What’s a livery company?

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A livery company can refer to a trade association in the City of London or a facility that maintains leased vehicles, both with origins in the symbolic items used to identify belonging. London livery companies historically oversaw professional standards and some continue to regulate industries, while others act as trade associations or charitable organizations. Livery stables historically kept horses for hire and adorned them in their livery. Modern livery companies may hire various forms of transportation and have their own emblems.

The term “livery company” is used in two different contexts. In the first context, a livery company is a trade association of the City of London which has its origins in the ancient guilds of merchants of that city; in 2008, there were 108 livery companies in London, most of them with titles beginning with “The Worshipful Company of”. In the second sense, a livery company is a facility that maintains leased vehicles, stemming from the livery stables that used to house horses historically.

In both senses, the origins of the word “livery” are the same. Livery is a term used to describe various symbolic items used to identify a person or object as belonging to a particular family, group or company. For example, an employee in uniform would wear a uniform that identifies the house he works in, while a car in uniform would have insignia indicating which company it belongs to.

In the case of the London livery companies, each company was officially recognized as a guild and given livery by the Crown. Livery companies historically oversaw the professional standards of their industries, ensuring that all their members’ products adhered to a certain standard and protecting workers’ rights. Some London livery companies continue to fill a regulatory position, while others are further expanded to behave more like trade associations, with specific benefits available to their members, and some act as charitable organisations.

In the sense of a facility that keeps vehicles for hire, the first livery company was, of course, a stable. Historically, livery stables kept fleets of horses and associated equipment for people who wished to hire them, and also provided care and lodging for travelers’ horses, for a small fee. By tradition, the horses and carriages associated with each livery stable were adorned in that stable’s livery, making it easy to identify.

A modern livery company may hire boats, cars, bicycles, planes or other forms of transportation, all bearing the livery company’s emblems. A decoration company can be public, allowing anyone to rent the transportation it offers, or private, in the case of a corporate decoration, which provides transportation for employees of a specific company. Many taxi companies are also considered decoration companies, as each taxi has insignias that identify the company they belong to.

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