The purpose of Livery Companies

Find out about the origins of the City's Livery Companies.

The purpose of Livery Companies

with particular reference to the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights
by David I. Moor,  Past Prime Warden and Hon Historian of The Worshipful Company of Shipwrights.

Traditionally, Livery Companies have five major roles, which in general developed in order:

  • Social fellowship: Banquets, dinners, and luncheons; Other social gatherings and events; Hospitality to non-members
  • Religious: Communal worship; Celebration of Patron Saint’s Day; Funerals and Masses for the dead
  • Trade and Craft: Regulating trade practices; Regulating entry of apprentices; Promoting education and training of apprentices; Promoting education and training of non-members
  • Benevolence  (charity): To old and disabled members; To widows and orphans of members; To non-members
  • Participation in civic affairs: Freedom of the City; Voting in the City; Submission to City law

Social Fellowship

At four quarter days the said brethren and sistern should be together and have a potation in nourishing of love.(1456 AD)

In a variety of forms this has continued to the present day. For a while after the granting of the livery in 1782 it appears that Shipwright Court meetings were held on or near the quarter days, followed by Court luncheons or suppers to which a limited number of Freemen and Liverymen were invited. Today dinners in January, March and April are open to all Liverymen, and the October dinner has become the Annual Banquet, held as near as possible to the Feast of St. Simon And St. Jude (28th October) open to all Freemen and Liverymen. The Court holds two private functions – a Court supper after the October Court meeting, and a luncheon with wives after the July Court meeting.

In recent years the custom has been to hold one or more annual, formal social events, according to the choice of the Prime Warden of the day.  Regular informal evening gatherings of Liverymen provide a further opportunity for members of the Company to fraternise.

There is no evidence that hospitality to non-members occurred before the granting of the Livery in 1782. Since then official guests have been invited to each of the four dinners, principally distinguished shipbuilding and shipping figures and masters of other Livery Companies, together with personal guests of Liverymen.


The first ordinances prescribed the particular communal worship as follows:
The year of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ one thousand and four hundred fifty and six ……….. is founded and ordained by the artificers of shipwrights in the City of London a fraternity in the worship of Saints Simon and Jude.

Celebration of the Companies Patron Saint's Day was ordained:
The feast of the same (Saints Simon and Jude) yearly to be solemnised by the same artificers (shipwrights) perpetually through the grace of God and help of devotion of Christian people  (1456).

In the said feast of Saints Simon and Jude a solemn mass by note to be done, not continuaIly to be done in one place, but where the masters and wardens for the time being lust to have it  (1456)

Funerals of senior Liverymen are, where possible, attended by the Prime Warden or his representative, and those of Past Wardens by the Permanent Master or his representative.  Masses for the dead were ordained to be observed:
On the morrow next following the said brethren and sistern be at mass of requiem for all the brethren and sistern passed to God.(1456)

Today, the Company holds an annual service of  thanksgiving for those Liverymen and Freemen who have crossed the bar in the past year.

The City of London's Web site contains a wealth of information on the City of London's Livery Companies. Click here to visit the 'City of London's website.