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Posts Tagged ‘Livery Companies’

A guest post by LH Member Prof Sheila Cavanagh.

Prior to 2011, I did not know that the City of London Livery Companies existed. I am now a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Educators and have exercised my statutory right to herd sheep across London Bridge.  Since then London Historians have made a number of memorable visits to Livery Halls and having been fortunate enough to have talks on the subject by fellow member Paul Jagger, I would like to offer a few thoughts regarding this venerable tradition from the perspective of someone who has been introduced to these customs and building fairly late.

My first encounter with the Livery Companies came when I was invited to participate in the celebrations and the luncheons surrounding the Worshipful Company of Poulters Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race outside the Guildhall.  Nothing in my previous experience prepared me for this energetic occasion, where crowds of people in elaborate costumes ran (sometimes in high heels) up and down the course, carrying a skillet containing a pancake that appeared to have been made of concrete. The ceremonial trappings of the occasion were unescapable, as the various Livery Companies offered their distinctive contributions to the event. The Poulters provided eggs, the Gunmakers supplied the starting pistol, the Ironmongers brought the skillets, and various other Companies shared varied skills and items associated with their trades.  The event was memorable, particularly for the graciousness of the crowd, and also at the luncheon that followed the main event. While one hopes that no one ate the remarkably resilient pancakes repeatedly carried across the Guildhall yard, the feast that followed the Race was convivial and delicious.

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Lord Mayor Andrew Parmley (2016-17) rather tentatively showing how it’s done. Image: Worshipful Company of Poulters.

After attending a couple of more Livery events and visiting some historic Livery Halls, I decided to pursue membership myself, although I felt more comfortable following my own profession into the fairly recently chartered Worshipful Company of Educators rather than investigating one of the more established Companies associated with trades far out of my realm of expertise. I also wanted to demonstrate that I had taken seriously the charge associated with my tenure as the Fulbright/Global Shakespeare Centre Distinguished Chair, which urged me to become involved in a range of local activities and organisations during my time in England (the London Historians obviously take pride of place in this endeavour).  Consistently, the groups gathered for Livery functions have been welcoming and interesting.

Recently, for example, I attended a Shrieval Luncheon hosted by the Honorable Company of Master Mariners on HMS Wellington to mark the 2018 election of Sheriffs.  As usual, I was surrounded by a fascinating and congenial group of people, this time representing a range of maritime related professions. I had expected to be relegated to a side table for this event (the equivalent of what Americans call “the Children’s Table” at holiday gatherings). Instead, I ended up seated in the company of The Lord Mountevans, 2015’s Lord Mayor of London and the current Master of the Honorable Company of Master Mariners, Captain R.B.Booth MNI. While this seating arrangement was not or anticipated, it fits well within my experience of the Livery Companies.  When LH Member Tina Baxter and myself herded sheep across London Bridge, for example, I found myself assigned to the same group of sheepherders as prominent actor and director Mark Rylance. As the London Historians who have visited Livery Company Halls in conjunction with our delightful LH comrades know, these occasions are always memorable. From the Barber Surgeons Hall, to the Tallow Chandlers, the Goldsmiths, and the other Halls visited, and to the current exhibition at the Guildhall Library highlighting the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers, the City of London Livery Companies have a great deal of history to share as they help create the history of the City that is to come. I don’t always understand all the traditions associated with the them, but I look forward to learning more from this group of charitable professionals so central to the City of London.

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Tylers and Bricklayers Company display at Guildhall Library, 2018.

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Our visit to Apothecaries’ Hall, 2018.

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Outside Barber Surgeons’ Hall after our visit, 2018.

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It’s a bit late in the day for a wee review on this, for it’s been on for two months already, and finishes on 23 September. But I managed to get there last weekend and was so bowled over by it that I’d urge you not to miss it. On show at the Guildhall Art Gallery (a favourite of mine already), the exhibition comprises selected treasure from a wide selection of the City of London’s 100-plus Livery Companies. These are items which live behind closed doors in Livery halls and which we the general public rarely get to see. The range in eclectic and all the bits are pleasing in their own way. So we have portraits of worthies – typically masters – office holders’ regalia, furniture and decorative objects, commemorative and celebratory pieces. Just to mention one item at random, a taxidermed ram’s head which serves as a snuff-box. One of my favourites has to be a display object for the 1851 Great Exhibition by the Cutlers’ Company which comprises 1,851 blades, all fanned out. See picture below. We have a coat and badge from the Watermen’s Company, the prize of Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race from 1903 which I wrote about recently. The piece de resistance, however, is undoubtedly Holbein’s group portrait of Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons, lent to the show by that particular Company.

Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker Guildhall Art Gallery

Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons, panel, by Hans Holbein. Collection of Company of Barbers.

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Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons (detail), panel, by Hans Holbein. Collection of Company of Barbers.

Butchers Bakers Candlestick Makers.

Cutlers Blade Tree, 1851, made by apprentices of John Weiss and Sons. © Mr G Bond.

Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker Guildhall Art Gallery

Doggett’s Coat and Badge prize from 1903. Collection of Company of Watermen.

Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Maker: 850 Years of Livery Company Treasures runs until 23 September. Entrance is £5, £3 concessions and Free to Art Fund members and other select groups. More information here. 

On leaving the gallery, we were accosted by a steward who told us that the Great Hall in the Guildhall was open if we’d care to take a look. We did care to take a look and had it completely to ourselves. Not sure if it’s open to the public every Sunday, but what a treat.

The great hall. London Guildhall.

The Great Hall. London Guildhall.

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