Report of the Commissioners: Preamble

Pages 3-7

City of London Livery Companies Commission. Report; Volume 1. Originally published by Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1884.

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To The Queen's Most Excellent Majesty.

May it please Your Majesty,

We, the undersigned Commissioners appointed by Your Majesty to inquire into the Livery Companies of the City of London, humbly present to Your Majesty the following Report.

Delay in the presentation of the report.

We regret that our Report has not been presented to Your Majesty at an earlier date; but the purview of the Commission with which we have been entrusted has proved wide, and we have felt that we should best discharge our duty to Your Majesty by strictly following its terms.

Stages of the Commission.

The following have been the steps which we have taken in order to satisfy the requirements of Your Majesty's Commission.

Circular to the companies. Interrogatories.

Upon receiving Your Majesty's Commission, we directed that a circular should be communicated to the Companies into which we were directed to inquire, drawing the attention of the courts and officers of such Companies to the terms of the Commission, and containing a number of interrogatories addressed to the several heads of the inquiry. This circular was drawn up at a meeting which was convened by our chairman a few days after we had received Your Majesty's commands.

Materials of interrogatories.

The interrogatories were framed (1) partly on the express terms of Your Majesty's Commission which, in some instances, we thought it best to employ word by word: (2) partly on a somewhat similar circular which had been addressed to the Companies by the Municipal Commissioners appointed by Your Majesty's royal predecessor, King William IV., in 1833: (3) partly on the interrogatories which had been addressed to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and to the colleges therein, by the Commission recently appointed by Your Majesty to inquire into the property of these learned bodies. The last-mentioned series of questions we chiefly used for the purpose of conducting the part of the inquiry which relates to the real property held by the Companies. The inquiry as to income and expenditure we extended to the ten years preceding that in which we received Your Majesty's Commission.

Proceedings with reference to Circular.

Of this circular we sent a copy to each of the members of the courts of the Companies, and to each clerk. We then had forms of returns prepared, adapted to the several heads of the circular, and we sent a number of such forms to the hall or clerk's office of each Company. This course seemed necessary, in order to secure, so far as might be possible, uniformity in the returns which were to be received. We named no precise date at which we should expect to receive the returns, because we felt that the preparation of them must involve considerable research, and because we desired so far as might be consistent with the punctual fulfilment of Your Majesty's commands, to consult the convenience of the courts and officers of the corporations into which we were directed by Your Majesty to inquire.

Preliminary Report.

The circular and forms having been sent out, we conceived that the interval which must elapse before the returns could be received, might be usefully employed in ascertaining what information already existed, with reference to the matters mentioned in Your Majesty's Commission, and we directed that a Preliminary Report on this subject should be prepared in the office of the Commission.

Large body of existing information.

This report showed that a large body of information already existed on the subject of the Livery Companies of the City of London, and on the more general subject of the mediæval guilds throughout England and throughout Europe.

Inquiries into Livery Companies.

The Livery Companies of the City of London appeared to have been several times inquired into by the State.

Richard II.

In the reign of Richard II. not long after their incorporation, their affairs were examined by a Royal Commission. The Commission was directed to report upon all the guilds in England, their origin, their ordinances, and their property, and was armed with very ample powers of discovery. The text of the Commission is extant, but till recently all the returns of the guilds were supposed to have been lost. Mr. Toulmin Smith, a distinguished antiquary, while engaged in investigation at the Record Office some years ago, accidentally lighted on some of the returns. They were in a very damaged state, but he has deciphered and translated a number of them. (fn. 1) The returns met with have, however, been all those of provincial guilds. No record has as yet been discovered of the results of this early Commission as regards the Livery Companies of the City of London.

Edward VI.

In the first year of the reign of Edward VI. after the passing of the Act which vested all lands held to support chauntries, or obits, or for other superstitious purposes, in the Crown, the Companies of London were called upon to make returns "of any such establishments existing within their bodies with particulars of the estates left to support them and of all other property to which the Crown became entitled" under the Act. The returns made by the Companies on this occasion are all extant.

Municipal Commission of 1833.; Sir F. Palgrave.

The "Municipal Commission" was appointed in 1833, "to inquire as to the existing state of Municipal Corporations in England and Wales, and to collect information with respect to the defects in their constitution, to make inquiry also into their jurisdiction and powers, and the administration of justice, and in all other respects, and also into the mode of electing the members and officers of such Corporations, and into the privileges of the freemen and other members thereof and into the nature and management of the income, revenues, and funds of the said Corporations, and into the several jurisdictions within the limits of all corporate towns in England and Wales." The Commission was entrusted to a large number of persons. They prosecuted the inquiry in divisions, and five Commissioners, of whom the late Sir Francis Palgrave was one, inquired into London and Southwark.

