Monday, 22 May 2017

The role of the Beadle

The City of London has many civic and ceremonial officers which are unknown in other towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom such as: the Ale Conners, the Bridge Masters, the Chief Commoner, the Clerk to the Chamberlain's Court, and the Secondary and Undersheriff to highlight just a few. The Beadle is the one office holder which is common to both the City of London and its Livery Companies, but in typical City style the role is not the same in every Company and certainly not between the Companies and the City. Such is the way of the City that delights in creating exceptions to, and variations on, a common theme!

There are other Beadles (sometimes 'Esquire Bedell') to be found in some of the ancient universities in the UK and the Commonwealth, and these are ceremonial officers who keep the customs and traditions of the university in addition to performing a role similar to that of the Livery Company Beadle.

The Ward Beadle

Each of the City's twenty-five wards has at least one Beadle, some of the larger wards have more than one Beadle (up to a maximum of three for the largest wards), but the norm is for a ward to have a single Beadle. The Ward Beadle is an office probably dating from the Anglo-Saxon period, and may be as ancient as that of Sheriff - nobody can say for certain.

The Ward Beadle (or Beadles) are nominated by the Alderman for each ward and elected at the ward-moot with the Common Councilmen for each Ward. They serve as ceremonial officers who carry the ward's mace (otherwise kept in Guildhall) and assist the Alderman in the performance of civic duties, especially during ceremonial events, meetings of Common Hall and during a ward-moot or any folk-moot as may be called. They wear a colourful ceremonial robe and tricorn hat, the colour of the gown varying from ward to ward.

Ward Beadles of the City of London
Ward Beadles of the City of London here seen outside Guildhall
In times past the Ward Beadle would maintain a list of the Freemen living in their ward, being those persons who were eligible to vote in elections to Common Council and for the Alderman. Since residents and business voters now form the electorate for the wards, this role has been absorbed into the responsibilities of the Corporation of London, specifically the Town Clerk's department.

The Ward Beadle also had responsibility for fining Freemen who failed to attend a ward-moot without sufficient cause. Theoretically this power still exists, but is never exercised.

The principal surviving duty of the Ward Beadle is that of opening each ward-moot, keeping order during proceedings and bringing the meeting to a close.

Another duty of the Ward Beadle is that of informing the Alderman of any person of 'bad and evil life' or hucksters of ale, or persons keeping a brothel. In this respect they are something akin to a police officer, or at least a watch keeper.

The Livery Company Beadle

Each of the City's Livery Companies has a Beadle, who may be a full-time salaried employee or a part-time retainer, perhaps working for several companies. Livery Company Beadles, like their City brethren, are most often seen performing a ceremonial role by making announcements and carrying the Company's staff at the head of the procession during dinners, banquets, church services and other events.

The Beadle of The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists in his robe of office seen here in Guildhall
Mr Alan O'Connor, Beadle to The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists. Image copyright Alan O'Connor
Those companies which own a hall will usually, but not always, combine the role of Beadle with that of Hall Manager responsible for upkeep of the hall and safe keeping of the Company's treasures, something akin to a caretaker while retaining the ceremonial role. In the very largest halls the Beadle may have his own flat (and currently all Beadles in the City are male).

Livery Company Beadles are responsible for keeping order and ensuring that only members of Court are admitted to Court meetings, and only Liverymen of their Company are admitted to Common Hall. In this regard they perform a similar role to the Ward Beadle.

In times past when Livery Companies had many young apprentices in their charge, the Beadle was responsible for their discipline, and today a Company Beadle might have a quiet word in the ear of any Freeman or Liveryman who requires a bit of close quarter counselling on his or her dress, behaviour or timekeeping. If the Court of a Livery Company awards a fine for misbehaviour to one of the Company's Freemen or Liverymen, it is the Beadle who is responsible for administering the fine.

Perhaps it is for this reason that Livery Companies Beadles are often former police officers or non-commissioned officers from the Armed Forces.
A group of Livery Company Beadles in their ceremonial uniforms during the annual Lord Mayor's Show in London
Livery Company Beadles during the annual Lord Mayor's Show. Image copyright Alan O'Connor
During ceremonial events it is the Beadle who calls the gathering to order, introduces speakers, and keeps the event running to time. The Beadle will also announce guests to the receiving line and acts as the liaison between the host and the catering staff since he is the only person (other than the catering staff) who is permitted to move around the room during a formal dinner or banquet. The Beadle must be at home speaking with royalty, the Lord Mayor, masters of Livery Companies, bishops, politicians, judges, senior military officers and the youngest apprentice.

While the Beadle must be able to administer a quiet word from time to time his role is much aided if he has a thunderous voice that commands attention - a Beadle is often heard more than seen; never the less he usually wears a brightly coloured gown that echoes the colours of the Company's coat of arms unlike the Clerk's which is a sober legal gown based on that of a Barrister at Law. In addition they carry a staff of office which may be raised up like a tour guide's umbrella to lead the way in church or during the entry and exit of the top table at a Livery Company dinner. Some Beadles wear a tudor bonnet, others a bicorn hat worn athwart.

