
William Cowley is thought to be the last commercial parchment (sheep) and vellum (calf or goat skin) maker in the world, and still crafts with traditional tools and techniques to produce the highest quality materials for …

The City's Ward Clubs and their place in the 21st Century

The Ward Clubs of the City of London are one of those curious creatures that exist only in the eco-system of the City and find no direct parallel anywhere else in the UK. Part social club, part residents' association, part platform for engagement with voters, and part fabric of the City's cultural heritage the Ward Clubs vary in age, size, vibrancy and engagement with the residents, workers, voters and institutions of their respective ward.

This blog article explores the origins, role and relevance of the Ward Clubs in the 21st century, at a time when many (but not all) of them appear to have retired to comfortable obscurity as quiet social clubs for persons of a certain age, but perhaps they are needed more than ever to engage with the growing and changing City residential and working population.

When did the Ward Clubs begin?

The origins of the several of Ward Clubs may be found in early residents or rate payers associations, initially formed to keep down the rates in their re…

The Art and Mistery of the Livery Companies - their role in trade, craft and profession

How do the Livery Companies maintain their occupational links?

A survey conducted within and among the Livery Companies during the Autumn of 2018 revealed that many members of the older Livery Companies view their company's role as primarily charitable with a supporting social dimension. While it is true to say that the Livery Companies are all heavily involved in charity it would be wrong to think the Livery has lost connection with trade, craft and profession or to dismiss them as dining clubs.

It is a condition of formation of any new Livery Company that it must have a membership drawn from its chosen occupation, and the Court of Aldermen will want to see evidence that a majority of members are suitably qualified and active in the Company's field of endeavour before it progresses from Guild to Livery Company.

Several of the Livery Companies impose strict membership criteria that ensure the Company remains rooted in its profession. Examples include the Chartered Accountants,…