The report of these gentlemen, which is believed to have been drawn by Sir Francis Palgrave, is a long and careful one.

Doubt as to legality of queries to Companies.; But many of the Companies made returns.

It is obvious that a City Company is not a city or a borough, and it was not therefore clear that the Companies of London were within the scope of the Municipal Commission. The Commissioners, however, probably felt that as the Livery Companies were historically connected with the municipality of London, it was desirable to inquire into their constitution, and with this view they administered a number of queries to the Companies, and also sat at the Guildhall to receive information. Many of these bodies sent in answers to the queries of the Commissioners. These related not only to the constitution, but also to the corporate property of the Companies and their mode of expending their corporate income. No questions were asked as to the trust property of the Companies, for the reason that that part of the Companies' property was then undergoing an inquiry by a Charity Commission.

Charity Commissions 1818–1837.

The Charity Commissions which were appointed between 1818 and 1837, made a series of elaborate inquiries into the charities administered by the Companies. The results are to be found in scattered notices in the very numerous volumes of the reports of these Charity Commissions, and are thus not very accessible. They are, however, lengthy and have been prepared with great care. At the date when we received your Majesty's Commission, these notices were much the most valuable information which existed in print on the subject of the property of the Livery Companies of the City of London.

Present Charity Commission. Reports of H.M. Inspectors of Charities, 1860–5, continued to the present time, and published as part of this Report.

The present Charity Commission has also inquired into the charities of nearly all the Companies. The reports drawn up by Your Majesty's Inspectors of Charities and particularly by Mr. Thomas Hare, Your Majesty's Senior Inspector of Charities, with respect to these charities are dated from 1860 to 1865. They were continued to the present time at our instance by the Department, and they are published as a part of the Appendix to this report. We have to thank Sir Seymour Fitzgerald, Your Majesty's Chief Commissioner of Charities, and his colleagues, for this act of courtesy, which must have added considerably to the work of the staff of the Charity Commission. We have also to thank the Charity Commissioners for having, as they were good enough to do, placed the MS. reports of Your Majesty's Inspectors of Charities, with the numerous appendices to them, at our disposal shortly after we had received Your Majesty's Commission. These MSS. and appendices were found most useful for the purpose of the report in question.

Lord R. Montagu's Return, 1863.

In the year 1868 Lord Robert Montagu moved in the House of Commons for a return of the charities administered by the city Companies. This was promptly supplied by the Charity Commission; but the return is not always accurate and is too condensed to be very useful.

School Board for London, 1876–9.

Between 1876 and 1879 the Educational Endowments Committee of the School Board for London was engaged in an inquiry into the charities administered by the Companies, and shortly after our appointment by Your Majesty we were furnished by the Board with copies of the report of the Committee.

Record Office Charters. Licences in mortmain. Decrees of Court.

In the Record Office, duplicates of many of the charters and licences in mortmain granted to the Companies are preserved. Many judgments of the Courts of Law and decrees of the Courts of Chancery concerning the Companies are also recorded there, and there can be no doubt that the office contains many other documents relating to the Companies.

Hustings Court.

In the Hustings Court of the City, many of the acts of the Courts of Aldermen and Common Council concerning the Companies are enrolled, and many of the wills under which the Companies hold property and many of their other title deeds are to be found in this ancient office.

Guildhall Library.

In the Guildhall library there is a considerable collection of books and pamphlets relating to the Companies.

Herbert on the Companies.

Shortly after the appointment of the Municipal Commission of 1834 the Great Companies employed Mr. Herbert the librarian to the Corporation of London to write an account of their history. Several of the great Companies had given little information to the Commissioners, as they conceived the Commissioners' circular of queries to be ultra vires. They were willing, however, to give information to the public voluntarily of themselves without admitting the jurisdiction of the Commission, and for this purpose they placed their archives at Mr. Herbert's disposal. The result was Mr. Herbert's "History of the twelve Great Companies of London," which contains some information as to the trust estate of the Companies, but none as to their corporate estate.

Mr. Riley's publications.