The Beadle must be a man* of many talents, able to seamlessly adapt to a number of roles, and for those that manage a hall they will also have the responsibility of guiding visitors and guests, and perhaps liaison and negotiation with clients who hire the hall on a commercial basis.

The Beadle must maintain a commanding but diplomatic presence no matter what the circumstances. Image copyright Alan O'Connor.

Together the Beadles of London have their own Guild, which is raising awareness of this ancient and multi-facetted role, one which has perhaps received less attention and importance than it should. You may discover more about the role and history of the Beadle at this website:

* There is no restriction on the role of Beadle being held by a man. The current Junior and Senior Esquire Bedells of Cambridge University are both women.

If you would like to learn more about the City's many customs, ceremonies, traditions, institutions, officers and landmarks, you may enjoy The City of London Freeman's Guide available in hardback and eBook.

The front cover of The City of London Freeman's Guide LORD MAYOR'S edition

Sunday, 2 April 2017

The City's relationship with the Armed Forces

The City of London has a particularly close and long-standing relationship with the Armed Forces of the Crown, one that continues to flourish in the 21st century through the City's privileged regiments and the plethora of Livery Company affiliations with ships, shore stations, regiments, squadrons and other military formations.

This is all the more surprising when one considers that from a legal perspective, the City of London seems rather unwelcoming to the military. 

The City is the only place in the Kingdom where Her Majesty’s Forces may not enter without the prior permission of the Lord Mayor having been sought and obtained. Even HM's Lord Lieutenant for Greater London may not enter the City in uniform without the permission of the Lord Mayor.

This right to refuse troops of the crown entry to the City is codified in a Royal Charter presented to the City by Edward III in 1327 and last tested in court as recently as 1842 (in City terms that’s very recently). During the exigencies of the Second World War several officers were required to write formal letters of apology to the Lord Mayor for allowing their troops to enter the City without permission, including several responding to police callouts to deal with un-exploded bombs. 

Even when the Lord Mayor grants permission for troops to enter the City they must be escorted by an Esquire of the Mansion House going by the title of the City Marshal – the only civic military posting in the Commonwealth. In recognition of this unique role the City Marshal is provided with a military uniform, sword, spurs and horse.

The restrictions placed upon HM Armed Forces aren't limited simply to marching through the City. Recruiting for the Armed Forces of the Crown is illegal in the City and Freemen of the City of London may be pleased to learn they are exempt from the clutches of the Royal Navy press gang - since Freemen are deemed too valuable a contributor to the national economy. 

That said, there is no restriction on the City recruiting its own forces, and until 1872 the Commission of Lieutenancy in the City of London, headed The Lord Mayor, could and did issue its own commissions in the reserve forces. Of course these officers needed men, but where to get them? 

On Easter Sunday 1596 the Lord Mayor and Alderman set the tone for recruiting in the City when they barred the doors of all the City churches and after sifting out the women, children, elderly and infirm over 1,000 willing 'volunteers' were recruited for overseas service.
Whatever the legal situation, the City’s relationship with the armed forces is in truth particularly close and affectionate. Several regiments and squadrons have received the honour of including ‘City of London’ in their title, and twelve regiments have achieved City Privilege status – allowing them to march in the City with drums beating, bayonets fixed and colours unfurled. One of the most recent grants of City Privilege status was made just last year to 101 (City of London) Engineer Regiment (EOD) – suitable recompense for all those apologetic letters written to the Lord Mayor by EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) officers during WWII. 

The Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) achieved City Privilege status in 1924 after having exercised the right without official sanction for many centuries, despite the fact that Aldermen are automatically members of the HAC.

Another aspect of the City's connection with the military is evident in The Company of Pikemen and Musketeers of The Honourable Artillery Company. They form the Lord Mayor’s bodyguard, a role previously performed by the Light Cavalry HAC, and confirmed by Royal Warrant in the 1950s. The Pikemen and Musketeers are seen at many City events, especially during the Lord Mayor's Show, but in every case they may only parade with the permission of the Lord Mayor. Overall the Lord Mayor's Show includes more troops than participate in the Queen's annual birthday parade (Trooping the Colour).

There are well over 220 regular and reserve units of the armed forces affiliated with one or more of the City’s 110 Livery Companies, and a further 120 Cadet Forces units are affiliated with the Livery. The nature and scope of each affiliation varies from one Livery Company to the next, but overall the picture is one of strong and friendly bonds that have, in some cases, been maintained over many years. 

On a practical level the City has long been a source of money, material and expertise for monarchs engaged in battles at home and overseas. The 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt in 2015 recalled how the City of London and its Livery Companies had backed Henry V with equipment, supplies, money and even troops to fight his campaign in France. 

For this generosity Henry V gave the Lord Mayor of London a crystal sceptre that has recently been described as the greatest thank you gift in history. The relationship between the City and the Armed Forces remains just as strong today - something for which we can all be thankful.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

How many Livery Halls are there in the City of London?

