London and “outwith (London)” Livery Companies are the direct descendants of the medieval guilds, religious and craft fraternities which grew up around the City’s Churches in late Anglo Saxon times. After the Norman Conquest many of these began to develop into associations of workers in particular crafts or trades. By the 13th Century almost every town had merchant guilds and by the 14th Century most crafts had their own guilds to which all craftsmen belonged. Some, such as the London Weavers Guild applied for and were granted a charter by Henry 2nd granting the right to “hold their Guilds in London with all the liberties and customs which they had in that period".
By the end of the 14th Century, the greater London Guilds applied for Charters of Incorporation and so were recognised as Companies. It was suggested that these Guilds obtained Royal Charters as a smoke screen to exercise control over their particular trade, operating as cartels whilst providing relief for the poor and training apprentices and others. The senior members of the Companies were clothed in livery and the Companies became known as Livery Companies. The majority of Livery Companies now have Charters of Incorporation.
As well as London, guilds flourished in most parts of the UK and some remain as active Guilds or Companies today. Examples are the Merchant Adventurers of York, Merchant Venturers of Bristol, Shrewsbury Drapers, Worcester Clothiers and the Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen of Exeter.
By the 14th century the powerful traders of the guilds were quarrelling amongst themselves, jostling for position and control over their regulatory empires. There were many areas where disputes could arise as many of the trades overlapped; the Skinners were involved in the fur trade but so were the Leathersellers who sold skins, the Tawyers who treated skins for making up into furs, and the Tailors who sewed the garments.
The most notorious of the disputes was that between the Skinners and the Merchant Taylors which came to a head in 1484. Rivalry between the two guilds erupted into violence during the Mayor of London’s river procession, an occasion that the two guilds treated as their private boat race. The Mayor, Robert Billesdon, resolved the issue of which guild’s barge should take precedence in the procession by proposing that the companies take it in turn to lead each year.
When a fixed order for the first 48 companies was eventually laid down in 1516 the Skinners and Merchant Taylors were confirmed as alternating between numbers six and seven. This probably gave rise to the phrase to be ‘at sixes and sevens’ and the award is commemorated in the ties between the Skinners’ and Merchant Taylors’ Companies.
The Welsh Livery Guild, formed as a “Friendly Society” developed over the first years of its existence, starting with ambition to eventually become a Livery Company with similar objectives and purpose to those of Livery Companies. One reason of applying for Livery Status was to be recognised by fellow Livery Companies and the wider public as an equal part of the London Livery Movement.
In 2010, it was decided that the Welsh Livery Guild was sufficiently well established as to be qualified to receive a Royal Charter of Incorporation taking the name of The Worshipful Livery Company of Wales.
To obtain the Charter, we needed to revise our governance, by-laws and amend ordinances and our Customs and Procedures, i.e. our rules. It was a mammoth task overseen and co-ordinated by our Clerk, Squadron Leader Charles Slatter.This mammoth task took three years, over the span of three Masters, Lady Roisin Pill, Stuart Fletcher OBE and Professor Ron Eccles. The Masters were joined by a great many Liverymen in this undertaking, including Past Masters and Clerks Emeritus .
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth graciously granted the Guild our Charter of Incorporation on 15 May 2013. The Charter took legal affect when sealed by the Crown Office at the House of Lords on 6th September 2013, Professor Ron Eccles became the first Master of the Worshipful Livery Company of Wales.
Letters of congratulations were received from Her Majesty The Queen, Royal Freeman His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and the First Minister of Wales, Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM.
The Company marked granting of the Royal Charter by a service at our Livery Church, St John the Baptist Cardiff at which the Charter was blessed by the Archbishop of Wales The Most Reverend Dr Barry Morgan conducted by the Company Chaplain, the Rev’d Canon Roy Doxsey and the Priest in Charge, the Re’d Canon Dr Sarah Rowland Jones. The wonderful choir was from St John’s College, Cardiff and was conducted by Mr Dominic Neville.
The Company together with guests from over 60 London and “Outwith” Companies, led by the band of the 3rd Battalion Royal Welsh, processed to the magnificent City Hall from St John’s in full Livery with the Charter displayed by the Clerk for all to see. The Company Beadle, Mr Bipin Pitrola carrying the Mace led the procession, he was followed by the Herald Extraordinary for Wales, Mr Thomas Lloyd OBE and the Clerk Squadron Leader Charles Slatter.
The Charter was presented to the Company at the celebration banquet held at City Hall Cardiff on 7 June 2014 by the Lord Lieutenant for South Glamorgan, Dr Peter Beck. At the banquet, the Charter was presented to the Master Windsor Coles OBE by Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant for South Glamorgan, Dr Peter Beck. The toast to the guests was proposed by the Junior Warden, Dr Sarah Cockbill, the reply was given by Commodore Barry Brooks, CEng FIET, President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.
So what does the Charter do for the Company. It signals the fact that the Worshipful Livery Company of Wales is now a full member of the Livery community. In the short time of the existence of the Guild, now the Company, our charitable giving (see award scheme) to meet our objectives, has exceeded half a million pounds with annual giving at about £40,000.
The Charter Day video gives an outline of the day, the Charter book – A celebration of the granting of the Royal Charter to the Worshipful Livery Company of Wales, is a true reminder of a wonderful day in the life of the Company and is available for purchase from the Clerk, price £25.00.
Photographs of the Charter and Charter day celebrations are to be found in the Gallery.