How Does The Company Work?
Rules Governing the Company
Although the Company petitioned for a Royal Charter in January 1630, during the reign of Charles I, the problems of Civil Wars and so forth mean that it was not until 1670 that we received our Royal Charter from Charles II.
The rules governing the Livery are contained in the Charter and in the subsequent Bylaws of 1670 & 1714. These have been adapted for modern usage and are contained in Standing Orders under which the Master, Wardens and the Court operate.
Under the Bylaws the Court comprises the Master, 2 Wardens (the Upper and Renter Wardens) and 18 Assistants. Standing Orders also allow the Court to appoint Honorary Assistants. The most recently retired Past Masters are included within the 18 Assistants, with the remaining Past Masters attending Court meetings in a non-voting capacity. This means that as a new Master is installed, a vacancy is created and as a result at least one member of the Livery is elected to the Court each year. Nowadays all Liverymen who have been members for at least 5 years are eligible for election by the Court. The criteria on which names are judged focuses on contribution and commitment to the Company and its charity, rather than just time served.
Management of the Company
The Master and Court are responsible for the Livery in terms of:
- its standing within the City
- its charitable activities and
- the promotion of its traditional craft
The administration of the Company is in the hands of the Clerk, who is also accompanied and assisted at the Company’s ceremonial duties by the Beadle. In commercial parlance the Clerk could in many ways be described as the Chief Executive of the Company and the Master, Executive Chairman.
The Court normally meets 5 times a year and, apart from the Installation Court meeting in December, each meeting divides itself into two parts – business and ceremonial. The ceremonial aspects cover the granting of Freedoms, the clothing of new Liverymen and in December the installation of a new Master and Wardens.
Role of the Court
The business side of the Court’s activities covers in general terms:
- major policy issues which arise from time to time and
- consideration of the reports and recommendations from the various committees set up by the Court
Some Livery Companies conduct all their discussions through the Court who meet between 10 and 12 times a year. However most Companies, including the Wheelwrights find it more efficient to operate through various committees. The current committee structure within the Wheelwrights consists of 7 standing committees with membership drawn from both the Court and the Livery as a whole, these are: the General Purposes and Finance, Scrutiny (to review/scrutinise the Company’s financial affairs), Craft, Membership (carries out interviews for the Freedom of the Company), Court Nominations, Livery and the Past Masters Committees. In addition, the Wheelwrights Charitable Trust appoints a number of Trustees from the Company, nominated by the Court, who provide oversight to our charitable activities.
Aside from the Master, Wardens, Court and Clerk, who are the other members of the Company and how do you become one?
Members of the Company
It is the task of all Liverymen to introduce new members – both men and women are equally welcome to be admitted to the Company.
A candidate is initially admitted to the Freedom of the Company, as a result of either Patrimony, i.e. the son or daughter of a Liveryman, (the term Liveryman equally referring to both men and women members of the Livery) born after that Liveryman was clothed in the Livery of the Company; or Redemption (i.e. by nomination by members of the Livery). Every applicant had to be proposed and seconded by an existing Liveryman of the Company and is then interviewed by a Committee chaired by The Master. Once interviewed, and if found suitable, the candidate is admitted to the Freedom of the Company. The new Freeman is then qualified for and may seek admission to the Freedom of the City of London. Such an application to the Chamberlain’s Court of the Corporation of London is supported by the Company.
Unlike in earlier times, the Freedom of the Company, as with the Freedom of the City, is no longer restricted to British subjects or those of the Commonwealth. Today, candidates of all nationalities can be considered, should they share the aims and objectives of the Company, once they have been proposed and seconded by existing Liverymen.
The final stage after being granted Freedom of both the Company and the City of London is to be clothed in the Livery of the Company by the Master at a subsequent Court meeting. At this ceremony the applicant is clothed in the Liveryman’s robe, (which looks very similar to an academic gown) and the Liveryman’s oath is read to him by the Clerk of the Company. Whilst this is taking place, his/her Proposer and Seconder may both stand beside the new Liverymen as witnesses.
Please see the Joining the the Company for more information on becoming a member of the Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights.
As part of its commitment to maintain and develop its links with the Ancient Craft of Wheelwrighting, the Company maintains a Directory of Working Wheelwrights, and the Court may also appoint a limited number of Yeoman Wheelwrights.
In conclusion, the Charter and Bylaws of the Company refer to the Art or Mistery of the Craft. Mistery in this context refers to the knowledge or – in modern parlance – the technology of the trade and is used to ensure the maintenance of standards. It does not mean – as some in the past may have thought – the restriction of information within a secretive Company. We hope that this brief outline has removed at least one or two of the mysteries from which some have suffered as to how our Company works.