As with so much else in the City of London, a simple question such as ‘How many Livery Halls are there in the City?’ results in a very complex and confusing answer. This is what I have discovered about the relationship between Halls and Companies following nearly 5 years or research on the topic:

How many Livery Halls are there in the City? Answer: 37, 38, 39 or 40 (it depends)

The count is complicated by the location of three halls:
  1. HQS WELLINGTON is the home of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners and is their Livery Hall. Clearly it is not on terra firma but it does have one anchor inside the City limits. If you accept HQS WELLINGTON then we move on to....
  2. Glaziers, Launderers and Scientific Instrument Makers Hall (one hall) is fully on the South side of London Bridge but has one wall against the bridge footings, which is considered ‘within the City’ as Bridge Ward was merged with Bridge Without Ward (Southern side). This precarious connection leads us to the third hall that might be questioned among the count...
  3. The Gunmakers' Hall which is outside the City Limits but has long been recognised as a Livery Hall and is most definitely the operational home and hall of The Gunmakers' Company.
There are two other quirks worth mentioning:
  • The Guildhall contains a Livery Hall which is home to no Livery Company. This hall was created for those companies that do not have their own hall, but none took up the offer.
  • The Fan Makers’ Company used to occupy the hall of St Botolph without Bishopsgate until 1992 but now reside in offices at 9 Dowgate Hill (not a hall).
Whatever the number of Livery Halls, the count of Livery Halls is not the same as the count of Companies that own halls, so we progress to the next question:

How many Livery Companies own Livery Halls? Answer: 41 (or fewer, it depends)

Farmers and Fletchers jointly own their hall. Glaziers, Launderers and Scientific Instrument Makers jointly own their hall. However, not all Halls are actually owed by the occupying Company, rather by the Company’s charity (perhaps a technical nuance, but important for the Clerks’ Fellowship), consequently there are more Companies that own (or share ownership of a Hall) than there are individual halls. If we split that ownership between Companies and Charities of Companies then the tally is complicated even further, but let's not go there!

However, our count of halls is not yet complete and we must also consider...

How many Livery Companies reside in a Hall other than a Livery Hall? Answer: 43

The Insurers’ Company reside in Insurance Hall which is in the City but is not a Livery Hall, rather it is the Hall of the Insurance Institute. If it were a Livery Hall it would be called the Insurers’ Hall.The Chartered Accountants’ Company make use of space in Chartered Accountants’ Hall, which is in the City, is correctly named, but is the Hall of the professional body, rather than the Livery Company.

So that's it for halls in which Companies in the City reside, or is it...

How many Halls of City Companies are there in the City? Answer: 44

Add Watermen’s Hall to the above. The Watermen's Company is not a Livery Company but it does have a hall, although it doesn't qualify as a Livery Hall.

Of course there are other premises which are owned or rented by Livery Companies, which may be in halls but are not of themselves a hall:

How many Livery Companies reside in premises in the City? Answer: Greater than 49

Several Livery Companies rent or have other arrangements within the halls of other companies, an example being the Fan Makers’ Company who reside in offices owned by and connected to Skinners’ Hall. 

The Constructors, The Carmen and the Marketors rent rooms in Plaisterers' Hall and the Tax Advisers and World Traders make use of Information Technologists' Hall but don't have offices there.

Not every Company makes it clear on their website whether they reside permanently in the premises of another company’s hall (e.g., Scriveners in HQS WELLINGTON) or simply rent rooms on an ad hoc basis (e.g., Tax Advisers in IT Hall) or have offices not in Livery Halls (Musicians' Company).

While we are on the subject of renting rooms in halls...

How many Livery Companies rent premises not in Livery Halls? Answer: Unknown

It is very difficult to quantify for the reasons given in response the previous question.

How many Livery Companies own premises they use for business? Answer: 2 (or more)

The Air Pilots' Company has premises in Lincoln's Inn which is outside the City and The Paviors’ Company have premises in Charterhouse which is also outside the City.

A list of all the Livery Halls that are within (or recognised by) the City is shown in The City Livery Map along with places of worship and other principal civic buildings (Guildhall, Mansion House, Old Bailey, etc). The Map is available for purchase from IT Hall and Guildhall Library, priced £10 (excluding postage)

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The electoral system in the City of London - an exercise in Hyper Democracy

The City of London's electoral system is rather different from other towns and cities in the UK. The differences are a product of its very long and complex history and unique status as a city which has circa 45 commute in workers for every resident. This combination of long and complex history and unique status has resulted in three different electorates:
  • The residents
  • The business voters
  • The livery
This article explores each of these electorates and their involvement with the election of the City's government.

The Residents

The residents are perhaps the easiest electorate to understand in the City. Every resident of voting age may participate in the election of representatives for their ward. In the City the representative are titled 'Common Councilmen' (imports both genders) and there are one hundred such Common Councilmen in total. Some wards have more Common Councilmen than others, depending on the size of the electorate in the ward. Consequently in some wards it is possible for every voter to vote for as many as ten candidates (including the ward's Alderman). Elections to the Court of Common Council (the City's government) take place every four years and are by secret ballot.

Each ward in the City also has an Alderman (again, imports both genders) who is the figurehead for the ward and nominally elected for life. That said, Aldermen retire at seventy by custom and put themselves up for re-election every six years, again election is by secret ballot. Aldermen are also members of the Court of Common Council. In total that means the City has one hundred and twenty-five elected local government representatives, or approximately one for every seventy residents. A by-product of this ratio is the fact that elected representatives in the City tend to be in close contact with, and very accessible to their electorate. Certainly this has been my consistent experience.