Mr. Riley's "Memorials of the City of London and of London Life," published by order of the Corporation of the City in 1868, and Mr. Riley's lengthy "Munimenta Gildhallæ Londinensis, Liber Albus, Liber Custumarum, et Liber Horn," published in 1859, under the direction of the Master of the Rolls, contain many allusions to the early history of the Companies, and the same is the case as regards another work by Mr. Riley "Chronicles of Old London."


The Corporation of London has published an index to the records known as "Remembrancia" which contains incidents in the history of the Companies.

Pulling Norton.

Serjeant Pulling's "Laws of London" and Mr. Norton's "Commentaries on the City of London" are treatises of some authority. (fn. 2)

Early English guilds.

The only work of authority in English on the early guilds of England is Mr. Toulmin Smith's collection of the "Original Ordinances of more than 100 English guilds," published by the early English Text Society. It contains an introduction by the daughter of the editor, Miss Toulmin Smith, who is the author of the article on "Guilds" in the last edition of the Encyclopœdia Britannica, and a preliminary essay on the subject of these corporations by Dr. Brentano of the University of Aschaffenburg. The essay of Dr. Brentano is much relied upon by that very learned historian the Bishop of Chester in the passages of his "Constitutional History of England" which relate to the subject. These passages, some in the "Chronicles" of the same author, a number of allusions in the late Mr. J. R. Green's "History of the English People," and the brilliant description of the Companies with which Mr. Froude's history commences, constitute a summary of the history of the trade guilds of London from their foundation to the period of their decadence as industrial corporations. Mr. Freeman's studies have not been specially directed to the question, except as regards the early "Knighten Guild."

Guilds of Mediæval Europe.

The principal authorities in German on the subject of the guilds of Mediæval Europe are the works of Wilda, and of Gierke (Geschichte des Deutschen Genossenschaftwesens. Berlin, 1868).

German and French authorities.

The French authorities chiefly relate to the guilds of France, all of which (many of them having been bodies of great importance during the Middle Ages) perished during the French Revolution, but of which records have been preserved. These authorities are Raymonard's "Histoire du Droit Municipal en France," published in 1829, Mons. A. Thierry's "Récits des Temps Mérovingiens," published in 1840, Mons. Delpit's "Collection de Documents Inédits," Mons. Gustave Fagnier's "Etudes sur l'Industrie à Paris au 13ème et 14ème siècle," and a valuable paper by a Belgian antiquary Mons. Wauter, entitled "Les Gildes Communales à l'onzième siècle," published in the "Bulletin de l'Académie de Belgique," (2me série, t. xxxvii. p. 874).

The above were the sources of the Preliminary Report which was prepared under our direction. It consisted of an analysis of the information contained in them with reference to each of the bodies into which your Majesty had been pleased to command us to inquire, and of a preface in which such information was summed up with reference to the first four heads of Your Majesty's Commission.

Receipt of returns. Grocers' Company.

The Grocers' Company, the second of the "great" Companies of the City of London in order of civic precedence, had, a few days before Your Majesty's Commission was issued, appointed a committee "to search their records and prepare a report upon the constitution and income and expenditure of the Company, and the general management of the Company's business." The report of this Committee was presented to the court on the 2nd February 1881. We shortly after received this report in such a shape as to be in conformity with the forms which we had sent to the Company. These were the first returns which we received from a great Company, and they were drafted with much ability.

Additional Circular.

From this date we continued to receive returns from the Companies. We did not desire to press them unduly, but, in cases where we considered there had been somewhat unreasonable delay, we sent another circular requesting returns from the courts at their earliest convenience.

In the result, by the commencement of 1882, we had received returns from nearly all the Companies. They were as a rule prepared with care, and, as it appeared to us, with candour. Many were admirably drafted. This observation applies not only to the returns received from the great Companies—all of which have made returns; but to those received from many of the minor Companies. The result has been to lessen to a material extent the difficulty of analyzing the contents.

Companies which have not made returns, or whose returns are unsatisfactory.

A few of the minor Companies, have, however, either declined to make returns or have made returns which are not satisfactory. These Companies are the Broderers', Dyers', Distillers', Glovers', Tinplate Workers', and Weavers' Companies.

Meetings of the Commission.

We met once towards the end of 1880 and several times in 1881 for the purpose of considering what progress was being made as regards the collection of returns. At the commencement of 1882, finding that most of the Companies had furnished returns, we met to consider what further steps should be taken as to carrying out the inquiry.

Explanation of returns. Oral Evidence.

At this meeting (1.) we gave orders that the attention of the officers of the Companies should be drawn to any portions of the returns which might require additions or explanations; (2.) we determined to receive oral evidence with respect to the matters mentioned in Your Majesty's Commission.

