Historic membership records of London's Livery Companies now online

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Free access to Records of London’s Livery Companies Online (ROLLCO) is now available at www.londonroll.org.

This new website makes it easy for academic researchers and family historians to search the rich records of London’s ancient Livery Companies, finding information about apprenticeships and admissions to Company freedoms from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the twentieth century. This allows users to reconstruct individual careers, families and trade connections. It provides fascinating material about the social and economic roles of the livery companies, as well as the history of London more generally. For instance, a large proportion of apprentices were migrants to London from elsewhere in England, and the website provides a wealth of detail of their geographical and social origins.

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 born in Gloucestershire, 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.

Professor Matthew Davies, director of the project, said: "The new website provides a wealth of information about London’s inhabitants over many centuries, revealing fascinating career paths, changing migration patterns, as well as connections between tradesmen, all of which informs our knowledge of the city’s rich history at a time when it is taking centre stage. The project also represents the first phase of an exciting collaboration between the University of London and the Livery Companies".

Jessica Collins, archivist to The Clothworkers’ Company and project consultant, said: "The Clothworkers’ Company is delighted to have been involved in creating this exciting new resource. By providing free and convenient access to our records, the website opens them up for the first time to a range of audiences, encouraging research of different kinds and increasing knowledge of the history of the Livery Companies and the City of London as a whole".


Contact Information

Professor Matthew Davies, Director, Centre for Metropolitan History, Institute of Historical Research: matthew.davies@sas.ac.uk; +44 (0)20 7862 8698 (office), +44 (0)20 7862 8790 (general)

Notes for Editors

  1. The Centre for Metropolitan History is a leading centre for the study of the history of London and other metropolises. It specialises in innovative research projects, covering a wide range of periods, themes and problems in metropolitan history, publishing the results and data online and in print. It was established in 1988 as a research centre of the Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London.
  2. The Institute of Historical Research, founded in 1921, is one of 10 member Institutes of the School of Advanced Study, University of London.  It is home to two important research centres and a major open access library, hosts over 60 seminar series and offers doctoral supervision in a wide range of historical subjects. It has a substantial publishing programme, hosts a number of innovative digital research projects, administers Fellowships, runs specialist research training programmes and organises a variety of conferences and workshops each year.
  3. The Clothworkers’ Company was founded in 1528 to regulate clothworking, the finishing of woven woollen cloth, and look after the interests and welfare of its members.  The Company became increasingly involved in charitable activity following the decline of the London clothworking industry and was particularly active in the movement to establish technical education in the nineteenth century.  Today, the Company’s primary purpose is philanthropic and through its charitable arm, The Clothworkers’ Foundation, it gives away approximately £5m per annum to a wide range of charities seeking to improve the lives of people and communities, particularly those facing disadvantage. The Company encourages trusteeship amongst its 700 strong membership and retains an interest in textiles, principally through educational grants, funding research into technical textiles and colour science and support of the nation’s textile heritage.
  4. The Drapers’ Company can trace its history back to the 1360s. In the Middle Ages, the Company had extensive powers to regulate the woollen cloth trade in the City of London. Although during the early 17th century, the Company ceased its direct involvement in the drapery trade, it gained a new relevance based on its perpetual nature by engaging in numerous philanthropic endeavours that survive to the present day. Its activities range from the commercial management of its own substantial endowment, which includes a directly owned property portfolio in the City of London to being the corporate trustee of charities and participating in the life of the City. The Company's membership fulfils a variety of corporate governance roles for the Company and certain external organisations, and directs its philanthropic initiatives.
  5. The Goldsmiths’ Company was founded to regulate the trade of the goldsmith, receiving its first royal charter in 1327. Since 1300 it has been responsible for testing the quality of gold and silver articles. The Company continues to play an important role in support of the craft and industry, funding apprenticeships and assisting with the technical training of aspiring craftsmen. It also promotes excellence in the design and craftsmanship of silverware, jewellery and art medals, through advising on and arranging commissions, competitions and exhibitions. The Company supports a wide range of charitable areas and pursues a number of educational projects with schools and teachers.
  6. The Mercers’ Company is the Premier Livery Company of the City of London. Throughout its 700-year history the Company has looked after the welfare and interests of mercers in the City of London, managed charities, almshouses, and schools, and played a prominent role in London civic life. Today, the Company, and its associated charitable trusts, make substantial grants to support education, general welfare, church and faith and arts and heritage. A network of almshouses and other homes for the elderly are also managed by the charitable trusts associated with the Company. The Company is closely involved with the running of 17 schools across the country and supports them primarily through the appointment of governors.