1902 Encyclopedia > London > London - Government of the City. City Guilds. Special Prerogatives of the City Corporation. City Accounts. Corporation Buildings.

(Part 3)


Government of the City. City Guilds. Special Prerogatives of the City Corporation. City Accounts. Corporation Buildings.

The City of London, which is a county in itself, and with which the borough of Southwark is assimilated, is governed by a lord mayor, twenty-six aldermen, and two hundred and six common councilmen, forming a Court of Common Council. This court has a certain independent power to enact regulations for the government of the City, is entrusted with the management of the finances and the estates of the corporation, elects most of the officials, and controls the police. The City elects a sheriff of Middlesex as well as a sheriff of London; and the lord mayor is elected by the trade guilds in common hall from among the aldermen who have served as sheriffs. He is lord lieutenant within the City, the dispenser of its hospitality, the chair man of the courts of the corporation, and holds certain other offices, the dignity of which is now almost entirely nominal. The aldermen, who hold office for life, are chosen by the several wards, each electing one. Since 1867 the power of election has been enjoyed by all possessing the household and lodger franchise. The Court of Aldermen has the power of appointment to certain offices, exercises judicial functions in regard to licensing and in disputes, connected with the ward elections, has some power of disposal over the City cash, and possesses magisterial control over the City, each alderman being a judge and magistrate for the whole City, and by virtue of his office exercising the function of a justice of the peace. The common councilors were chosen originally in the reign of Edward I. as assistants to the aldermen, and in 1384 were constituted a standing committee to regulate the affairs of the City, each ward chosing four, six, or eight, according to its size. A gradual increase in their number took place until 1840, when it was fixed at two hundred and six. From the time of Richard II. the election was vested in freemen householders, but it is now regulated by the Act of 1867. The Court of Common Hall, formerly the popular assembly or ancient, folkmote, is now composed of the lord mayor, four aldermen, and the liverymen of the city guilds, and nominates yearly two aldermen, who must previously have been sheriffs, for the Court of Aldermen to select one for the office of lord mayor. The sheriffs are themselves chosen by the Court of Common Hall, which also appoints the chamberlain, the bridge masters, and the city auditors.

The fragmentary and indirect participation in the government of London at present exercised by the livery companies represents the remnants of an influence which was paramount from the of Edward III., when enactments were passed which made admission to the freedom of the city dependent on membership in a trade or mystery. Originally established to afford mutual aid to members of their "craft" the guilds of London gradually assumed a certain control over their trade or manufacture, and by the payment of large sums of money obtained various monopolies, with the power to make by-laws for the regulation of their craft. From gifts for charitable purposes, and from entrance and fines, many of the guilds, on accounts of the rise in the value of property, have amassed enormous wealth. Within the limits of the City alone the gross annual rental of the land possessed by them is over 500,000 pounds, and it is believed that the land they possess outside its limits is of equal value. At one time their number was over hundred, but they now number seventy-six, and some represent trades which are extinct. Twelve so-called "great companies" claim precedence over the others, but of these some are not so wealthy as a few of the less highly privileged. The "livery" or dress of the companies, first formally adopted in the reign of Edward III., was ultimately worn only by a higher grade of the members called liverymen. The extension of London beyond the City limits and changes in trade maxims and in social life have now left them little more than the shadow of their former authority over trade and manufacture, but a few, such as the fishmongers, the stationers, the goldsmiths, and the apothecaries, still discharge certain functions in the regulation of their several crafts. Besides administering their charities, many of the companies contribute largely to benevolent objects of pressing need, and some take an interest in promoting technical instruction, and in various matters relating to their special trade or manufacture; but the business of most of them is now chiefly of a ceremonial kind. The halls of the companies number thirty-five, and many of them are of interest either from their architectural merits, their antiquarian association, or the portraits or other objects they contain. Their annual assessed value is over 60,000 pounds. The hereditary connection of the companies with the corporation, their large ownership of property in the City, and their control over so many charities still enable them to exercise a very great influence in municipal affairs.

The following list (Table I.) gives details regarding the twelve great companies, and six other companies which may be ranked next to them in importance:-


The corporation of the City of London still retains certain exceptional jurisdiction, the two courts of the sheriff’s compter survive in the City of London court, and the lord mayor exercises the function of judge in the central criminal court, which superseded the court of oyer and terminer in 1834, and extends beyond the radius of the Mteropolitan area. The corporation possesses the sole right to establish markets within 7 miles of the City; it enjoys a metage of grain, partially commuted in 1872 to a fixed duty chargeable by weight, and applied to the preservation of Epping Forest and other open spaces; and it levies coal and wine duties, continued by various Acts; for defrayment of the cost of public improvements. Most of the world of the corporation is performed by committees; and "commissioners of sewers," under Act of parliament, have charge of the cleaning, lighting, and paving of the streets.

A large portion of the City income is derived from rents, which have increased from 3488 pounds in 1692 to 19,199 pounds in 1785, 45,269 pounds in 1825, and 117,781 pounds in 1881. In 1692 the City markets were farmed for 3100 pounds, the profit being about 2500 pounds; in 1785 their revenue was 15,631 pounds, and the profit 2621 pounds; in 1825 these were respectively 58,958 pounds and 52,271 pounds, and iun 1881 they were 152,816 pounds and 20,911 pounds. The total revenue of the City in 1692 was 11,658 pounds in 1785 59,356 pounds, and in 1881 896,688 pounds, not including the public and trust accounts, which are regulated by various Acts of Parliament. They include the Bridge House estate account, the sewers rate, the Metropolitan Board of Works sewers rate, the police rate, the ward rate, and the duties on coal, wine, and grain. The total charge of the government establishment in 1692 was 3947 pounds, and in 1881 it was 51,855 pounds not including 7856 pounds spent in pensions of officials. In 1692 the lord mayor received an annual sum of 100 pounds for his care of the market, and an ancient fee of 80 pounds out of the chamber. He has now an annual salary of 10,000 pounds and in addition to this his personal expenses in 1881 amounted to 4433 pounds. The salaries of the recorder, the chamberlain, the common sergeant, the town-clerk, and some other officers have risen in a somewhat similar proportion. The City in 1692 spent nothing on special acts of hospitality or on the promotion of literature, science, or art, while its contribution to the poor rates was only 66 pounds. it now spends several thousands annually on the reception of eminent persons, while to the London almshouses it in 1881 contributed 1884 pounds, to general charitable purposes 5179 pounds, for education 5394 pounds, for technical instruction 2000 pounds, for the Guidhall library and museum 5398 pounds, and for music 3027 pounds. the debt of the corporation, which is solely connected with the construction of improvements and public markets, was on December 31, 1881 5,496,150 pounds, the money spent for these purposes since 1759 being nearly 10,000,000 pounds. The rate able value of the City and liberties has since 1801 increased sevenfold, having risen from 507,372 to 3,535,494 pounds.

The Guidhall, rebuilt by Dance in 1789, contains the greater part of the walls of the old building of 1411, which was damaged by the fire of 1666, and also the crypt divided into three aisles by clustered columns of marble supporting a groined roof richly adorned with carvings. The principal front was restored in 1867 in the Gothic style. In addition to the great hall used for state banquets and receptions, the building contains the common council chamber, the aldermen’s room, and several courts of justice. Adjoining the Guildhall is the free library of the corporation, and a museum of antiquities relating to the City. The Mansion House at the east end of the Poultry, erected in 1740 from the designs of Dance, is the official residence of the lord mayor. In addition to the justice room and various reception rooms, it contains the Egyptian hall, in which certain special banquets of the lord mayor are held.

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