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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.