Today's 108 livery companies of the City have direct origins to the informal gatherings of early craftsmen and traders. These groups met socially and to come to terms with certain rules and standards within their craft. The agreements set policies for everything from pricing and weights and measures to quality standards and manufacturing processes. The group enforced these policies to ensure the reputation of the guild as a whole against sub-standard products and assure that craftsmen could earn a decent wage without fear of being undercut on price. This improved goods and acted as one of the first consumer protection organizations.

Guilds were certainly not unique to the City of London as tradesmen all over Europe often came together to settle disputes among members. As the guild organization and hierarchy formed, they looked to the Crown for recognition and Charter. The first company granted this privilege was The Weavers' Company in 1155 by Henry II.

The Royal Charter along with solid and exacting business practices of the guilds helped livery companies flourish. Members whose work were of consistently poor quality or found guilty of selling underweight goods were fined. Repeat offenders would be barred from practicing their craft, endangering their very livelihood. On the other hand the guild also provided support for members who could no longer work due to illness or infirmity and often provided for proper burials.

Originally livery was a term that defined the supplies household employees needed to live, such as dress, food and drink. The term eventually morphed to refer only to the specific clothing. The link with the guilds came about as members began wearing and then requiring that certain dress, robes and insignias be worn during ceremonies and affairs. This is how the term "livery companies" came to be applied to the guilds. Insignias and other regalia are still used in ceremonies today.

Of the current livery companies, The Worshipful Company of Security Professionals is the mostly recently charted, joining the list in 2008. The year 1515 looms large in the history of the livery companies. At that time there were 48 companies and there were many disputes on the order of prominence. Some guilds had split while other merged. The Lord Mayor of the time was called upon to establish an official order of prominence, basing the list on wealth. The first twelve liveries are known as "The Great Twelve," however the order is still in dispute even after all these years. The Merchant Taylors (tailors) and Skinners (fur traders) have had a long running dispute that has resulted in their places at spot six and seven be exchanged every year at Easter.

The City's livery companies maintain magnificent guild halls and there are 38 located in the actual City of London. The most recently built, the Haberdashers Hall, was completed in 2002. Many date to the 17th century. Many of the oldest were damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 and in the bombings in WWII. Most livery halls offer occasional public tours and a few hold exhibits and events. Another opportunity to see a livery hall is during the City of London Festival held each summer. The festival uses many of the halls for events and often part of organized architectural and historic tours.

Author's Bio: 

Livery Halls make impressive venues for weddings, parties and indeed any type of event. Life's Kitchen specializes in Livery Hall hire and bespoke catering in London.