Common Councilmen are a varied bunch, some are retired, some are small business owners, some are city professionals who have understanding employers that will allow them to attend the numerous daytime committee meetings that make it difficult to hold down a full-time career and serve the local community. What they all bring is a strong commitment to civic duty, evidenced by the numerous charitable, pro-bono and civic affiliations present among the Common Councilmen. The Court of Common Council works through committees and consensus rather than cabinet government with an executive - this engenders a culture of collaboration rather than the partisan politics of local government in other cities.

Of the City's twenty-five wards only two have a sizeable resident population. Most of the City's wards have an almost exclusively business population, indeed the entire residential population of the City doesn't meet the UK government's minimum population threshold (10,000) for classification as an urban area! This is just one of the many anomalies that make the City unique.

The City is essentially a village from a resident population perspective, one that just happens to produce a Gross Value Add to the UK economy of about £45bn per annum (2014 figures) and the financial services sector alone generates around 12% of the tax revenues for the exchequer. It's a very productive village that also happens to bring in many workers to its businesses.

The Business Voter

The business voters form a separate constituency that widens the franchise so that the estimated 400,000 - 420,000 workers in the City have the opportunity to participate in the election of Common Councilmen and Aldermen. These workers and the businesses that employ them are the primary source of tax revenues and the primary consumers of City services. 

The businesses operating in the City are allocated votes on a scale that favours smaller businesses. Approximately 14,500 of the City's 15,000 business have between one and nine employees. A business with between one and nine employees gets one business vote (a maximum 9:1 ratio), whereas a business with 3,500 or more employees gets 79 votes (a minimum 44:1 ratio) but there are only a handful of such big business in the City. The effect of the business vote allocation scale is that for all but a tiny percentage of the businesses in the City the ratio is one business voter to one business. The City's business vote is therefore dominated by small traders and tiny enterprises (cafe's, corner shops, family run businesses) not by massive financial services businesses.

Myths and misconceptions about the Business Vote

A common myth or misconception is that the City is dominated by big businesses. The reality is rather different. There are slightly more than 15,000 business in the City, of which 98.5% are small and medium enterprises, only 1.5% are big business with over 1,000 employees (which includes all the big name banks and some of the bigger law firms). Together all these business produce 3% of the UK's total economic output (2014 figures). Since the advent of Canary Wharf many of the biggest banks have located most of their employees outside the City, and hence they are not eligible to vote in City elections.

The argument that big businesses dominating the business vote, or that business voters are influenced by their bosses is nonsense - the maths simply doesn't add up as the number of business with more than two votes is less than two percent of the total number of businesses in the City, and those businesses with large blocks of votes are a fraction of one percent of the total electorate. My wife works for one such large City firm and they struggle to get employees to join the ward list, so weak is the management's influence.

There is however a very real problem with the business vote and that's one of engagement. While the residents have about 20% of the votes and the business voters have about 80%, the latter are far less inclined to turn out and vote. Recent elections have shown that the residents exercise a far greater influence over the result than business voters do.

Another myth that circulates in certain outraged corners of the press and social media is that the City elections are funded by big business. The rules for campaign expense funding in the City are the same as elsewhere in the UK, with a basic figure of £266 plus 5.2p per voter permitted to each candidate. With the total number of voters in each ward usually being in the high hundreds to low thousands, the funding limits on election campaigns in the City are actually very small and certainly don't cover even the postage cost of a single campaign leaflet to every voter. A consequence of this is the fact that candidates have to get out and do a lot of legwork, meeting the electorate and getting to know their ward on close terms. Unlike other councils in the UK, the City does pays neither allowances or expenses to Common Council - a situation exacerbated by the fact that all meetings are during the working day. For those Common Councilmen who are employed this means they often forego career advancement to serve the City on a pro bono basis.

Since almost all the business voters work in tiny enterprises with just one business vote the opportunity for big business to fund or influence voting is in the scale of a rounding error. If big business does throw money at City elections (and as a business voter with a wife who is also a business voter in a different company I have seen and heard no evidence of such), then they do it to influence less than 1.5% of an electorate that consistently fails to turn out to elections in the City - clearly any mythical influence is both minuscule and ineffective.

The composition of Common Council

Whether the majority of voters in a given ward are residents or business voters the composition of the Court of Common Council is almost entirely made up of independent candidates (not aligned with a political party). At the time of writing none of the Aldermen and only one of the Common Councilmen is elected on a party political platform. Consequently party-political campaigns play almost no part in influencing the outcome of elections in the City of London. A quick examination of the profiles of the members of Common Council reveals a great many who fit into the profile of retired or semi-retired professionals who are often school governors; charity trustees; magistrates and generally the sort of person who is a civic minded joiner. 

Election campaigns in the City have a curiously homespun feel to them, with individual candidates going door-to-door, visiting residential blocks, small businesses and social meetings in churches, pubs and at ward clubs. The whole experience is more parish council than parliament as evidenced by the 'meet the ward team' events that are held by the Aldermen and Common Councilmen. These are informal gatherings at which voters can meet their elected representatives over a glass of wine or soft drink and have a direct and convivial chat about any issue that concerns them. This is direct democracy City style!

