The City of London and Livery Company links with Education

The City of London and its Livery Companies have been involved in education and occupational training for many centuries, certainly long before the government took on the responsibility of providing free universal education in the United Kingdom with the advent of the first government funded schools in 1870.

Outwith the City, the Livery Companies, and other privately funded schools, only the Church of England has a longer history of involvement in education from elementary schooling through to university. Indeed where longevity is concerned it would be difficult to better the Church of England's record of involvement with education, the King's School in Canterbury is held to be England's oldest founded in 597AD and still going strong.

The Livery Companies and the City of London Corporation continue to support education in the broadest sense, from schooling to apprenticeships, from professional development to academic bursaries and postgraduate research. The array of ways in which the City and its Livery Companies continue to sponsor education and training is so diverse that a full exploration would warrant a PhD research project, far beyond the scope of this short article!

A brief exploration of some of the many links the City of London and its Livery Companies maintain with education follows.


Apprenticeships are where it all began for the Livery's involvement with education. The earliest records of City apprentices being indentured to a Master date from the 12th century, around the same time as the oldest extant records of trade guilds operating in the City of London. However these guilds were already substantial institutions, for example the Weavers' Company was a Royal Charter Corporation by 1155AD and was dealing directly with the King in 1130AD. It therefore seems certain the guilds existed prior to the 12th century and were training apprentices prior to the date of the earliest surviving records. In truth nobody knows how old the apprenticeship system is, but it certainly continues to operate in the 21st century.

To this very day one of the routes by which someone may be admitted into the Freedom of a Livery Company and thence to the Freedom of the City of London is by servitude, i.e., completion of a formal apprenticeship. Guildhall still allows apprentices to be indentured and the Chamberlain's Court is competent to settle disputes between Masters and their Apprentices.

Several of the Livery Companies continue to operate their own apprenticeship schemes, including among others; The Goldsmiths' Company, the Masons' Company (website inoperative at the time of writing) and the Master Mariners' Company. The City of London also admits apprentices in various roles across the work of the Corporation in addition to operating an apprenticeship placement scheme that has led to employment in many of the City's leading financial and professional services businesses.

Apprentice of the Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers' Company

Beyond the role of the Corporation and individual business in the City, the Livery Companies operate an Apprenticeship Scheme which provides advice and guidance to the Livery Companies in setting up and running their own apprenticeships. Nineteen companies are members of the scheme, which has the following objectives:

  • Promoting Excellence in Skills
  • Maintain Dialogue with Policymakers
  • Engage with Government bodies in setting standards
  • Secure adequate funding for apprenticeships and vocational training
  • Strengthen historic links with City & Guilds
Many of the apprenticeships enabled by the Livery Companies Apprenticeship Scheme are in areas of employment that are not covered by leading employers or Government backed programs. An example is the Beekeeping apprenticeship run by the Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers. Other apprenticeships are available in fields as diverse as watch and clock maintenance to flying instruction.

It is testimony to the flexibility of the apprenticeship model that 900 years since it was first recorded the City of London is still a centre for innovation in this form of occupational training. When the role of the leading awarding body City & Guilds is taken into account, the City of London is without doubt the single greatest centre for occupational training in the UK in all its forms.

Compulsory Education

The City of London Corporation is the only local government body that funds private education, in addition to having setup a string of academies. The reasons for the City's involvement in private education are historical, principally because of bequests left to the City or to Livery Companies that were to be used for the founding of schools.

Arguably the oldest school with City of London links is St Paul's Cathedral School, founded in 1123, although the school is not funded by the City of London Corporation or the Livery Companies it is very much a City institution and finds its home on New Change at the eastern end of St Paul's Cathedral. The school is a choral foundation and provides choristers for St Paul's Cathedral, each of whom is sponsored by one of the City's Livery Companies.

It wasn't until 1442 that the City of London School (for boys) was founded from the will of John Carpenter (Town Clerk during Whittington's era). The school is now located on Queen Victoria Street and is adjacent to the Millennium Bridge.

The oldest school to be founded by a Livery Company is St Paul's School (not to be confused with St Paul's Cathedral School) which was open in 1509 and supported by the bequest of John Colet who was both a Mercer and Dean of St Paul's Cathedral.

The oldest school founded by a City merchant is the College of Richard Collyer in Horsham, West Sussex. Richard Collyer was a former Liveryman of the Mercers' Company who left money in his will for the founding of a school which opened in 1540. Several other schools have been founded by wealthy members of Livery Companies, such as Monmouth School, founded in 1614 from the bequest of William Jones, a wealthy member of the Haberdashers' Company.

Today the City of London and its Livery Companies have substantive links with a bewildering array of schools, too numerous to list here. For example the Haberdashers' Company is involved with the governance of 18 schools, and the Mercers' Company is involved with 16. Among the schools governed by the Mercers' Company is Hammersmith Academy, co-founded with the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists in 2011.

