The guilds of the historic City of London are the archetype of tradition and prestige. Originally trade guilds, they have changed drastically over the centuries, and are known as Livery Companies. Each company has its own livery (uniform and coat of arms) and is styled “Worshipful Company of…”
- The oldest guild The Worshipful Company of Weavers existed as long ago as 1130! Though it’s royal charter dates to 1180.
- By contrast, the newest guild: The Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars was given livery status on 11 February 2014.
- The City’s Court of Aldermen ranked the precedence of each company in 1515. This ranking gave rise to the expression “to be at sixes and sevens”, since the Skinners and Tailors both disputed the precedence, so take turns at rank six and even each year.
- There were only three ways to enter a guild; be born to a member, serve as an apprentice to the guild for a set amount of time, or pay a large membership fee.
- A rock of ages, the central guildhall (in the area of London of the same name) is the only stone structure dating from before The Great Fire of London (1666) still standing in the City!
Today, many guilds have become charitable foundations. They still continue to accept members, especially based on profession and are seen as a ways to honour exceptional members of particular industries.
The Livery Companies today are seen as great networking opportunities. At their events and dinners, members have the chance to meet other remarkable people on equal, exclusive footing. For example, Queen Elizabeth II is a member of the Worshipful Company of Drapers, and her portrait can be seen in the entrance to the building. It’s no surprise then than those expect networkers, the PR industry, are trying to have their own company established with Livery status!
Today the actual meeting halls are used for all kinds of events, from charity dinners to university balls, as well as their original purpose of being a meeting place for members. The historic and beautiful square mile of the city is hot property for business; the home of the historic banking sector as well as seriously swanky London Executive Office space. This hot property market, that the Companies themselves had no small part in creating, enables their stunning meeting halls to earn then envy and prestige.