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 have developed over time:

  • 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
  • Religious Observance: Communal worship; Celebration of Patron Saint’s Day; Funerals and Masses for the dead
  • Participation in civic affairs: Freedom of the City; Voting in the City; Submission to City law
  • Social fellowship: Banquets, dinners, and luncheons; Other social gatherings and events; Hospitality to non-members

Trade and Craft

The Shipwrights' Company's role in trade and craft began with the regulation of London's shipwrights and included skills, practices, apprenticeships, education and training.

The following page on the history of shipbuilding provides greater detail on how this developed over time and the page on the Shipwrights' history explains how the Company itself adapted.

Information on how the Company remains involved in education can be found under the Education and Charity tab in the top banner and the details of its continued support to apprentices are under Apprentices.

Benevolence (Charity)

All Livery Companies have charity at their core and the Shipwrights' Company is no exception.  The origins of this lie in guilds of craftsmen and merchants who clubbed together, long before the days of pensions and insurance, to provide a safety net for widows and orphans, the aged and infirm, and for members who had fallen on hard times.  To this day a number of companies continue those early traditions by running almshouses and old people’s homes.

Personal charity plays an important part in the lives of Liverymen and Freemen who are enjoined to do what lies within their power to leave the world a better place than when they entered it.   Today the Shipwrights' Company remains prepared to assist old and disabled members and the widows and orphans of its members as required.

The Company also has a far-reaching programme of support to non-members which is run through the Education and Charity Committee as can be seen by clicking on that tab at the top of the page.

The Poors' Box

Religious Observance

St Lawrence Jewry

Religious observance plays an important role in the Shipwrights' Company which accepts members of all denominations and religions.  Whilst the Company is not tied to a particular church within the City there is a Shipwrights’ coat of arms on a pew at St Lawrence Jewry which demonstrates a clear link between the two but the detail has been lost over time.

Every May the Company holds an annual service of thanksgiving at a City Church selected by the Prime Warden of the day for those Liverymen and Freemen who have crossed the bar in the past year.  The origins of this may lie in the following quote from the first ordinances of 1456 which state:

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.

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

A Christmas Carol Service is currently held jointly with the Ironmongers’ Company and has traditionally been held at nearby Charterhouse or in Ironmongers’ Hall itself.

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)

Participation in Civic Affairs

The Livery Companies play an important role in the governance of the City of London.  Before becoming a Liveryman a Freeman of any Livery Company must be made a Freeman of the City of London.  Every Liveryman is entitled to vote in the elections for the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs and is expected to acquaint themselves with the way the City is governed, and with its corporate activities and duties.  The City arranges regular courses to provide Liverymen with the necessary information.

The Shipwrights' Company has provided numerous Common Councillors, Aldermen, Sheriffs and Lord Mayors over it history, the most recent being Lord Mountevans who served as the 688th Lord Mayor of the City of London from 2015-2016.  The Company built an Ark to take part in the Lord Mayor's Show in 2015 which was escorted by the Sea Cadets and populated with 'animals' from the London Nautical School and George Green's School.

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.


Lord Mayor 2015 Lord Mountevans a Past Prime Warden of the Shipwrights' Company

Social Fellowship - Sports and Events

Livery Dinner at Fishmongers' Hall

The Shipwrights' Company has an active sporting and social programme and regularly fields skiing, sailing, golf, real tennis and shooting teams.

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 direction in the Ordinances of 1456 has continued to the present day and formal dinners are held in January, March, April and October, the Annual Banquet, which is held as near as possible to the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude (28th October).  All dinners are  open to Liverymen and Freemen may attend the Banquet.  Company guests are invited to all the dinners, principally distinguished shipbuilding and shipping figures and masters of other Livery Companies, together with the personal guests of Liverymen.  In addition there are separate Court functions and other, less formal social events and gatherings which provide further opportunities for members of the Company to fraternise.