Witnesses, 1882, 1883.

In pursuance of the orders thus given, some correspondence took place between the Commission and the Companies during the years 1882 and 1883, the results of which appear in the appendices to many of the returns. The oral inquiry thus determined upon we held during the Parliamentary Sessions of 1882 and 1883.

Mr. Hare. Mr. Longley.; Deputation from Irish estates.; Deputations from University college,

King's College, Magee College, Londonderry. University Extension Society. School Board of London 1883.

During the former Session we examined Mr. Hare, Your Majesty's senior Inspector of Charities, and Mr. Longley, one of Your Majesty's Commissioners of Charities. We received statements from some gentlemen who suggested to us that it was desirable to disestablish and disendow the City Companies of London, or to materially alter their constitution. We also received a deputation which claimed to represent the tenants on the Companies' Irish estates. Three academical bodies, University College, London, King's College, London, and Magee College, Londonderry, and the University Extension Society sent deputations before us to urge their respective claims to recognition by the Government as candidates for endowment, should we determine to recommend to the Government a redistribution of the revenues of the Companies. We also received a deputation from the School Board of London which came before us to enforce the views expressed in the report of the Educational Endowments Committee mentioned above. We also received a deputation, consisting of the Lord Chancellor, the President of the Royal Society, and Sir F. Bramwell, F.R.S., who came before us to explain the constitution of the City and Guilds of London Technical Institute which has been recently founded.

Deputation from the Companies.

During the latter Session we received a number of deputations from the Companies. We addressed to the Companies an invitation "to appoint a representative or representatives to give evidence before and confer with" us "with respect to the matters mentioned" in Your Majesty's Commission. In reply the Companies sent before us several gentlemen of great experience in the conduct of their affairs, from whom we received valuable information. We made it a rule that, before receiving a deputation, we should be provided with a printed statement of the points which the deputation proposed to urge, and several of the statements thus laid before us displayed much learning and ability.

Guilds in English provincial towns.

During 1882 and 1883, knowing as we did that the ancient provincial towns of England had at one time contained many guilds, and that some of those institutions survived, we directed an inquiry to be prosecuted, chiefly at the British Museum, with a view to discovering what had taken place with respect to the property corporate and charitable of the provincial guilds which had been dissolved, and what is the position of the surviving provincial guilds as regards their constitution and their property.

Foreign guilds.

During these years also we received, through the courtesy of Earl Granville, Your Majesty's Secretary for Foreign Affairs, reports from many of the British Embassies abroad as to the past history and present position of trade guilds in continental countries.

This information has been to some extent supplemented by communications with which we have been favoured by foreign politicians, political economists, and men of learning who have given the subject their attention.

Abstracts and Tables.

Before we received the deputations from the Companies all the above heads of information had been digested by our orders; the returns of the Companies into abstracts and tables, which are the basis of those which are part of the Appendix to this report, the remaining information in the form of an introduction to such abstracts and tables.

Questions of Law.

Also, before receiving the deputations from the Companies, as we judged it necessary to have accurate information as to the points of law which seemed to affect the bodies into which Your Majesty had directed us to inquire, we ventured to request Mr. Horace Davey, one of Your Majesty's Counsel learned in the law, and Mr. Francis Vaughan Hawkins, two distinguished members of the equity bar, to consider a case, based to some extent upon passages in the papers above mentioned, but more particularly on certain questions which had been put to witnesses by the Lord Chief Justice of England, and these gentlemen with great courtesy wrote some excellent notes for our use.

Having described to Your Majesty the methods which we have adopted in endeavouring to carry out the inquiry which we have been commanded by Your Majesty to institute, we proceed to lay before Your Majesty the results obtained.


  • 1. Original ordinances of more than 100 English guilds. (Early English Text Society.)
  • 2. Since the date of the Commission, the Bishop of Chester has compiled his "Annales Londinenses" and "Annales Paulini;" Mr. Loftie has published a popular "History of London" (1883), based upon the works of Mr. Riley and the Bishop of Chester, but containing also the results of much original research at the Record Office, and in the preparation of which the author had the advantage of assistance from Mr. J. R. Green. The book contains two valuable chapters on the Companies of London;—Messrs. Besant and Rice have also published a popular "Life of Sir Richard Whittington" [London (Plutarch Series), 1882], based upon the same archælogical treatises, and containing a picturesque description of the state of the Companies at or about the time of their incorporation.