livery companies

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livery companies were organizations of master tradesmen which developed in the city of London during the Middle Ages. Their purpose was to control the numbers and character of new entrants. Originally livery referred to the special clothing of retainers and servants, but later the term became associated with distinctive costumes for grand occasions worn by high-ranking members of the companies. Prosperous companies erected their own guildhalls and endowed churches dedicated to the patron saint of their crafts, with chapels for their use. Most companies provided benefits for members and their dependants such as widows and children. The influence of the companies grew as their wealth increased: most of them made loans to the crown in exchange for privileges for their members. Such privileges ranged from the right to wear livery to having a role in the government of the city of London.

Livery companies lost control of specific trades by the 19th cent., but being a freeman conferred prestige. The companies continued to have political influence, only slightly modified by Victorian local government reforms. They have retained their independence to the extent that, currently, members of a company have the status of freemen of the city of London. They serve with the aldermen, sheriffs, and the lord mayor on the Court of Common Hall and participate in the selection of the lord mayor for each year. By 1979 there were 84 livery companies. Over time new companies have emerged, one of the most recent being the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators.

Ian John Ernest Keil

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