The Livery Companies in Tudor London

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In the Sixteenth Century London developed as a major trading centre. What role did the livery companies play in this and how powerful were they in practice? Did they ultimately help or hinder the growth of the City?

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Professor Tim Connell




London and Trade


Initial reflections


I think I am right in saying that this is actually the first lecture on the livery at Gresham since the late great George Webb spoke on the subject in 1995 - and even he referred to the enormous size and complexity of the subject.[i] I hope to cover a fairly wide range of companies tonight myself, but it would be impossible to do justice to them all, so I plan to mention at least the Mercers (who are, after all, first in order of precedence), the Stationers' Company (which, at No. 47, is about half-way down the list; the fact that I am also a member is a pure coincidence); and the World Traders as one of the new companies, and which seems to have a number of local connections with the College.


Strictly speaking, this lecture comes as part of a series on the Tudor Ports of London, commemorating the establishment of the Port of London itself - of which, of course, the Lord Mayor himself is Admiral. Equally, the livery companies are a fascinating aspect of public life in the City of London, though (as we shall see) not actually unique either in the UK or abroad. But nowhere is there such a concentration, nor can there be any set of private organisations which contribute so much to public life. They play an important role in matters of governance in the Square Mile; they have a high profile in all sorts of charitable activities, ranging from education to support for different parts of the Armed Forces; and a number of them still have a direct role to play in the management, training or maintenance of standards in their own particular trade. And of course the forty-three halls are magnificent venues for a wide range of events. Most are masterpieces in their own right, though few survived the Great Fire, some were lost in the Blitz and never re-built, whilst others were lost in other fires at different times. The Ironmongers' Hall perhaps looks the oldest, having been re-built in Tudor style after being bombed in 1917. Other companies, such as the Bakers, the Carpenters and the Salters quite deliberately went for a modern contemporary style. But every hall has its own particular features and treasures; many are used for outside events and are very much a feature of life in the Square Mile.[ii]


However, the livery companies are not so much a City feature as a City survival. Other cities had guilds of their own, some of which survive to this day in cities such as Chester, Newcastle and Dundee.[iii]  Some City guilds (like the Bakers) maintain links with some of those continental cities that continue to have guilds which also seem to replicate the blend of training, charity and good dining that characterise a proper livery company. Berne, Cologne, Dusseldorf and Zurich have all maintained the tradition. Spain has its hermandades and cofradías linked, like the mediaeval guilds, to a particular church - and Seville is by no means the only city in Spain to have those amazing Easter processions. Over in the New World Buenos Aires has its own guilds for professions and crafts, including Los Martilleros, the Hammermen, which goes beyond Glasgow's guild to include anyone who works with a hammer - including the auctioneers.


So what attracts people to such organisations? In the words of one distinguished Lord Mayor [actually, thinking about it, all lord mayors are distinguished] there are Five Great Points of Fellowship: Charity, Citizenship, Commerce, Comradeship and Conviviality.[iv] And it is quite hard to argue with that. Nonetheless, the livery companies have proved to be controversial in more than one period of their history and on occasion have fought hard for their very existence, let alone the privileges, many of which they have succeeded in preserving to this day. And despite many vicissitudes when some companies had to merge and some even went under, the companies today seem to be stronger than ever. An increasing number of people take the Freedom, and there is a queue of guilds waiting to take the livery


London does appear to be unique in the relationship that exists between the livery companies and the Corporation of the City of London, but then if you go back far enough, the guilds and liveries were indispensable to almost every aspect of life in the capital. The whole concept of trade guilds is, I think, well known and understood. They have their roots in Saxon times (a fair number of livery companies believe that they go back that far in almost unbroken lineage) and acted as friendly societies, helping people in bad times, contributing to the care of orphans and acting as a burial society, hence the extensive links that companies have even today with City churches. Their role as a supervisory body for their particular craft is also easily understood: they were responsible in today's terms for professional training, quality control and external relations. They supervised the quality of the craftsmen's products, and applied hefty sanctions to those who failed to meet the necessary standards through neglect or dishonesty, hence the modern-day term the Baker's Dozen.[v]They oversaw training through the system of apprenticeships, hence our word 'masterpiece' which the apprentice had to show in order to be made free of his company. I say 'his' but there is evidence to suggest that women were sisters or freemaidens of companies, and in fact widows held a particular economic position in later times because they had inherited the assets and business of their late husband, though there are few women in livery history to match the devotion to her company of the redoubtable Elizabeth Pickering Jackson Redman Cholmeley - who married no fewer than three Stationers successively in the 1530s and 40's and who became a printer in her own right.[vi]




