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City Livery Companies

By its very nature the livery system is universal. The wearing of a livery or uniform by retainers was an obvious form of identification for barons and bishops. Church and academic dress harks back to the days when livery was universal. Guilds may be formed for reasons of religion, fellowship or common interests in trade or manufacture. There were guilds in many major towns and cities in England, for that is how standards and prices were regulated in medieval times. Nevertheless, it is in London that there was, and still is, the strongest expression of the Livery movement on these shores

We have seen how the formation of a guild might be based on religious, fraternal or trade reasons. In London there were a large number of churches in the medieval City. It was common for members of a particular trade to live and work in a particular area and therefore to congregate at a particular church, which would also have its own fraternity. There would in consequence be a substantial overlap between the fraternity and the trade membership. To this day the official title of the Merchant Taylors' Company is "the Guild of Merchant Taylors of the fraternity of St John Baptist in the City of London".

Such an organisation would help and comfort is members in many ways as it developed. Masses or prayers would be said for deceased members. A funeral would be attended by every guild member, on penalty of a fine. Members guilty of bad workmanship would be fined or even ejected from the guild. The system of indentures or binding of apprentices assisted members in their business and ensured adequate training and that standards would be maintained. Prices were also controlled. The guild was a form of trade union. Where the company had a hall its members would gather there for business meetings. Many halls were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, or in World War II while others were redeveloped. Although there are over one hundred Livery Companies in London there are only thirty-nine halls. Finally, members of the guild could progress through the various stages of the guild; apprentice, freeman, liveryman, and then through the various offices of the guild up to Master. Members of the livery could also participate in City elections for the shrievalty and for the Lord Mayor. This is a valued privilege of the livery to this day.

The livery companies have always been staunch supporters of charity, giving help to members of the livery or their dependents who might fall on hard times. They have cast their net rather wider in modern times, especially where there are charities that might be connected with their trade or activity. Similarly, the long tradition of training in all the livery companies has reinforced their interest in, and commitment to, education and training in the modern world, especially where it is related to their core activity - and this is true also of "the Art or Mistery of the Bowyers of the City of London".

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