Livery companies of the City of London are direct descendants of early trader and craftsmen guilds of pre-Norman times. Men working and trading in the same industry would meet socially and professionally and would discuss business practices and settle disputes. These were essential to good business as the rules and procedures developed helped set standards for quality, pricing, selling and manufacturing techniques. The policies also ensured the reputation of the group was not negatively affected by a single poor craftsman plying his wares to an unwitting public. It also guarded against undercutting price, leading to a decline in wages and worsened standard of living.

The early guilds in the City sprang up in neighborhoods where craftsmen in the same fields lived and worked. The remnants of these neighborhoods can still be seen in the street names angling from Cheapside: Ironmonger Lane, Milk Street and Bread Street all clearly indicate the industry or commodity it was known for. This close living lead to the establishment of the guilds as the members worked in close proximity and socialized together. In 1155 The Weavers' Company was granted Royal Charter by Henry II. This was followed by other guilds seeking Charter from the Crown.

The guilds flourished in both power and membership. The monopoly practices of the guild ensured quality and fixed prices for the benefit of all. Work of poor quality, underweight goods, selling outside of one's trading area could all lead to ouster from the guild, effectively ending a career in one's chosen field. Soon formal halls were constructed to conduct meetings, induct new members, hold ceremonies and settle disputes.

In its original meaning livery referred to the supplies an official residence or household needed to supply for employees to perform their duties. This included food and dress and any other special tools needed. The terms eventually came to refer only to the unique clothing. Livery companies came to be called such as the companies instituted rules of dress and the wearing of unique regalia during ceremonies and meetings.

There are 108 livery companies at present, with the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals being the last to be chartered in 2008. In 1515 there were 48 companies, however due to frequency of companies joining and splitting, The Lord Mayor was called upon to order the companies based on prominence. "The Great Twelve" as the first twelve on the list are known still remain, although positions six and seven on the list change between the Merchant Taylors and Skinners due to a previous dispute.

A prominent reminder of the livery companies presence in the City is their 38 stately livery halls. These date from the 17th century. The Apothecaries' Hall in Blackfriars is the oldest. The original building, Cobham House, purchased in 1632, was destroyed in the Great Fire and has been rebuilt several times of the centuries. One may occasionally find public tours of the halls and some hold occasional exhibits. The City of London Festival is also an opportunity to tour one of the halls as the festival often holds events and organizes tours of a few.

Author's Bio: 

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