Changes in Tudor times


Critical to London at this time, and hence the fortune of the livery companies, is population growth. In 1509 the City and its few outlying areas, numbered about 50,000 people. This had grown by the time of Elizabeth's accession in 1558 to 90,000 and by the time of her death in 1603 this had grown to a quarter of a million. Many people had been dispossessed by enclosures, there was the constant phenomenon of vagabonds and the sturdy beggar; and increasingly there was a flow of religious refugees from the Lowlands and France, many of whom brought quite specific skills, such as silkweaving or glassmaking. This growth meant that the City itself was bursting at the seams, and the population naturally spilt over into country areas such as Chelsea (where Sir Thomas More had his country home and orchard) and over the river into Southwark. This in turn challenged the livery companies' traditional role in both the control and supervision of their trades, and the matter of local government.


These matters caused as much concern then as they do today: John Strype's Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster of 1720 is an interesting source for concerns about the influx of foreign craftsmen.[vii]It is actually a reprise of John Stow's classic Survey of London of 1598 but can add historical perspective to some of the events of the late Elizabethan period.[viii]


Strype recounts an episode which took place in the 1590s in the face of growing popular concern at the continued influx of foreign tradesmen and merchants. (It might also be noted that times were getting progressively harder,  with poor harvests, rising prices and continuing trouble in Ireland.)[ix] The Citizens, he says,


"(especially the more ordinary sort) had no great love for them, and were glad of an opportunity of oppressing them, the English Nature being somewhat inhospitable to Strangers, jealous of their Industry, and suspecting them to get their Trade away from them."


In 1592 there was even an attempt to have an Act of Parliament passed against 'Outlandish Strangers that dealt in Retail Trades' on the grounds that they were competing unfairly with home merchants. They alleged further,


"that the Strangers Retailers, had more Liberty than the English Retailers, in that they retailed in Cities, Towns Corporate, and the Suburbs of Cities and other exempt Places; which English Retailers were prohibited by a Law to do. And that some Strangers were both Merchants and Retailers. They alledged, that the Strangers Retailers hindred the Queen's Subsidies and Customes, in living obscurely as poor Retailers in shew; and so paid the Queen for Subsidy but 4d. a Poll; and in not being mere Merchant, whereby they should pay double Customs and Subsidies. They alledged, that they enhaunced the Prices of  Wares, by secret combining with Merchants beyond the Seas, Wares being then by one half dearer than they were before they reailed. They alledged, that they were dangerous to the State, in respect of their exceeding Wealth, by using two or three several Trades; in respect of their great Numbers planted in the chiefest Cities and Coast Towns of this Land; in respect of their readiness to fly from us upon report of Danger; and in respect that many of them were of no Church or apparent Profession. Lastly, they alledged, that they kept a Commonwealth among themselves, for that they had Men of all Trades among themselves, and they would not teach any of our People their Trades, nor bring up any Children of our Nation in their Trade under them."


For their part, the Strangers and Denizons argued that


"such an Act was against Charity, in that it debarred Strangers from their Livings; that the Strangers Retailers sold Wares better cheap than the English Retailers did; that it was against the Freedom of their Denizations; that it was against the Queen's Benefit, in that Strangers paid double Customs and Subsidies; that they had done much good to divers Cities and Towns within this Realm; and lastly, that if they were restrained from retailing, the English Retailers would raise the Prices among themselves."


So far, the battle lines have been drawn up in a fairly predictable fashion, with complaints by both sides of unfair treatment, underhand dealings and the need for change in the face of competition. But the affair takes on a more strictly political dimension. The matter was debated in the Commons, with none other than Sir John Wolley, (Secretary for the Latin Tongue to the Queen) arguing against. He took the view that,


"such a Restraint upon Strangers would be ill for London it self; for the Riches and Renown of the City came by the entertaining of Strangers, and giving Liberty unto them. That Antwerp and Venice could never have been so rich and famous but by entertaining of Strangers; and by that means had gained all the Intercourse of the World."


