Records of London's Livery Companies Online

The 'Records of London's Livery Companies Online: Apprentices and Freemen 1400-1900' (ROLLCO) website was launched at a gathering of Livery Company members, historians and archivists at Clothworkers' Hall on 19 June.

ROLLCO is a collaboration between the Centre for Metropolitan History, Institute of Historical Research (part of  the School of Advanced Study, University of London), and four of the ‘Great Twelve’ London Livery Companies – the Worshipful Companies of Clothworkers, Drapers, Goldsmiths and Mercers.

 The Livery Companies of the City of London originate from medieval trade guilds, established to regulate particular crafts. They supervised the training of apprentices, controlled standards of craftsmanship, and protected craftsmen from unfair competition. They also provided financial support to their members in old age and in times of poverty and bereavement. Up until the nineteenth century, Freedom of the City of London (or Citizenship) and the right to exercise a trade there could only be obtained through membership of a Livery Company.

 The first phase of the project provides access to the records of four of the ‘Great Twelve’ London Livery Companies, the Worshipful Companies of Clothworkers, Drapers, Goldsmiths and, within the next few months, the Mercers. The ROLLCO database so far contains records of 270,000 individuals, including 60,000 apprenticeships and 40,000 freedom admissions.

 Many of these individuals are well-known London figures – men like the goldsmith Sir Thomas Vyner, who was sent to London aged 12 in 1600 and apprenticed into the goldsmiths’ trade. He was made free of the Company in 1611, and then over the course of the next three decades, Vyner rose through the ranks of the Company and the City (as Sheriff then Lord Mayor) in a career that encompassed the major historic events of the early seventeenth century. He was present at the execution of Charles I and then knighted by Cromwell, and subsequently knighted a second time by Charles II at the Restoration, after persuading the new king he had been loyal all along.  At his death in 1665, in the midst of London’s last great plague epidemic, Vyner left a part of his considerable fortune to support London goldsmiths who fell on hard times.

 Most of the men and women who appear in the ROLLCO records were more modest individuals working within their trades, but the opportunity that the resource provides for searching across the archives of individual Companies for the first time allows users to investigate the practices of living and working in London across 700 years of its history, including connections between people of different trades.

 The resource is designed to accommodate a variety of research interests, with search tools for those looking for information about particular people, and a suite of tools to allow researchers to study trends across the records of multiple Companies. The results of searches can be downloaded and saved, either in a print-ready format or as structured data for analysis.

Published on: 
20 Jun 2012