The Livery

The Livery make up the third electorate, and they are the senior members of the City's Livery Companies (trade, craft and professional guilds). The Livery doesn't participate in elections to Common Council (unless a Liveryman is also a resident or business voter), rather they participate in the election of the Sheriffs and the Lord Mayor. The City of London is unique in being able to elect its Sheriffs, elsewhere in the UK they are appointed by the Sovereign, and it has two Sheriffs who serve for a single year. It is a condition for election to the office of Lord Mayor that an Alderman must first have served as Sheriff. The office of Sheriff is unpaid and involves considerable expense for the incumbent. 

The Lord Mayor is elected from among the City's twenty-five Alderman for a single one-year term. The candidates are first approved by the Livery at a meeting called 'Common Hall' held in Guildhall. The approved candidates then go forward for election by their fellow Aldermen. As with the office of Sheriff, the Lord Mayor is unpaid and the occupant is expected to contribute substantially toward the cost of their office from their own means.

So the City is a very odd village indeed, one with far more business than residents, some wards with next to no residents, and a total residential population that is comparable with a large village, yet a commuter population of workers that is comparable with the residential population of Bristol. It has two types of elected representative (Common Councilmen and Aldermen) and an annually elected Lord Mayor - none of whom receive any salary, pension, bonuses or expenses from the tax payer.

Hyper Democracy

As a business voter and Liveryman, my own experience of the City's electoral system is one I describe as 'hyper democracy', how do I justify that statement?
  1. As a business voter I get to vote for up to eight candidates in Common Council elections as well as the Alderman for my ward.
  2. I know and have met all the Common Councilmen and the Aldermen for my ward - unlike the town where I live in which the councillors are largely unseen and unknown.
  3. Most of the candidates for election to Common Council have made the effort to meet me in person, always in their own time and all have taken the care to invite my views.
  4. I have sat in on meetings of the Court of Common Council and have always found the Common Councilmen for my ward to be approachable and accessible.
  5. I exercise my business vote freely, without influence from the business that has nominated me as one of its voters or from political parties or campaign groups.
  6. As a Liveryman I also get to vote for two Sheriffs and Alderman to become Lord Mayor every year and participate in the civic life my ward through the Ward Club where I meet other resident and business voters.
  7. All the Common Councilmen in my ward are independents, who have demonstrated a consistent commitment to the interest of the ward's residents and businesses. They stand without political affiliation and are able to exercise their judgement without the influence of party policy.
  8. To top it all off I also get to vote for several Bridge Masters and Ale Conners, as many auditors as there are vacancies for at each meeting of Common Hall.
  9. Despite having little interest in politics I have never been so well informed, engaged and connected with local government as I am in the City of London.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The City of London 'Knowledge' that every London cabbie should know.

The London cabbie is an iconic symbol and a national treasure known and recognised the world over. I was raised to believe that the London cabbie was the gold standard of taxi driver and their knowledge of London lore was second to none. When it came to deciding who would be best man at my wedding, the choice was simple and a London cabbie did the honours.

Recently my bubble of confidence in the London cabbie has been burst by a series of embarrassing tweets from cabbies unable to differentiate between the Lord Mayor of the City of London and the Mayor of London. In my view no self-respecting London cabbie should be plying for hire on the streets of London who does not know the difference and is unable to give a potted history of the office of Lord Mayor over his (or her) left shoulder to a captive audience while the meter is running. An exception might be made for the suburban cabbie who never strays beyond Edmonton, but no Green Badge cabbie (i.e., one permitted to work throughout London) can be excused.

The time has come for every London cabbie to refresh their knowledge of the City of London and this instalment starts at the very top with the Lord Mayor. This knowledge is primarily aimed at cabbies but it is in no way restricted to that noble profession.

Why does London have two Mayors?

Simple answer: It doesn't.

London has 32 Mayors, one for each of the 31 boroughs (excluding Westminster) and one for the Metropolis as a whole. In addition the City of Westminster (which counts as a borough) has a Lord Mayor, and then there is the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of London for the City of London.

So all told that's 32 Mayors and 2 Lord Mayors.

What's the difference between the Lord Mayor of London and the Mayor of London?

Simple answer: 811 years.

The Lord Mayor of London is the world's oldest democratically elected head of local government. He is elected for a single one-year term from among the City's twenty-five Aldermen. He is head of the Corporation of London, Chief Magistrate of the City and Her Majesty's representative in the Square Mile. The Lord Mayor is unpaid and resides in the Mansion House during his year in office. When travelling overseas the Lord Mayor has cabinet minister rank and in the City takes precedence before all persons except the Sovereign. The first Mayor of London was Henry FitzAilwyn de Londonstone who took office in 1189AD. Candidates for the office of Lord Mayor must be Aldermen in the City of London and have served as Sheriff. The Lord Mayor arrives for his first day at work in a golden coach during the annual Lord Mayor's Show - the world's largest unrehearsed street pageant. The Lord Mayor ranks among the peers as an Earl and is the only civil officer permitted a military bodyguard by the Crown (the Pikemen and Musketeers of the Honourable Artillery Company).