But Sir Walter Raleigh took the other Side, and apparently he:


"spake against the Strangers, and that with great Bitterness, and said to this Tenor, "That whereas it was pretended that it was against Charity, against Honour, and against Profit to expel them; in my Opinion, said he, it is no Matter of Charity to relieve them, for first, such as fly hither have forsaken their own King. Our Religion is no Pretext for them; for we have no Dutchmen here, but such as come from those Princes where the Gospel is preached, &c. As for Honour, it is Honour to use Strangers as we be used by them. But it is a Lightness in a Commonwealth, yea, a Baseness in a Nation, to give a Nation a Liberty, which we cannot receive again. In Antwerp, where our Intercourse was most, we were never suffered to have a Tayler or a Shoemaker to dwell there."


Strype reports the view that:


"This was a severe Speech against the poor foreign Strangers, delivered by him, who could not foresee his own Misfortunes of being first ruined in a Voyage to foreign Parts; and after his Return, of being hunted to Death by a foreign Minister."


Sir Thomas Mildmay (a leading City figure) even petitioned for:


"erecting an Office to keep a Register yearly of the Names, Ages, Abilities of Body, Countries, Callings, Arts, Sciences, Places of Habitation, Causes of Repair hither, and Times of Departure hence, of all Foreigners and Strangers, now being and inhabiting within the Realm; and of all others that should from time to time come into the Realm to inhabit, or pass out of the same; That Many, having gotten into their Hands great Riches and Treasure, by engrossing our Commodities, suddenly departed the Realm; and many times stole away with other Mens Goods, without any Notice given thereof; and that under colour of Merchandize and Religion, many Intelligencers and Spies adventured to come hither."


Even at this early stage in our Island history, the wider view prevailed, probably recognising that on the one hand it was not possible to be at the centre of trade and markets if regulations were too restrictive (always supposing that they were enforceable) and that this could have the equal and opposite effect of limiting our own trading potential abroad, which was clearly going to be harmful, given the number of companies which had been set up to develop overseas trade links and whose merchants, ships and goods were all too open to retaliation.


As Strype says,


"But the wiser and better sort were rather for cherishing these Strangers, as well perceiving what Advantages they brought to the Nation, both for their Callings and Examples of Thrift and Diligence, as also by rendring the Queen's Enemy weaker by the dispeopling his Countries, and abating of his Trade and Traffic. They had also a religious Compassion for such as left their own Country and Friends, and plentiful Living, (as most of them did) for the sake of God and Truth. Of this Temper and Judgment was the wise Lord Treasurer Burghley."


And we may be sure that Lord Burghley had the national interest at heart and firmly in hand.


In any case, during the whole of this period (and even before) the guilds were beginning to change in nature as their membership moved away from being related strictly to the craft in question, and new prosperity created a demand for luxury goods, such as the stained glass which was the preserve of the Glaziers, a company dating from the fourteenth century, a time when glass was so valuable that it would not be listed in a sale under fixtures and fittings, but as a moveable and transportable item. Membership expanded, especially in the more powerful companies, to include the new commercial elite whilst offering members still the opportunity to move from apprentice to freeman to householder and small businessman with a stake in the management of the City.[x] Some livery companies continued to maintain tight control over their particular trade. The Stationers managed to control printing in virtually the whole of England to the extent that there were fewer presses here than in the City of Geneva, but that was particularly due to political and religious considerations. In fact, the Company's charter (awarded uniquely by Mary Tudor and her husband King Philip of Spain in 1557) was closely linked to the maintenance of religious orthodoxy. The Company's rather splendid garden (which has survived to this day) was actually used for the burning of unsuitable books.[xi]


Religious changes in this period had their effect on the companies. Religious houses (which are commemorated in place names today like Blackfriars and Charterhouse) were closed as were some churches, such as St Helen's which became the livery hall for the  Leathersellers.[xii]Clearly there must have been difficulties for individuals in these contentious times. Officially at least, the livery companies conformed, though it must have been a difficult transition given the relationship between the Church and the guilds in mediaeval times. The Coopers resolved in 1554 not to have a mass on their election day and changed their motto from 'Gaude Maria Virgo' to a more secular 'Love as Brethren'. The coat of arms of the Drapers Company (which in 1439 had included a representation of the Virgin Mary) was altered in the time of Elizabeth.[xiii] However, this also meant that companies took on some of the responsibilities that had been undertaken by the monastic orders, such as schools. St Paul's School  (established by John Colet in 1510) was funded by the Mercers; Tonbridge was set up by the Skinners in 1553; Oundle was set up by the Grocers in 1556, but there is no shortage of examples.[xiv]


