The Role of Livery Companies in The Governance of the City of London

The Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers and the City

The livery companies and the City of London have developed and adapted together over the centuries to sustain London's pre-eminence as a financial and business centre.

As London grew, its population, trade and craft industries expanded to such an extent that it was no longer possible for all Freemen to be directly involved in determining the evolving structure of local government. The direct involvement of Freemen in the government of London thus gave way to indirect government through the Masters and Wardens of their guilds and livery companies.

There are now 110 Livery Companies, the "youngest" of which, the Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars, received its Charter in 2014. There are also several Guilds (including the Guilds of Human Resources Professionals, Entrepreneurs and Nurses) waiting in the wings for their Charter and/or Livery status.

The livery companies still provide the City with its 25 Aldermen, and they are responsible for nominating one of them each year to act as its presiding officer, the Lord Mayor of the City of London. Since 1475, Liverymen have also had the exclusive right to elect the City's Sheriffs.

The elections of the Sheriffs and of the Lord Mayor take place in "Common Hall" in Guildhall, at the end of June and the end of September, respectively, each year. All Masters of the Livery Companies process into the Hall and all Liverymen who have satisfied the time period for qualification have the right to attend and vote by outcry.

The Lord Mayors Show

Today, the formal link between the companies and the City is through the Livery Committee, which is first mentioned in 1782, although the forerunner of the present Committee began in 1864, and its present form was only established in 2002. Besides organizing and supervising the two annual meetings of Common Hall, the Committee's key tasks are:

  • To maintain a close liaison with the Mansion House and Officers of the City of London Corporation on matters affecting the livery companies generally.
  • To research and advise livery companies on current practice and to develop best practice generally.
  • To act as a forum to which livery companies can bring matters of concern for discussion.

Each livery company has the periodic right to nominate members to sit on this Committee for a period of three years, and any liverymen may volunteer to serve on it.

Liverymen of the WCSM have an opportunity to contribute to the welfare of the country by playing an active role in the governance of an area which is of vital importance to the national economy.