May 01, 2005
A day in the city
The Monk has recently become a "Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Firefighters", one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. The Company is a fairly recent addition to the long and distinguished list of Livery Companies, many of which trace their foundation to the early Medieval period. Then, these Guilds were a sort of Trade Union crossed with a Trading Standards Authority and a Charitable Foundation which took care of members no longer able to work or their orphans and widows. They were then, and to an extent still are, the real power in the city.
The Guildhall in the City of London, the seat of the Corporation of the City and home to its Guilds and Companies.
The Guildhall is still the seat of the government of the City of London - never to be confused with the Greater London Authority run by Tony's great chum, "Red" Ken Livingstone. It is in the Great Hall that the Court of Common Council meets, and it is here that the Great Council meets with the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Councilmen all deliberating the business of the City and its governance. In the great West Window are displayed the names of all the Lord Mayors dating back to the first Mayorality, and the name of Richard Whittington appears three times under the reigns of four monarchs. On either side of this great window stand replicas of the medieval "pageant" figures of the mythological "founders" of the City of London, Gog and Magog, whom legend tells us were Trojan warriors who escaped the sack and destruction of Troy and settled here.
The Mythical "Gog" - one of the pair of "Trojan" "founders" stands guard on the West Window.
The fine hammerbeam roof (a replacement of the one destroyed by fire bombs on the city in 1941) is decorated with the armourial bearings of the Livery Companies and Guilds. There is a fine distinction between a Guild and a Company which is quite important. Both have a role in the City governance of commerce and industry, but whereas a Company's members are "Freemen", a Guild's members may become "Freemen" by election. This dates back to the days when all craftsmen were members of a guild, but may well have been indentured or "bonded" to an employer. Members of a Company, on the other hand, were men whose "freedom" lay in their ability to venture capital and conduct affairs of commerce by charter or licence, neither of which came cheaply! Thus, Richard (Dick) Whittington was a "Freeman, Liveryman, and eventually Master of the Worshipful Company of Mercers".
Part of the "hammerbeam" roof of the Guildhall with the arms of the Companies and Guilds displayed.
The ceremony of Declaration is held in the Alderman's Court, a small modern Octagonal chamber in the annexe to the Guildhall. The new member is admitted by the Liveried Clerk to the Court, approaches the Master, bows, and reads a Declaration which includes the words:
"I will do nothing which will be detrimental to the peace of the nation, to the sovereign, or to this city ...."
Once it has been made, the new Freeman is ushered to the Master's chair and both sign the declaration. The Freeman is then introduced to the assembled Wardens and Past Masters and welcomed into the Company. He must then make a short speech of acceptance and, after bowing to the Master again, withdraws to a seat in the doorway while the next candidate makes his Declaration. It is a short, but very moving ceremony, one the Monk enjoyed and which he will recall with some pride in the future. All Freemen can be elected Liverymen and the Master is chosen by rota from the Liverymen.
The Alderman's Court where new Freemen make their Declarations.
While their original role was to protect the interests of the trades and professions that they represented, the modern role is somewhat different. The modern Livery Company combines charitable work with research and the promotion of ideas and ideals that will benefit the trade, profession, or service - and naturally, the best interests of the public. Thus the Guild of Firefighters promotes fire protection, fire safety, and fire education. It also funds some small research projects and seeks to assist in cases of the death or injury of members of the fire services.
It may well be an old and, to some eyes, quaint hangover from the medieval, but they still perform a useful and important function. Long may they continue to do so.
Posted by The Gray Monk at May 1, 2005 06:18 AM
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Tracked on May 6, 2005 10:21 AM
Congratulations on your elevation to Freeman. I have always found the City of London one of the most fascinating institutions/areas in the world. I was given an impromptu unofficial tour of the Saddlers' Hall one day when my company had rented it out for a seminar. I have been smitten with the City of London ever since.
Posted by: James at May 4, 2005 06:00 PM
The City's rich history and its fiercely defended "independence" is well worth the effort of discovery. The Guildhall library is, in itself, an absolutely fascinating and invaluable resource for any history buff!
Posted by: The Gray Monk at May 5, 2005 12:51 PM