The older London companies began as craft/trade guilds, many of which became livery companies, by royal charter, from the late 14th century on (and especially from the late 15th century). Others began later, independently or as mergings of older groups (the Clothworkers, for example, were formed in 1528 by a merging of the Shearmen and the Fullers). Many of the early companies, along with others founded later, exist today as private associations; and many have their own websites, which provide information on their current activities and on their history. Links to these websites appear to the right.
In the earliest years for which written records of London’s mayors and sheriffs exist, records may be of an individual’s trade or occupation rather than of his guild membership (the two did not always coincide; and various guilds also began at different times, with their origins sometimes unclear). There is often no way, however, of determining from the records which is being noted, and this database simply provides whatever information has been found. Sometimes also, as the database indicates, the records disagree on an individual’s company/occupation.
The companies (or, in early years, trades/occupations) to which the various mayors and sheriffs belonged have been provided in all cases possible: from Charles Kingsford’s 2-volume edition (1908) of John Stow’s A Survey of London, unmarked if from the edition’s list of mayors and sheriffs and noted if from elsewhere in the volumes or in cases of disagreement, from A. B. Beaven’s 2-volume The Aldermen of The City of London (1908–13), unmarked if from the chronological listings of aldermen and noted if from elsewhere in the volumes or in cases of disagreement, and from other primary sources (for example, City Letter Books, Journals, and Repertories, and London livery company MSS), as noted, where neither Stow/K nor Beaven provides them, or in cases of disagreement.
Where neither Stow/K nor Beaven provides the information, and a Letter Book, Journal, and Repertory agree on a mayor’s or sheriff’s company, and also where a Journal and/or Repertory is absent or silent, only the Letter Book is cited; if only a Journal or Repertory provides a company, that source is cited (the Repertory only if Journal information is lacking); disagreements among Letter Books, Journals, and Repertories are noted. (Letter Books, Journals and Repertories have largely been searched, for company memberships of mayors and sheriffs, only in their election listings.) Stow/K rarely provides sheriffs’ companies, but supplies most mayors’ companies from 1308. Most mayors served first as sheriff; but a sheriff’s company is taken from Beaven or noted as from elsewhere even where Stow/K provides the company once that sheriff has become mayor.
A number of early chronicles and a few selected secondary works have also been used, and cited as sources of company designations, where no designations have been found in Stow/K, Beaven, or primary manuscript sources, or where primary-source designations disagree or seem to require reinforcement. To avoid a proliferation of largely misleading notes, however, where one or more chronicles, only, disagree with Stow/K, with Beaven, or with primary manuscript sources, such disagreements have not normally been noted (the chronicles being in large part the less reliable sources).
A conservative approach to company designations has included not identifying a sheriff by company where the same name occurs in the records with a company designation but without the person so named being also clearly identified as the individual who served as sheriff (although the company possibilities are provided in a few such cases: for example, where more than one source is involved). Names are much repeated in this period, and the same (or nearly the same) name cannot be assumed always to belong to the same individual, nor can members of the same family be assumed always to have belonged to the same trade or company. Even with this conservative approach, the list will not be fully accurate in the company designations supplied, in part because—given all of human error, the possibility at some periods for individuals to belong to more than one company, and the occasional later incorrect claiming by a company of an earlier mayor or sheriff—even the specific primary sources consulted (as well as the identifications made by Beaven, Stow/K, etc.) will not always be correct, and in part because of an individual’s trade and his company, where not the same, may cause a misidentification. Also part of the problem, as noted by George Unwin in The Guilds and Companies of London (1908), p. 58, is that trade specialization among elite Londoners largely began only in the 14th century.
Some company name changes have occurred, 1190–1558. Grocers were originally called Pepperers; the company appears to have emerged as Grocers in 1372 (see Pamela Nightingale, A Medieval Mercantile Community: The Grocers’ Company and the Politics and Trade of London 1000–1485 (1995), p. 237); and the Merchant Taylors were until 6 January 1503 the Tailors and Linen Armourers. For both companies the original name is used in this database (Tailors only, for Tailors and Linen Armourers) until the year of the change, and then the new name, regardless of whether the sources consulted use the old or the new designation. The Fishmongers and the Stockfishmongers were originally different companies which, after one union which did not succeed, were finally united on a permanent basis in 1536. (For the date 31 March 1536, see Guildhall Library MS 6750: two separate, dated copies of the relevant company charter. For the date 30 March 1536, see Repertory 9, fos. 172v–175v.) The two different names are here reproduced until 1536, from which year only the Fishmonger designation is used, regardless of the readings of the sources. Other company name changes during this period do not involve companies listed, to date, in this database.