The Mayor of London is an elected politician who, with the London Assembly, provides strategic government for the Greater London area (i.e., the metropolis). The office has existed since 2000AD and Mayors serve a 4 year term of office. The Mayor of London works from City Hall and is a salaried position. The Mayor of London usually arrives for work on a pushbike or by public transport. Past Mayors of London have been notable for their collection of newts and for unruly blond hair.

Why is the City separate from the rest of London?

Simple answer: Romans.

The City of London was founded by the Romans in or around 43AD. The Romans fortified the City with a wall, parts of which still exist. The approximate interior area of the walled City was one Roman square mile. In fact the City is about 1.16 statue square miles in size today. The City was all that there was of London until the 17th century when expansion westward began. The Greater London area we known today is largely a creature of the Victorian era.

As the metropolis grew the City remained a thing apart from the rest of London. The City retains its own government in the Court of Common Council, has its own Police Force (The City of London Police), its own system of elections that involve residents, business and modern and medieval guilds (Livery Companies in City parlance) and continues to have its own Lord Mayor.

Who elects the Lord Mayor of London?

Simple answer: Members of modern and medieval Guilds and Aldermen

The Lord Mayor of London is elected from among those Aldermen who have served as Sheriff but have yet to serve as Lord Mayor. Every year a shortlist of candidates is chosen from among the Aldermen and the senior members of the City of London's 110 Livery Companies give their approval to one of the candidates by acclamation at a meeting in Guildhall known as Common Hall. The Aldermen then vote for their preferred candidate.

Who elects the Sheriffs?

Simple answer: Members of modern and medieval Guilds

Every year the senior members of the City of London's 110 Livery Companies elect two Sheriffs, usually one is an Alderman and the other not. The election is conducted at a meeting in Guildhall known as Common Hall. The Sheriffs reside in the Old Bailey have have their own London Hackney Carriage as a day-to-day runabout.

The London Hackney Carriage for the City's Sheriffs
Who elects the Aldermen?

Simple answer: Residents and Businesses

Each of the City's twenty-five wards has an Alderman, nominally elected for life, but presenting him or herself for re-election every six years and retiring at seventy. An Aldermen must first be a Freeman of the City of London and be a resident or business voter in the City. The residents of each ward along with the business voters elect the Alderman for their ward.

How does one get to become a Freeman of the City of London?

Simple answer: Servitude, Patrimony or Redemption

There are essentially two paths to the Freedom, either be presented by a Livery Company, or be nominated by two Liverymen or two members of the Court of Common Council. Most Freemen are admitted on being presented by a Livery Company. Membership of a Livery Company is by servitude (apprenticeship), patrimony (inheritance) or redemption (payment of a fine).

How does one get to join a Livery Company?

Simple answer: Servitude, Patrimony or Redemption

The precise requirements for admission to the Freedom of a Livery Company vary from one to the next, some are open to anyone with a strong professional link to their trade, some are closed companies that do not accept membership applications and are by invitation only, others apply rigid professional membership qualifications, others focus on membership by inheritance and selected invitations to senior members of their profession. There is no single set of criteria for membership of a Livery Company that applies to them all.

Is there a Livery Company for Cabbies?

Simple answer: Yes

The Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers is the Livery Company for the Hackney Carriage Trade; it received its Royal Charter in 2013. It admits licensed Hackney Carriage Drivers and those associated with the trade (e.g., directors of companies that service and supply the trade). As with all Livery Companies the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers engages in Charity, Education, Fellowship and support to the Trade but is emphatically not a trade union, neither it is a lobbying or representative body charged with campaigning on behalf of cabbies. There are other bodies that exist for those purposes.

Letters Patent granting arms to the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers, the Company's Royal Charter and the Letters Patent elevating the Company to Livery status, all on display in St Bartholomew the Great (West Smithfield)
There are also several Freemen and Liverymen of the Worshipful Company of Carmen who own vintage Hackney Carriages, including some which are horse drawn. You may see some of these at the annual Cart Marking Ceremony in Guildhall Yard.

A Taxi in the annual Cart Marking Ceremony
Where I can learn more?

Simple answer: Buy The City of London Freeman's Guide which is available from the City Information Centre, Guildhall Art Gallery, Guildhall Library, St Paul's Cathedral Store (in the crypt), Daunt Books (Cheapside), HM College of Arms, the Museum of London or from Amazon as a hardback or eBook.

The front cover of The City of London Freeman's Guide LORD MAYOR'S edition

Friday, 2 December 2016

Guild life beyond London, the Provincial Guilds of England and Scotland

Most Freemen or Liverymen (both terms import both genders) of a City of London Livery Company will have a good understanding of his or her own Company and perhaps a general awareness of the other Livery Companies operating in the City. The particularly motivated Liveryman might even be a member of more than one Livery Company and there are a small number of Liverymen who have connections with Guilds and Merchant Companies outside of London. However awareness of the provincial Guilds is at best vague and more typically a mystery to most among the City Livery Companies.

This article explores just a few of the Guilds beyond London which number over two hundred and twenty with significant groups in the cities of Chester, Durham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle and York - to name but a few. A comprehensive list of the provincial Guilds may be explored on my website, albeit that I discover a previously unknown (to me) extant 'ancient' Guild about once every six months - they all get added to the list.

