Guilding the Lily

How the Livery companies of London prepare to show they are ready for the millennium

Rustic pursuits such as men shearing sheep and wheelwrights restoring a Sussex tug (cart) are not sights one normally expects to see in the courtyard of London's Guildhall. Nor is it usual to find goldsmiths in the Great Hall or, come to that, for stained glass to be painted and laid out in the Old Library. Yet all these time-honoured skills and more are to be represented at what will, at first glance, seem like a crafts fair in the City Hall in July. But this is a crafts fair with a difference. The stalls will be manned by the Livery Companies of the City of London; their aim is to illustrate the companies' role in today's world.

The City has 100 Livery Companies but even people with a good knowledge of London have little idea what they are, or what they do. They are seen as strange unreal societies, remnants of a past age; the members, who number 25,000 today, are assumed to be well-dressed City gentlemen who dine off silver plate in palatial halls. These perceptions are partly true but there is a great deal more to their activities than is generally realised.

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