This guide is a revision of a typescript guide of 1982 held at the Manuscripts Section enquiry desk, which attempted to help researchers with the question, "Was my ancestor a member of a certain livery company?" In general the 1982 guide listed the best sources for tracing freemen in the period 1700-1880. This revised guide has been extended to include full or summary references to the whole range of livery company membership records from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries.
The records included are presented generally in the following order:
Freedom admission registers:full references are given to all volumes in the main series of registers, with details of indexes etc. Other series, e.g. Stamp Duty books, are assumed to be duplicates or to contain less information, and are only included where they offer a wider date coverage, are the only record, or have additional indexes. Likewise, freemen’s declarations, wardens’ accounts and other types of records are only mentioned where they fill gaps or offer additional date coverage, usually of recent freedoms, where formal freedom registers have not been deposited with the Manuscripts Section.
Alphabetical lists of freemen:these are generally recorded only where they cover a significant period, e.g. not just a single year. The references have been marked to indicate those lists which record additional information, such as the date of freedom, or page numbers in relevant volumes. Also include printed lists available in the Printed Books Section. N.B. Annual alphabetical quarterage lists are mentioned under quarterage, for which see below.
Apprentice binding books:full references are given to all volumes in the main series of bindings registers, with details of indexes etc. Other series, i.e. Orphans’ Tax books, are assumed to be duplicates or to contain less information and are only included where they offer a wider date coverage, are the only record or have additional indexes. Likewise, apprenticeship indentures are only mentioned where they fill gaps or offer additional date coverage. The binding registers of many companies finish in the nineteenth century, after this date a search of wardens accounts, court minutes and other sources may be valuable but many companies no longer bind apprentices.
Alphabetical lists of apprentices:these are generally recorded only where they cover a significant period, i.e. not just a single year. The references have been marked to indicate those lists which record additional information, such as the date of binding of an apprentice, or page numbers in relevant volumes. Also include printed lists available in the Printed Books Section. N.B. Annual alphabetical quarterage lists are mentioned under quarterage, for which see below.
Quarterage books:these are generally described collectively and a search for a particular date will therefore require a search of the full catalogue at the Desk. Individual volumes are only described in more detail in this guide where the freedom registers of a company are lacking. Unless stated otherwise the quarterage books are annual lists, are not in alphabetical order, and contain no indexes or other information. Wardens’ accounts and other types of record are mentioned if they fill gaps, extend date coverage, or have additional indexes.
Court minutes:these are generally described collectively and a search for a particular date will therefore require a search of the full catalogue at the Desk. Individual volumes are only described in more detail in this guide where the freedom registers of a company are lacking. Court minutes are described as "unindexed" if they do not include indexes which refer to individual members; this may appear inconsistent with the catalogue in respect of those series with general indexes only. It is assumed that the court minutes include details of freemen admitted and apprentices bound, while there may be exceptions to this general rule, shortage of staff time has prevented a full search for the exceptions.
Accounts:these are generally included and identified within the sections above where they provide additional date coverage; however in a few cases they are detailed in a separate section for convenience. No references to quarterage lists contained within annual accounts have been made, unless specifically mentioned in existing catalogue entries, as to extend the coverage further was felt to be too time consuming.
In general a search for a freeman requires the following, in this order:
References in quarterage lists can be useful in establishing start and end dates of membership, but are perhaps a next step after 1-4 above.A search for an apprentice would follow a similar pattern, substituting 2) with apprentice binding registers.
This guide excludes references to livery lists, although these and other sources are detailed in City Livery Companies and Related Organisations, A Guide to their archives in Guildhall Library (Guildhall Library, 3rd edn 1989).
The Section has aninformation leaflet on livery company membership records which lists the addresses of those City companies who continue to hold their own records. A useful introduction to the types of livery company records is given in CRH Cooper’s "The Archives of the City of London Livery Companies and related Organisations", Archives, XVI, No 72, 1984
Other Sources relating to livery company membership include:
1) Records of the City Freedom:
A series (with gaps in the 1770s-1780s) of City freedom admissions papers for 1681-2004 [subject to closure period because of the Data Protection Act] is held by the London Metropolitan Archives, arranged in monthly bundles. (These are indexed by the "Alphabets of Freedom Admission", arranged by freeman’s surname and then monthly.) The papers should indicate the livery company of a freeman. Microfilm copies of the alphabets are held by Guildhall Library Manuscripts.
In addition LMA holds sources relating to the City freedom for 1309-12, 1437-97, 1495-1649 (admissions by redemption only), ca. 1531-3 and 1668-9, and relating to the enrolment of apprentices from 1786. For further details see H. Deadman and E. Scudder ed, An Introductory Guide to the Corporation of London Records Office (1994). In addition Research Guide 1: City Freedom Archives (1996 edn.) is available, free of charge, from London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London, EC1R 0HB. See also Vivienne E. Aldous, My ancestors were Freemen of the City of London (1999, Society of Genealogists).
2) Poll Books:
The Printed Books Section of Guildhall Library holds a wide selection of annual City poll books from the late seventeenth century to 1872, which list the liverymen only of the city companies. Most of these annual lists are arranged by livery company, but those of 1700, 1710, 1713, 1722, 1768, 1792, 1796, 1831-9, 1853 and 1872-87/8 are alphabetical by name of liveryman. See A handlist of poll books and registers of electors in Guildhall Library (1970 edn).
3) Common Hall Register, 1887/8-date:
The Printed Books Section of Guildhall Library holds a copy of the Common Hall Register of the liverymen only of the City companies, i.e. of those entitled to vote in the elections of Lord Mayors, Sheriffs and certain other City officers. It is arranged by livery company, but has (yearly) alphabetical indexes for 1932/3-40/1 and 1949/50 to date.
Copies of the Common Hall Register are also held by London Metropolitan Archives.
4) Apprentices of Great Britain Index, 1710-1774:
The Society of Genealogists has compiled an index to the Stamp Duty records held at the National Archives, and a microfiche copy of this index is held by the Printed Books Section of Guildhall Library.
N.B.Guildhall Library staff are only able to make searches in, and extract details from, indexed records. Only two searches can be made on behalf of each enquirer. For more extensive searches, or searches in unindexed records, you are advised to visit Guildhall Library yourself, or employ a record agent.
Last updated September 2009
Livery Company Membership Guide, list of companies
Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section