No less glorious

While London's Livery Companies tend to grab the limelight, their brethren in other cities around the UK are certainly more numerous and in several cases have grand halls that rival those in the City. One particular notable example is the oldest merchant hall still occupied and in use by a Guild: the hall of the Merchant Adventurers' Company of York. Merchant Adventurers' hall was built in the mid 14th century and remains the operating base for the Company as well as a leading venue for weddings and corporate events. Like the Mercers' hall in London, the Merchant Adventurers' hall has its own chapel. A tour of the hall provides a fascinating insight in to York's premier Guild although its best to check in advance as the hall is often closed for private functions.

The exterior of Merchant Adventurers' Hall in York
The Chapel in the Undercroft of Merchant Adventurers' Hall
Another Company with a magnificent hall is The Cutlers of Hallamshire (Sheffield). This Company was formed in 1624 and the first Cutlers' Hall was built in 1638 and the most recent in 1867. The Cutlers' Company are active in charity, education, fellowship and have military affiliations in addition to a strong connection with their City of London cousins. The Cutlers' Hall is on a scale comparable to the very largest of the London halls and the Company has among its membership many of the leading business people in Sheffield and beyond.
The interior of the main banqueting hall in Cutlers' Hall (Hallamshire)
Silverware on display in Cutlers' Hall (Hallamshire)
The Freedom outside of London

Every provincial Guild (sometimes 'Gild') admits Freemen, usually by patrimony, and some continue to indenture apprentices and later admit them by servitude. In some cases the Guild still has a link with civic government in that they either admit the Mayor as an honorary Freeman or participate in civic ceremonies. However it is only in the City of London where the Liverymen form a body politic with the right to elect civic officers and only in London where Freemen of the City may be admitted by redemption (payment).

In Chester there remain some twenty-three Guilds and while few of their members are still practicing in the professions they represent the Guilds continue to play a ceremonial role in the life of that City. The Lord Mayor of Chester presides over the annual admission of Freemen and the civic links continue through support that the Guilds give to promote the business life of the City.

Associations of Freemen in England and Wales

In England and Wales many, but not all, of the provincial Guilds are members of the Freemen of England and Wales, an association which provides support to Guilds and individual Freemen; it is recognised as an authority on matters related to the Freedom outwith London. Not every provincial Guild is a member of the Freemen of England and Wales, some even lack a website or written history - as such research on the subject is hampered by the often rather obscure nature of Guilds whose existence, history and activities are well known only to their membership.

The Guildries, Merchant Houses and Trades Houses of Scotland

In the Glasgow the Merchants House elect a Lord Dean of Guild and the Trades House elect a Deacon Convener who formerly had roles in the civic government of the City alongside the Lord Provost. Today the Dean of Guild and Deacon Convener are second and third citizens of Glasgow after the Lord Provost. The Merchants House retains powers to appoint members to various bodies including the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and the University of Strathclyde. The Glasgow Trades House now has a virtual museum on the web where visitors may explore their hall and many of the Company's treasures as well as studying various records, books and other resources.

In other towns and cities there may only be one Guild, or perhaps just an association of Freemen who are not members of a Guild. In other cases there are collective Guilds, such as the Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee and the Seven Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen. Some, but not all, Scottish Guildries are represented by the Court of Deans of Guild of Scotland which is a cross-Guildry body that curiously considers the Guild of Freemen of Berwick-upon-Tweed to be in Scotland (check your constitutional boundaries).

How does this compare with London?

Comparisons with the Livery Companies are inevitable but rather unfair. While there are more Guild outside of London than within, the one hundred and ten Livery Companies are crammed in the small geographic area of the Square Mile and approximately one third of them have a hall. The Livery Companies all have a website, a journal and most have a social media presence. The Livery also retains strong and vibrant links with trade, education and the City's government. The Right Honourable The Lord Mayor of the City of London is an apolitical figurehead who comes from among the Livery and benefits from cabinet level authority, a grand palace in the City and an inauguration parade to rival any royal pageant.

The provincial Guilds are by their nature more dispersed and have lost their direct link to local government. Some retain a relationship with their trade, craft or profession and others are still sponsors of education, arts and heritage. They are no less fascinating and their histories no less illustrious than their City brethren, even if they are less visible.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A Commonwealth of Livery Companies: Many cultures with a common ethos

Throughout this year I have been immensely honoured to attend as a guest of (and sometimes speaker to) a number of livery companies other than my own. This cooks' tour of companies has given me the opportunity to observe and interact with the different organisational cultures that exist among the livery at close quarters.

The most recent of my outings was as guest of a Bowyer who shared with me his perspective on how these diverse cultures fit into a common framework that ensures commonality of purpose while allowing each company to follow its own path. My host drew a comparison with the Commonwealth of Nations, an organisation that embraces many different countries, cultures and ethnicities but does so with a common set of values and language under a single unifying authority.

I found this comparison with the Commonwealth a particularly good model for explaining the similarities and differences among the Livery Companies, let me explain further:

Common Objectives

The Commonwealth shares common objectives of representative democracy, the rule or law and individual liberty (among others) but each country in the Commonwealth pursues its own path to meeting these and other shared objectives. Often countries will collaborate under the banner of the Commonwealth to achieve a common objective.

