In every Livery Company there are three key Livery roles –
The Court of Assistants
The Master and Wardens along with a number of Assistants form the Company’s governing board which is known as the Court of Assistants (or simply the Court). Only liveryman of the Company are eligible for appointment to the Court. The court will often delegate detailed governance responsibilities to a number of sub-committees so as to reflect the diversity and scope of the companies responsibilities.
The Company or Guild is managed by the Court. This body is the equivalent of a board of directors, the Chairman equivalent is the annually elected Master, sometimes called the Prime Warden or Upper Bailiff. The remaining Court members are either elected Wardens, from whom the future Masters are usually chosen, a group of Court Assistants below the chair and a group of most recent Past Masters. Most Courts consist of 25 to 35 members.
The role of the Court is to approve all decisions related to ordinances and standing orders which govern the Company’s proceedings. The Court undertakes ceremonies for the installation of all officers, the admission of new Freemen and Apprentices and the clothing of new Liverymen. The Court is severally responsible for the finances of the Company and approves an annual operating budget and the financial report and accounts for the prior year. The Court determines policy and receives the reports of various sub-committees dealing with membership, treasury, social activities and the craft, trade or profession of the company.
The term Livery Company refers to the fact that the members of Companies and Guilds are permitted to wear distinctive livery (robes and insignia) to identify their allegiance. It is usually only the senior members and officers of the Court that wear robes, bonnets and insignia to identify their allegiance and as a display of pageantry and pride in their trade, craft or profession.
The Role of the Clerk
The day-to-day management of a Company is entrusted to a Clerk who is the senior salaried employee, a role akin to either a modern Chief Operating Officer or a General Manager. Notwithstanding their title, Clerks to City Livery Companies should never be thought of as administrative pen-pushers. Indeed, the effective and efficient management of the entire Company rests principally on the Clerk’s shoulders. Many Livery Companies employ barristers-at-law or retired officers of HM Armed Forces, some having reached very senior rank.
Livery Company Clerks are often referred to as one of the following:
- The Honourable Clerk to the Company of… if a Barrister-at Law, or
- The Gallant Clerk to the Company of… if a retired officer of HM Armed Forces (as many are), or
- The Learned Clerk to the Company of… if holding a degree (as most will)
- The Gallant and Learned Clerk to the Company of… if both the previous two conditions apply
The Clerk may have a staff, the size and composition of which will depend upon many factors, including whether the Company has a hall to maintain, the number of Members in the company and the range of charitable educational and occupational activities undertaken by the company
The Fellowship of Clerks has produced a detailed description of the role of the City of London Livery Company Clerk.
The Role of the Livery Master
An elected officer, usually known as the Master, heads each City Livery Company. The Master may be considered as the most senior Liveryman of the Company during his or her term in office. However, a Master is outranked in order of internal Company precedence by a Grand Master in the case of the Air Pilots; a Company Admiral in the case of the Master Mariners or by a Permanent Master in the case of the Shipwrights – these offices each being held by a member of the Royal Family.
The Master may be known as a Prime Warden in the case of the Basketmakers, Blacksmiths, Dyers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Shipwrights and now also the Saddlers – but only since they installed a Perpetual Master as the Saddlers did in 2015 when HRH The Princess Royal became their third Perpetual Master in the thousand-year history of this Company. Unique among the Livery Companies the Weavers have an Upper Bailiff. The Master is elected annually with the exception of the Bowyers who elect a Master to serve two years. During their term of office the Master, Prime Warden or Upper Bailiff should always be addressed as such, especially at formal or public events.
The Master of a City of London Livery Company is so titled irrespective of the gender of the incumbent. The Master represents the company at civic events, attendance at other company functions, and at charitable and military affiliate occasions.
The Livery Committee acknowledges this content from The City of London Freeman’s Guide published by Paul D Jagger.