The livery companies of the City of London, currently 110 in number, comprise London's ancient and modern trade associations and guilds, almost all of which are styled the "Worshipful Company of..." their respective craft, trade or profession. London's livery companies play a significant part in City life, not least by providing charitable-giving and networking opportunities. Liverymen retain voting rights for the senior civic offices, such as the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs and City of London Corporation, its ancient municipal authority with extensive local government powers.
The term livery originated in the specific form of dress worn by retainers of a nobleman and then by extension to special dress to denote status of belonging to a trade. Livery companies evolved from London's medieval guilds, becoming corporations under Royal Charter responsible for training in their respective trades, as well as for the regulation of aspects such as wage control, labour conditions and industry standards. Early guilds often grew out of parish fraternal organizations, where large groups of members of the same trade lived in close proximity and gathered at the same church. Like most organisations during the Middle Ages, these livery companies had close ties with the Catholic Church (before the Protestant Reformation), endowing religious establishments such as chantrychapels and churches, observing religious festivals with hosting ceremonies and well-known mystery plays. Most livery companies retain their historical religious associations, although nowadays members are free to follow any faith or none. Companies often established a guild or meeting hall, and though they faced destruction in the Great London Fire of 1666 and during World War II, thirty-nine companies maintain their sometimes elaborate and historic halls.
After the Carmen received City livery status in 1746 no new companies were established in London for 180 years until the Master Mariners in 1926 (granted livery in 1932). Post-1926 creations are known as modern livery companies. The Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars, the newest, was granted livery status on 11 February 2014, making it the 110th City livery company in order of precedence.The Honourable Company of Air Pilots is exceptional among London's livery companies in having active overseas committees in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand and North America.
The companies were originally formed, starting in the 12th century, to guarantee that a member was trustworthy and fully qualified, and that the goods they produced were of reputable quality, the two-fold aim being to protect the public and to protect members from charlatans. Many were formed up until the 17th century, when political upheaval and the growth of London around the City meant the companies, which only controlled trade in the City itself, began to struggle to compete.
From the 1870s however, there was a revival, with the companies extending their original educational purpose to technical education, supporting new industries and providing the training necessary to them, most notably the City and Guilds of London Institute.
From the start, the companies cared for their members in sickness and old age. Today, they support both their members, and wider charitable aims and activities, including those supporting education and training.
Support to the armed forces
Most livery companies have affiliations with regular and reserve units in the armed forces.
City of London governance
Finally, the companies have always been essential to the governance of the City of London. The senior members of the livery companies, i.e, the liverymen, elect the City's sheriffs, Bridge Masters, Ale Conners, auditors, the members of the City Livery Committee, and approve the aldermanic candidates for election to the office of Lord Mayor of London.