The Livery Companies share common objectives of charity, education, support to their occupation and fellowship. The ways and degrees to which each company meets these objectives differs from one to the next. Sometimes companies collaborate on shared projects such as the founding of Hammersmith Academy by the Mercers and Information Technologists in 2011 or the formation of special interest groups such as the Wet10, the Metal Bashers and the Financial Services Group of Livery Companies.


The Commonwealth recognises HM The Queen as its head, a leader who is above national politics and acts as a unifying figurehead, a defender of the values the Commonwealth represents. HM The Queen speaks for the the Commonwealth and is its most visible representative

The Livery Companies are creatures of the City of London and their senior members elect the Lord Mayor from among the Aldermen. The Aldermen are invariably liverymen (imports both genders) of one or more of the companies. The Lord Mayor acts as the focal point and figurehead for the City of London and the Livery Companies, all of whom have as one of their objectives: support of the Lord Mayor and the City of London Corporation.

Internal Governance

Each country in the Commonwealth has its own internal government, based to varying degrees upon the Westminster parliamentary system. Some countries have a bicameral legislative chamber, others a unicameral model. Some use the first past the post system in elections, others use proportional representation and so on. All the Commonwealth countries have a mature form of representative democracy at the heart of the government.

So the Livery Companies have their own internal governance based upon an elected Court of Assistants. The precise details of each Court differ from one company to the next, some are small executives, others are larger councils that appoint sub-committees for the detailed work. Some Courts Assistants are elected by the Livery, others are invited to join by the Court and confirmed by a show of hands of the Court.

Bilateral and Multilateral Relations

Relations between Commonwealth countries vary in their form and closeness based upon geographic, political, cultural, economic and sporting links. Australia and New Zealand are two countries that share very close links because of their geographic proximity, cultural and linguistic similarity even though these nations had very different starts in life. Sixteen of the Commonwealth countries also share a common Head of State.

The Livery Companies also exhibit a wide range of relationships forged by economic and political events in London and elsewhere. Many companies have obvious occupational connections (e.g., Bowyers and Fletchers) while others have forged relationships by engaging in a shared project (e.g., Mercers and Broderers joined in the plantation of Ulster). In the case of the Skinners and Merchant Taylors their relationship was founded in an argument over the order of precedence that continues to this very day.

Friendly Rivalry (mostly)

What all Livery Companies share in common is their rivalry with the others.

There exists a friendly rivalry among the Commonwealth countries, especially on the sporting field - cricket and rugby being particularly noteworthy examples. The cultural differences and similarities between the countries of the Commonwealth are also a rich source of friendly verbal jousting among citizens of the countries - a characteristic that soon comes to the surface if you put any group of Brits with Australians, South Africans or Canadians (etc) around a table with a few beers. Occasionally countries in the Commonwealth come to blows over their differences, and members have been suspended or expelled - Fiji being the most recent example when it was suspended from 2006 - 2014.

The Livery Companies have raised friendly rivalry to a ritualised art form, manifest in the order of precedence and countless ongoing arguments over who was first, oldest, biggest, wealthiest, had the most opulent hall or invented this that or the other tradition, etc. The Livery Companies are essentially tribal in nature, but they swiftly stand shoulder to shoulder when the situation demands. The bedouin have a saying which summarises both the rivalry and unity among the Livery 'I am with my brothers against my cousins, I am with my cousins against the stranger'.

In times past the Livery Companies would often enter in to long-running, acrimonious and occasionally violent arguments over real or perceived encroachment onto economic territory occupied by another. The Armourers & Brasiers and the Blacksmiths fought many legal battles over the right to control various aspects of the manufacture of arms and armour. Other battles were fought among apprentices and Freemen who had imbibed liberally at the festive board before the Lord Mayor's Show or other pageant. Arguments over who should take precedence in the parade would often turn ugly. That matter is now settled (except for the Skinners and Merchant Taylors).

Thankfully the days of Livery Companies openly fighting on the streets of the City are centuries behind us.

Some Livery Companies have been banished from the City, including the Basketmakers, whose banishment has never formally been rescinded - at least there is no surviving documentary evidence of the same. Perhaps it is still illegal to make baskets in the City of London?

And Finally...

The Commonwealth of Nations and the Livery Companies are both creatures that only Britain could or would create, the sort of complex, multi-dimensional fantastic being that nobody would design from scratch as a working model. The fact that HM The Queen is at once head of state in Canada and Papua New Guinea would seem irrational and incongruous, just so the existence of a Livery Company for the Horn trade and one for the IT Profession seems an anachronism in the 21st century. Yet the Commonwealth of Nations and the Livery Companies are in rude health and work exceptionally well despite the very best efforts of logic.

In conclusion it should be no surprise to learn that the Commonwealth of Nations, the City of London's government and its Livery Companies have a very close link in the person of Citizen and Skinner, Her Excellency The Right Honourable Baroness Scotland of Asthal PC QC who is the current Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations (the operational head) and Aldermen for the City's Ward of Bishopsgate.