Livery Schools Link is an organisation that brings together many of the Livery Companies to provide support to the various schools founded, governed, sponsored or otherwise substantially supported by the Livery. Among other services it provides motivational talks, employability days and an annual Livery Schools Showcase event in Guildhall.

The stand of the Basketmakers' Company at the Livery Schools Showcase in 2014

In June of 2018 a summary of the Livery's involvement with compulsory education was produced by Livery Schools Link, simply entitled 'The Livery in Education'. It catalogues the numerous ways in which the Livery Companies support education, and the institutions with which each Company is connected, albeit the focus in only on compulsory education.

One of the less glamourous, but certainly no less important, ways in which the Livery provide support to schooling is through the provision of school governors. Typically each school that has a link with a Livery Company will have two or more governors provided by that Company. A centre for excellence in school governorship is the charity Governors for Schools which exists to improve educational standards in schools.

While Governors for Schools isn't a City or Livery charity, it counts among its partners several of the big businesses in the City and the City of London Corporation was a founding trustee and has supported the charity for many years. Governors for Schools also partners with the Worshipful Company of Educators, the Livery Company representing the education profession (see below).

Higher Education

The Livery Companies have in excess of 150 connections with higher education, mostly in the form of bursaries, but also through various research collaborations. As with the various links to schools, the diversity of ways in which the Livery is connected with education is beyond the scope of this article; selected highlights include:

The oldest Livery Company connection with higher education is that of the Mercers' Company's with Gresham College, an institution that has offered free public lectures since 1580. Gresham College is co-funded and governed by the Mercers and the City of London Corporation, from the bequest of Sir Thomas Gresham. Gresham College is recognised as the third oldest university in England after Oxford and Cambridge, although it admits no students and awards no degrees.

Gresham College continues to flourish over 500 years after its foundation, and continues to open its doors to the public for regular lectures either at Barnard's Inn or the Museum of London. In 2015 the College appointed its first IT Livery Company Professor of Information Technology, the 10th professorial seat to be created by the College since its foundation.

Another example of a Livery Company being involved in the foundation of a university is that of the Drapers' Company and its links with Queen Mary University of London. The Company provided the site and some of the buildings for university and continues to fund prizes for both undergraduate and postgraduate study.

The Drapers' Company also has links with Pembroke College, Cambridge; Hertford College, Oxford; St Anne's College, Oxford; Bangor University and the College of William and Mary in Virginia (USA).

The Cordwainers' Company supports scholarships in footwear and leather goods design at the University of Northampton, De Montfort University (Leicester) and the University of the Arts of London (London College of Fashion).

The Girdlers' Company has a particularly special connection with New Zealand and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The Girdlers' Company sponsor an outstanding student from New Zealand to study at Cambridge University for a 3 or 4 year degree. Applicants must be New Zealand subjects and have at least one parent who was a New Zealand subject at the time of the applicant's birth. The Girdlers donate a substantial sum for college fees and some living expenses, and further support the student during his or her tuition at Cambridge.

Perhaps the most diverse array of Livery Company links with any one university are with City University London, which boasts as its Rector no lesser City official than My Lord Mayor. The university's origins may be found in the Northampton Institute, jointly setup with the Skinners' and Saddlers' Companies. More recently the university has received support from the Clockmakers, Constructors, Cutlers, Engineers, Needlemakers, and the Scientific Instrument Makers.

Many individual Liverymen have made contributions to higher education, and among them a particularly notable example is that of the late Aldermen Sir Paul Judge. Sir Paul was President of the Association of MBAs and the major benefactor in the creation of the Judge Business School, Cambridge University. The Judge Business School's MBA is now ranked the no. 1 program by all the leading MBA ranking indexes; including those of Bloomberg, the Financial Times, Forbes Magazine and Business Insider.

And finally... A Livery Company for Education

Oxford University, Britain's oldest university, was founded sometime in the 12th century by a Guild of Scholars; in City terminology a guild is a precursor status to that of a Livery Company. In 2013 the Guild of Educators finally became the Worshipful Company of Educators when it achieved full Livery Company status and joined the order of precedence as the 109th Company.

It has therefore taken over 800 years for the education profession in Britain to progress from a medieval guild to the status of a full Livery Company. Some might say that is rapid progress for academia!

I shall leave others to debate that point.

Want to learn more about the Livery Companies?

The City of London Freeman's Guide is the definitive concise guide to the City of London and its ancient and modern Livery Companies, their customs, traditions, officers, events and landmarks. Available in full colour hardback and eBook formats and now in its fourth or Masterpiece edition. The guide is available online from Apple (as an eBook), Amazon (in hardback or eBook) Payhip (in ePub format) or Etsy (in hardback or hardback with the author's seal attached). Also available from all major City of London tourist outlets and bookstores.

The City of London Freeman's Guide is available in all major City retail outlets and online

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