Matters of religion convulsed much of Europe in the Sixteenth Century, and the Protestant cause under Elizabeth led to closer links with the emergent protestant powers of the North, whilst driving a further wedge into relations with France and Spain. Tudor London therefore became a focal point for Northern Europe, having been little more in economic terms than an offshoot of Antwerp, and not the most significant port within the Hanseatic League. Political upheaval in the Lowlands re-directed outward trade to Emden, Hamburg and even Bergen op Zoom; the controls on trade still enjoyed by the livery companies made London the focal point for the exportation of English goods (with wool the key economic commodity), and returning ships not only brought back an increasing range of imported items but also gave a boost to the Elizabethan navy.


It is hardly surprising that the companies took on a significant role not only in funding the wars and means of defence, but also levies of men. The Coopers, for example, provided Henry VIII with four fully equipped men for the campaign in Scotland. In 1572, at the behest of the Privy Council, the livery companies contributed 3000 men for the defence of the City. The Merchant Taylors alone provided 200 - all at a cost of about thirty shillings a man. Company Halls maintained their own armouries, and from 1574 were required to maintain a store of gunpowder. (It would be interesting to know whether the halls still contained gunpowder at the time of the Great Fire!)[xv]


Commercial as well as military adventures overseas pre-date Tudor times. Sir John Crosby had built Crosby Hall in Bishopsgate on the basis of a fortune made in Spain between 1466 and 1475.[xvi] The Merchant Adventurers received a charter from Henry IV; although not a livery company themselves (they were rather more of a joint stock company) they did have close links to the Mercers, and were particularly involved in the wool trade with the Low Countries. They appear to have focused almost exclusively on the region and became embroiled in the events which destabilised it.


It was probably the situation with the Low Countries that led the City to look further afield for commercial ventures, and of course the Reformation had provided a new commercial class with capital via the dissolution of the monasteries and the re-apportionment of land as well as property. The Protestant revolt in the Netherlands of 1568 and the position with the Huguenots in France made the whole area increasingly untenable for stable trade. Antwerp itself was sacked by Spanish troops in 1576, an episode known as the Spanish Fury. By 1580 Elizabeth I was sending troops to the Low Countries, so Sir Thomas Gresham was quite prescient in his realisation that Antwerp was finished as a commercial centre, and the opening of his Exchange in 1566 came at just the right time.[xvii]  We may safely assume that this was not a coincidence.


Part of a similar process of modernisation in order to restore the royal finances, establish proper systems and controls, and confirm London's place was the creation of the legal quays, a subject which has already been covered in this series in a distinguished lecture by Dr Alan Bryson of the University of Glasgow. The legal quays, established by Sir William Paulet in 1559, formalised the customs process and discouraged (though probably never put an end to) the non-payment of duty on imported goods. As Lord Treasurer Paulet also did much to put the royal finances onto a more formal footing, and in this respect was a close associate of Sir Thomas Gresham, although it is perhaps surprising that he is not better known. Having survived several changes of monarch he was clearly a valuable man and did sterling service for the Crown on numerous occasions. He worked closely with the livery companies (he was a Dyer himself) in the creation of a book of rates on which to base the customs tariffs. That in turn must have had the effect of making people in the trade more conscious of their own rates and methods of pricing - and also put the process in the hands of people who were most expert - even if they had a vested interest in under-quoting figures for tax purposes. It also meant that London had to look to its own infrastructure (rather like Terminal Five and the Cross-Rail project today) in that the small creeks and inlets which had hitherto been used by incoming vessels (such as the Gresham Ship in Prince's Creek)[xviii] had to unload at a proper quayside, which in turn led to the formulation of specialised unloading areas such as Billingsgate for fish and Bridgehouse for corn, and particular groups, such as the Portuguese, could gravitate towards quays like Bear and Young's quays.[xix]


Further reasons for the growth in trade and the trend to look further overseas might have been the increase in imports from vessels returning from the Continent, or the displacement of particular industries from Antwerp and other cities affected by the Spanish occupation. It could have been the consequence of increased naval activity or increasing competition with France, Spain and Portugal for wealth from overseas, interspersed with the early form of economic warfare constituted by attacks on Spanish treasure ships, whose outgoing cargoes for the colonies increasingly included items of foreign manufacture (as Spanish industries were unable to supply) and returning cargoes were being used increasingly to fund wars in Europe. And of course Hanseatic representation in London, dating back at least to the 13th Century, was severely curtailed in 1551. They were re-possessed in 1598 (and their hall was taken over for the Navy Office.)[xx]


