Are these companies still relevant in the 21st century?
All too often public awareness of the Livery Companies is limited to the floats in the Lord Mayor's Show or photos on social media of white tie banquets in the City. This can reinforce the erroneous perception that the Livery Companies are fancy dining clubs with no substantive role in trade, craft or profession. Freemen and Liverymen will know that the reality is very different. Livery Companies are all immensely active in charity, education and fellowship and most are still well connected with their respective occupations.
Some companies, including the Goldsmiths, Scriveners, Gunmakers, Farriers and Apothecaries are particularly noteworthy for their role in regulation, inspection, examination, trading standards and enforcement. Others including the Furniture Makers, Pewterers and Turners advance their craft through competitions, awarding and exhibitions. The range of ways in which Livery Companies support occupations is both diverse and far reaching.
There is a resurgence of occupational links among the Livery, and these were very much in evidence at the Heritage Skills Festival held at Lincoln Cathedral on 23/24 June. The Lord Mayor attended on the 23rd and participated in a ceremonial procession, Evensong and organ recital followed by dinner in the Cathedral. This set the tone for an exhibition of the highest standard in a magnificent setting.
I visited the Festival on Saturday 24th and toured the stalls, exhibits and practical displays of the various companies. What follows is a small selection of the stalls I visited and the crafts I saw in action that illustrate the ongoing role of the Livery Companies.
Liveries on Lincoln's Green
Some twenty-three Livery Companies were present at the Heritage Skills Festival, alongside leading businesses working in the trades and crafts represented by the Livery and a number of colleges and professional bodies that provide education or professional development in the same fields.
The panoply of Livery and trade stalls were interspersed with displays related to the life of the Cathedral, such as the Guild of Vergers, a 'have a go' bellringing rig (if that's the correct term) and exhibits showing the work to preserve or repair church organs and stained glass. The Cathedral and the green outside were packed with all manner of displays, some of which, such as stone carving, invited audience participation, others such as moulding with molten lead, were in the safe hands of professionals.
My first stop was at the Saddlers' Company stall, where I watched a saddle being stuffed and stitched by hand using some of the tools of the craft. The Saddlers' Company is particularly well known within the saddlery trade, and is a vital funding partner to the Society of Master Saddlers. The Company also supports the British Equestrian Trade Association and the British Equestrian Federation. Britain's role as a global centre of excellence for horse breeding, training and racing ensures that the Saddlery trade remains vibrant. It is no surprise to that HRH The Princess Royal is Perpetual Master of the Saddlers' Company.
|The craft of the Saddler in action as demonstrated by a member of the Saddlers' Company © Paul D Jagger|
In the City the Basketmakers are well known for their work in creating the pagan giants known as Gog and Magog that parade in the Lord Mayor's Show, demonstrating that whether you are interested in wicker or wicca - there's something in the City of you!
|Basketmaking in action © Paul D Jagger|
|Some of the wares of the Basketmaker © Paul D Jagger|
The relatively modern contrivance of the handloom was demonstrated by members of the Company as were many examples of finished products.
|The Weavers' Company demonstrating the handloom © Paul D Jagger|
|Apprentice Upholder and his Masterpiece, surely amply qualified to become a Freeman of the Company!|
|The master of his craft demonstrating a tensioning aid.|
|Young lady apprentice who was identified as a future Master of the Company © Paul D Jagger|
|The Master Plaisterer who is a master plasterer © Paul D Jagger|
|Casting lead cherubs using a reusable mould © Paul D Jagger|
|Lead cherubs immediately after the molten lead has been poured © Paul D Jagger|
|This lady stonemason was busy carving a frog. There was no sign of it turning into a prince! © Paul D Jagger|
|From frogs to snails, presumably these pieces were commissioned by a French gastronomist for their chateau © Paul D Jagger|
|Some of the items shown to be fakes or forgeries by the Goldsmiths' Company © Paul D Jagger|
|Young apprentice of the Goldsmiths' Company demonstrating a mass spectrometer © Paul D Jagger|
|Demonstrating clock repairing skills to a youthful audience of potential apprentices © Paul D Jagger|
|Truly a Masterpiece, this astrological clock shows the clockmakers' skill and art © Paul D Jagger|
|The Clockmakers' Company donated this turret clock to the Heritage Skills Festival auction, handy if you have a turret that's in need of a clock © Paul D Jagger|
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. Available in full colour hardback and eBook formats and now in its third or Lord Mayor's edition featuring a Foreword from the Rt Hon The Lord Mayor of London.
Available online from Amazon or Etsy