Livery companies embrace financial sector

23rd October 2020

The City of London’s livery companies have a long and proud history that goes back centuries. Some are so old that the trades represented in their names are not widely familiar today. Here’s a test. Describe what these people do or did for a living: mercers, cordwainers, curriers, scriveners, broderers, upholders, loriners, patternmakers and wyre drawers.

The Worshipful Company of Mercers (dealers in fine textiles such as silks and velvets) stands first in the order of precedence of the 110 livery companies existing today. It is one of the 12 great livery companies, the others being Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Merchant Taylors, Skinners, Haberdashers, Salters, Ironmongers, Vintners and Clothworkers.

12th-century origins

Now usually called The Mercers’ Company, it explains the origins of livery companies: “Trade guilds, which would later become livery companies, formed in London during the 12th Century. Men and women working in the same crafts or trades began to join together in informal associations. They functioned as social, religious and benevolent organisations looking after Members and families.

“The Mercers’ Company is focused on being a philanthropic force for good.  We go back over 700 years with philanthropy as the common thread between our past, present and future. Our connection to our original trade has diminished over time but we maintain our links with schools, the Armed Forces, our Church Livings, the City of London Corporation and other livery companies.”

Many of the livery companies own elegant and ornate halls in London and keep up old traditions, but they have also moved with the times. The need to do so was recognised as far back as 1926, with the decision to admit further livery companies for the first time since 1848. The first of these ‘modern livery companies’ was the Honourable Company of Master Mariners.

Dedicated FS group

As the focus of the City of London had by this time moved from historical crafts and trades to banking, insurance and investment, the Master Mariners were to be followed in the ensuing decades by numerous modern livery companies rooted in the world of finance. There is now a dedicated ‘Financial Services Group of Livery Companies’, which was formed in 2006 and has 12 members.

The Group, in its own words: “aims to support the Lord Mayor in his overseas visits, his meetings in the City with overseas delegations, and his role of promoting ‘the City’ brand of UK financial and other business services. It also acts as a gateway for those wishing to establish businesses in the City or who require professional and financial services in their country of operation.”

The 12 livery companies in the Group are The Worshipful Companies of Insurers, Actuaries, International Bankers, Arbitrators, Chartered Secretaries & Administrators, World Traders, Management Consultants, Marketors, Tax Advisers, City of London Solicitors, Chartered Accountants and, unlikely as it may sound, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists.

Insurers’ policy

The Worshipful Company of Insurers typifies the aims of a modern livery company with this policy: “We strive to promote the excellence of the insurance industry; help any of our members who may be suffering hardship; fundraise for education projects in relation to the insurance industry and for other charitable purposes, and work with the Chartered Insurance Institute and other societies.”

So, many centuries since they began as trade guilds, the City of London livery companies have remained relevant by adapting to changing times and accepting newcomers to their ranks from areas of finance and commerce not previously represented. It’s a mix of tradition and forward-thinking from which many of us, individuals and businesses, could draw some useful lessons.

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