I. FIFTY YEARS OF ROYAL COMMISSIONS: 1833-1885

The years 1832-37 were during the first Whig Administration of the 19th Century. The “Great” Reform Act of 1882 referred to Parliamentary Franchise. A Royal Commission was then appointed to recommend how the municipal franchise should be reformed, and this was quickly done and put into effect with one exception, the City of London, which it was realised would be difficult, and in fact it was not attempted, but as a preliminary it had been decided that the Livery Companies were an essential part of the City Constitution and as a first step Francis Palgrave, who had made a special study of the City and its institutions, should head a committee to report on them. No action was taken on this report, but it provides a detailed and accurate report on the constitution of all the Livery Companies then existing. He interviewed the representatives of all the Companies and effectively told them what their Constitutions were. The result is the best source of information on the subject that exists, and it is interesting to compare it with the returns made to the 1884 Commission in which most of the Companies clearly do not understand the difference between Charters and Ordinances and regard their Quo Warranto Charter as still in force.

In 1835, in order to reduce the use of Judicial Oaths, the Statutory Declarations Act was passed and introduced the concept of Statutory Declarations still in use today. Their use however remained optional and it was not until 1868 that the Promissary Oaths Act made the administering of oaths illegal except where expressly authorised. Many corporate bodies, including Livery Companies, appear to have adopted Statutory Declarations in place of the oaths their constitutions had authorised before that date.

In 1854 Froude published the first volume of his History of England from the fall of Wolsey to the defeat of the Armada, and in the course of a discussion of the State of England at the beginning of the period having eulogised the activities of the old craft gilds in controlling their crafts he launched into a highly critical view of their state at the time of writing. A few quotations suffice to make clear his opinion of the Livery Companies of London:

“The names and shadows linger about London of certain ancient societies, the traditions concerning which are fast dying out of memory. Their charters may still be read by curious antiquaries, but for what purpose they were called into