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Livery Companies

Cordovan is the name given to a rich burgundy colour. It gets its name from the city of Cordoba in Spain, where many workers in leather had their businesses.

Workers in leather, originally meaning workers from Cordoba who worked in goatskin, were known as a cordewan, then cordewaner, and now in English as cordwainers.

Cordwainer is an alternative word for a shoemaker, mostly used in connection with a guild.

The distinction is more than academic. Cordwainers make new shoes: In contrast, cobblers repair shoes. Since the Middle Ages, craftsmen have formed guilds to regulate their trades by allowing only members to work in that field.

By having the law recognise that only guild members can carry out the work, they protect the quality of their wares and services, and their prices.

Guilds also train apprentices and support members who have fallen on hard times.

The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers continues today, based in Mincing Lane in London. Although the word cordwainer refers to a maker of shoes, the guild encompasses workers in fine leather as well as shoemakers.

The term ‘worshipful’ denotes a guild as a livery company, which marks out the Cordwainers as having special status.

The term ‘livery’ refers to the clothing that guild members were entitled to wear to show their status, and as of today there are over 100 livery companies in the City of London.

Senior members of livery companies have rights over the civic life of London, with local government powers. One of their special powers is over the election of civic leaders.

Behind the scenes, the senior liverymen elect the City’s sheriffs approve the candidates for election to the office of Lord Mayor of London.