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London in 1839

Part Four - The Guilds

In the City of London there are 89 companies or guilds, eight of which are practically extinct ; and one other, that of parish clerks, is not connected with the municipal institutions of the city. Except in cases where the honorary freedom of the City is presented by a formal vote of the corporation, no person could, until recently, become a freeman who had not been admitted into one of these companies ; but when by birth, apprenticeship, purchase, or gift, a person has become a member of a company, he has (by virtue of an existing bye-law) an inchoate right to the freedom of the corporation, and is admitted on proving his qualification and on payment of certain fees. Within the last few years however the ancient practice has been resumed of admitting to the freedom all resident householders who may apply, by vote of common-council, without being members of any company.  Most of the companies possess what is called a livery, that is, a part of their body, under the name of liverymen, if they be freemen of the corporation, enjoy privileges which other freemen do not possess : such as voting for mayor, sheriffs, chamberlain, &c., a right limited to them exclusively by an act of George II. The following list exhibits the names of the companies, stated in their order of precedence. The first twelve are called the Twelve Great Companies. The names in Italics are those of extinct companies :-

1. Mercers

24. Butchers

47. Stationers

70. Gardeners

2. Grocers 25. Saddlers 48. Broderers 71. Soap-makers
3. Drapers 26. Carpenters 49. Upholders 72. Tin-plate workers
4. Fishmongers 27. Cordwainers 50. Musicians 73. Wheelwrights
5. Goldsmiths 28. Painter-stainers 51. Turners 74. Distillers
6. Skinners 29. Curriers 52. Basket-makers 75. Hat-band-makers

7. Merchant Tailors

30. Masons 53. Glaziers 76. Patten-makers
8. Haberdashers

31. Plumbers

54. Horners

77. Glass-sellers

9. Salters 32. Innholders 55. Farriers 78. Tobacco-pipe-makers
10. Ironmongers 33. Founders

56. Paviers

79. Coach and harness makers
11. Vintners 34. Poulterers 57. Loriners 80. Gun-makers
12. Cloth-workers 35. Cooks 58. Apothecaries 81. Wire-drawers
13. Dyers 36. Coopers 59. Shipwrights 82. Long bowstring-makers

14. Brewers

37. Bricklayers 60. Spectacle-makers

83. Playing-card-makers

15. Leather-sellers

38. Bowyer's

61. Clock-makers 84. Fan-makers
16. Pewterers 39. Fletchers 62. Glovers 85. Woodmongers
17. Barbers 40. Blacksmiths

63. Comb-makers

86. Starch-makers
18. Cutlers 41. Joiners 64. Felt-makers 87. Fishermen
19. Bakers 42. Weavers 65. Frame-work knitters 88. Parish Clerks
20. Wax-chandlers 43. Woolmen 66. Silk-throwers 89. Carmen

21. Tallow-chandlers

44. Scriviners 67. Silkmen  
22. Armourers and Braziers 45. Fruiterers 68. Pin-makers  
23. Girdlers 46. Plasterers 69. Needle-makers  

No company on the foregoing list, with the exception of the Carmen, is now exclusively composed of persons from whom it takes its name. The greater part of the Apothecaries’ company are in some way connected with the sale of drugs or the practice of medicine ; and the greater part of the Stationers’ company in the trade connected with the sale of books. The livery was in former times granted only to the more wealthy citizens. An order of the court of aldermen, passed in 1697, directs that  ‘no person should be allowed to take upon himself the clothing (or livery) of any of the twelve companies,’ those which stand at the head of the foregoing list, ‘unless he have an estate of £1,000 ; nor of the inferior companies unless he have an estate of £500.’ In more modern times not only has this restriction been relaxed, but it has frequently been made imperative upon many freemen of the City to take up their livery in one of the companies. The terms of admission vary with regard to different companies ; but, with some few exceptions, it is open to any freeman to take up the livery of any company upon payment of its regular fees or fines. When the freedom is claimed on the ground of patrimony or servitude, the fines are usually limited to a few pounds ; in other cases they vary from a few pounds to 200 guineas. These trading companies may be divided into three classes :-

  1. Those which exercise an efficient control over their trade, in which class there are now only two companies, the Goldsmiths the Apothecaries.

  2. Those which have power to search for defective wares, or to prove or mark the article, or to execute any legislative enactment passed for regulating the trade.  In this class there are now only the Apothecaries, Stationers, Gun-makers, and Founders, which last has the privilege of testing and marking weights.

  3. Those into which persons carrying on certain occupations in the City are compelled to enter, which class includes all not enumerated in the first and second class.

The management of the affairs of these companies is entrusted to certain senior members of the livery, who form what is commonly called 'The Court of Assistants,' and which usually consists of a master, a senior warden, a junior warden, and of indefinite number of assistants, who succeed in due rotation to the higher offices of the court. Many of the companies possess extensive estates and other property, which is applied in part to the relief of decayed members of their own body and their families, and in part to more general objects of charity. Many of them are also trustees of lands and money, which have been appropriated by the donors to specific charitable objects, and, among such objects, to education. These companies are however no part of the corporation of London, but have many of them their own charters of incorporation.

The City returns four members to the House of Commons. The right of election is in the freemen, being liverymen, and the inhabitant householders occupying dwellings of £10 yearly value. The numbers of electors registered in these two classes in 1836 and 1837 were as follows :-




Number of householders



Freemen, being liverymen






It is probable that some of the above are registered in their double capacity, and thus swell the apparent number of electors. The number that polled at the general election (on which occasion the same individual can appear in one character only) of 1837, which was severely contested, was :-

Householders : 5,799
Freemen, being liverymen : 5,778
Total : 11,577