No-one had a greater impact on raising awareness of possibilities overseas than Richard Hakluyt. [Pronounced Hacklitt, not Haklout, Hakluit or even Hakloot). His father was a member of the Skinners' Company, although much of his work was to be sponsored by the Clothworkers. He studied (and later taught) Geography at Oxford, where he also took holy orders. He himself travelled no farther than Paris on a diplomatic mission, but it is clear that his range of sources was wide and indeed international. At one point he may even have considered going to the American colonies himself. He was supported by such key figures as Lord Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham and eventually Sir Robet Cecil, so he was at the core of court life. He knew all the Elizabethan seadogs, and even dedicated his translation of Peter Martyr's  influential work on the New World to none other than Sir Walter Raleigh. His abilities as a translator (he worked between several languages) led him to introduce a wide range of works to an English audience and before his death in 1625 and turned his gaze to the markets of the Far East.[xxi]


But Hakluyt's erudite work on the voyages of discovery (he makes relatively little mention of the Merchant Adventurers and their activities across the Channel and North Sea) were a guide as well as a reflection of the move by the livery companies to form companies targeted at particular overseas markets. This may have been because of increasing sources of capital to invest, based on the growing importance of London as an international trading city. There was almost certainly a military imperative given the constant threat posed by France as well as Spain. And the idea of settling as well as trading overseas goes back perhaps to the voyages from Bristol of the Cabot brothers. (Sebastian Cabot himself was a founder member of the Muscovy Company in fact.) Sir John Hawkins and his father had begun trading missions (as well as English involvement in the slave trade) via their voyages to Guinea, and these were so profitable that they drew support from senior City merchants, such as Sir Lionel Duckett (Lord Mayor in 1572 and a Mercer - his portrait hangs in Mercers Hall today), who was actually John Hawkins' Father-in-Law. The Guinea Company made a range of voyages from 1558 to 1567, paving the way for the Black Triangle of later centuries, whereby manufactured goods went from England to Africa for barter, the slaves were taken across the Atlantic to work on the plantations, whose produce (sugar and cotton especially) then went into the further production of manufactured goods.[xxii]


Other expeditions reached out trying to find routes through the North West Passage, ways to Persia, and there were also expeditions into the Mediterranean. Trade to southern Spain and the Canaries was actually quite well established (not least for the importation of sherry and citrus fruits) and English ships went up the Mediterranean coast of Spain as far as Valencia and the Balearics. There were few incursions into the Eastern Mediterranean given the danger of attacks from the Barbary pirates en route, and the region was quite strictly controlled by either the Venetians or the Turks although the Levant Company was set up for this purpose. The Virginia Company went on from trade to colonisation, with very mixed results, as was the case with the first Irish settlements in Munster, although these regions were to grow in prominence under the Stuarts. Of particular interest is the Muscovy Company, where trade went hand-in-hand with diplomatic missions. It was chartered in 1555, oddly enough with the aim of finding a route through to Cathay. After a perilous journey in which two ships were lost, the survivors under Richard Chancellor reached Archangel and then made their way to Moscow. Czar Ivan IV (better known as Ivan the Terrible)  welcomed the opening of a sea route, as the Baltic was an area still under contention between regional powers such as Sweden and Poland. There were subsequent expeditions eastwards, but they only got as far as Bokhara. The Muscovy Company did, however, succeed in developing a monopoly on trade with Russia, that lasted to 1698, so it may be judged as one of the more successful ventures of the time, though perhaps not as much as the East India Company, which received its first charter in 1600.




A modern perspective


Given the distinguished nature of this evening's audience, I would like to round off with some reflection on the role of livery companies today, as the City is undergoing changes far greater than those that faced Tudor London, though there are similarities.


The global element is still a major factor, although the concern is now not so much how to sail round the world as stay afloat in the present commercial environment. (It might be tempting fate to quote figures at the moment...)


The population of London has also burgeoned in the last ten years, and governance with a Mayor's office and City Hall is but the latest in attempts to manage London effectively. In fact many of the issues are much the same as in the 1630s with the Great Refusal, 1835 and the Royal Commission, the corporation reforms of the 1850s, let alone the 'Great Awakening' of the 1870s and the inquiry which ran from 1880 and 1884 as part of the creation of the London County Council. However, on all these occasions vaulting ambition has been tempered by the realisation that the Square Mile is unique, and traditionally the key source of funding for Government and the Crown. One courtier put it rather neatly in 1640 when he said of the Aldermen:


"Methinks he would not be much out that compared them to nuts, they must be cracked before one can have any good of them, and then too at first they appear dry and choky, but bring them to the press, they yield a great deal of fat oil." [xxiii]


Many Companies (I cannot answer for the Aldermen) went through periods of varying fortunes in the following centuries. Many lost any pretence to being craft guilds as their trades died out, and some became little more than exclusive dining clubs. It was the pressures exerted on them by the attempts at reform in the Nineteenth Century that led to the emergence of the livery companies as we see them today, convivial, concerned with different aspects of public life and at the core of public life in the City.[xxiv]


The charitable work of the livery companies today is a continuation (sometimes literally) of the activities that have been carried on since the inception of the guilds as a source of mutual support for people engaged in the same trade. Many companies still administer funds which were part of a bequest going back centuries. Gresham College is a prime example of this, with co-operation on the part of both the City side and the Gresham side. Most liverymen will be able to cite with pride some charitable activity or event which is long rooted in the past, but still observed, rather like Cakes and Ale that takes place annually at the Stationers, thanks to the munificence of John Norton in 1611 - even if the recipe for the cakes was lost in the Blitz.[xxv]


The Corporation itself is engaged today in numerous activities with the fringe boroughs, ranging from the City Academy in Southwark through to a whole variety of initiatives related to the employment of the young - reflecting perhaps the traditional function of apprenticeships which formerly started people off on their careers with their parent's livery company through patrimony.[xxvi] Some companies (like the Cutlers) still encourage people to enter a particular trade, such as instrument manufacture, whilst others (almost too numerous to mention) offer scholarships to students, and support for particular university departments. The Horners, in recognition of the fact that horn was a standard material for cheap goods in days gone by, now support the plastics industry. The Salters have a particular interest in chemistry; the Clothworkers support textiles and dyeing at the University of Leeds.[xxvii] Sixteen companies clubbed together to form the City and Guilds Institute with the Corporation of London in 1878. It now operates in one hundred countries through eight and a half thousand centres, (with major international hubs in Singapore and Johannesburg).[xxviii]


 Trading conditions today, the effective nationalisation of parts of the UK banking sector, the general uneasiness that arises from not knowing whether High Street names are safe anymore, and concern about the true extent of toxic debt (a bit like finding dry rot in the timbers of the ancestral home) have combined to create a more negative view of banking (and hence the City) than has been expressed for a very long while. The imminent meeting of the G20 in London in a few weeks' time will doubtless underline all the above. However, the Corporation works tirelessly to attract inward investment, doubtless with the assistance of liveries such as the World Traders, not to mention such modern craftsmen as the Actuaries or the Arbitrators.[xxix]


Some of the problems being faced by the City today may be seen as a consequence of Big Bang, of excessive de-regulation, oversights or maybe even incompetence on the part of the regulators and others. Perhaps the lengthy bull markets of the last two decades made people complacent. But banking or financial scandals are not new: there have been the cases of Rolls Razor, BCCI or Baring in modern times; there was the Marconi Scandal of 1913; the Stock Market Fraud of 1814, (to which Lord Cochrane fell victim)  not to mention that most uproarious fraud of all time - the South Sea Bubble of 1720.They say that a country without its past is like a man without a shadow. It looks rather more like the shades (if not the genes) of the Merchant Venturers and the old Elizabethan seadogs are still to be found in the City of London, but then entrepreneurial flair (especially in times like these) is something to encourage.




Concluding points


For something which may appear to be a throwback to the past, with its quaint customs and odd costumes and strong historic roots, the whole livery movement appears to be in good heart. The practice of creating new liveries goes back to 1932, when the Honourable Company of Master Mariners were the first new one to be created for 223 years (before anyone puts their hand up, that was the Fanmakers in 1709). They have since been followed by a steady stream of companies, with chartered bodies such as the Accountants or the Secretaries and Administrators, and representatives of more modern trades such as the Fuellers (1987) or the World Traders and Water Conservators, who were the first companies of the new century. Other Guilds, such as the Educators, are waiting in the wings.[xxx]


Does the livery actually have a role to play in controlling events or, in the modern world with electronic exchanges and off-floor trading, does control now have to pass into the hands of supra-national bodies, as Brussels currently wants? Can a practice such as 'My Word is My Bond' work in a global context at a time when half of the workers in the Square Mile have come from abroad? At a time when people are thinking about greater control is there perhaps space still to think, not perhaps in terms of self-regulation which is currently out of fashion, but of an environment where people do think about what is good for the Square Mile, which provides an opportunity for people to meet on social terms and collaborate on a large scale in charitable works for the public good? If such people then have a direct influence on the way in which the Square Mile is governed, then so much the better. In the words of the celebrated livery toast - May they flourish root and branch - for ever and ever and ever.












[i] George Webb and that other City stalwart David Vermont were my sponsors when I went for the Freedom, and it was they  who first introduced me to the City.




[ii] See J Lang (1975) Pride without Prejudice: the story of London's guilds and  livery companies. Perpetua Press chapter 2.






[iii] J K Melling (1988) Discovering London's Guilds and Liveries. Shire Publications. See pages 6-12.






[iv] R J Blackham (1930), The Soul of the City: London's Livery Companies, London. Colonel Blackham was a member of three companies, and Lord Wakefield, who wrote the preface, was a past master of no fewer than four, as well as Lord Mayor.






[v] Lang (1975) pages 26-27.






[vi] P Blayney (2003)The Stationers' Company before the Charter 1403-1557. The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers. See pages 39-41.












[viii] For a copy of Stow's 1603 edition, go to






[ix] James Shapiro's curious 1599: a year in the life of Shakespearecovers this period in a rather original fashion.






[x] See Stephen Inwood's fascinating  section on the power of the guilds in A history of London (Macmillan 1998) pages 181-191.






[xi] Unsuitable members of the Company were actually burnt at Smithfield.  See Blayney pages 30-32 for the case of James Bainham who was executed in 1532 for heresy.






[xii] V Hope, C Birch & G Torry (1982) The Freedom: the past and present of the livery, guilds and City of London. See page 41.






[xiii] See Lang (1975) page 37.






[xiv] Blackham (1930) page 73.






[xv] Blackham (1930) pages 28-30,  gives a very detailed account of the content of these armouries. It is worth noting that churches in this period also kept stores of weapons. The one at Mendlesham in Suffolk has survived and is particularly well known.






[xvi] In Richard Tames (1995) London Past. Richard of Gloucester was living at this address when the little princes disappeared in the Tower.






[xvii] It became the Royal Exchange with Elizabeth's visit in 1571.






[xviii] For more on the Gresham ship see






[xix] The lecture is available  






[xx]  The Hanse did return later and were given some support in the form of exemption from taxes by William III. See . There is also the Gresham Symposium in 2007 on the Hanseatic League, available on the College website.






[xxi] I am indebted to Anthony Payne of the Hakluyt Society  for this information. His work Richard Hakluyt : a guide to his books and to those associated with him (Quaritch 2008) is particularly useful.






[xxii] Anne Sutton (2005) The Mercery of London: Trade, Goods and People 1130-1578. Ashgate.






[xxiii] Quoted in I G Doolittle (1982, The City of London and its Livery Companies, Guildhall Library Publications. See page 9. It has a very interesting set of illustrations, based on Punch between 1831 and 1897.






[xxiv] A rather curious publication of 1867 which puts a contrary view is by one Benjamin Scott, entitled




'A statistical vindication of the City of London; or fallacies exploded and figures explained. '


It is available in facsimile at,M1




[xxv][xxv] A newsletter, purportedly written in 1557, gives a good view of the Company's activities in Tudor times.








[xxvi]  For details of work by the Corporation under the broad heading of Corporate Responsibility ,  see:






[xxvii]  The Stock Market jumped at the news of the supposed death of Napoleon, but it proved to be a hoax. The episode appears in Patrick O'Brien's Treason's Harbour. For more on 1720, 1814, 1825, 1866 and other upheavals see












[xxix] For more on inward investment services, see:






[xxx]  See  for an interesting article on the subject.















© Professor Tim Connell, Gresham College, 18 March 2009


Professor Tim Connell

An honorary life fellow of Gresham College, Professor Tim Connell is an Emeritus Foundation professor at City, University of London, where he set up a full range of language activities over a period of nineteen years.

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