Membership & Governance
The Mercers’ Company currently has around 380 members. Members are either Freemen or Liverymen. These categories reflect the different types of member when the Company was a medieval trade guild. A person becomes a Freeman of the Company when he or she first joins and is granted the ‘Freedom of the Company’. At a later stage a Freeman may progress, if approved, to a ‘Liveryman’ when they are ‘clothed on the Livery’. Liverymen are expected to play a greater role in running the Company but they also have greater rights. For example, only Liverymen may vote in the election of the Lord Mayor of London.
Becoming a Member
Most members join because of family links to the Company. Children whose father or mother was a member of the Company at the time of their birth have an automatic right to become Mercers. This is known as being granted Freedom of the Company by ‘Patrimony’. Patrimony came about because, when the Company was a medieval trade guild, children were expected to continue the businesses run by their parents and so the membership of the Company reflected this.
Those that have a family connection to the Company but do not fulfil the requirements for Freedom by Patrimony may obtain their Freedom by Redemption. Under this process applicants are recommended for membership after an interview and, if approved, they pay a small sum of money called a ‘fine’.
Occasionally the Company may invite an individual who does not have family connections to obtain their Freedom by Redemption to acknowledge their contribution to the work of the Company, perhaps on a governing board of one of its schools, but this is extremely rare. Notable Members who joined the Company by redemption are Sir Thomas More and Sir Winston Churchill.
The Master of the Company is elected in early July each year and holds office for one year. The Master is supported by three Wardens, known as the Upper Warden, House Warden and Renter Warden. The Wardens each hold office for one year only, and are elected at the same time as the Master. The Master and Wardens meet regularly with the Clerk to discuss Company business.
The Court of Assistants is made up of the current Master and Wardens, past Masters and up to four Liverymen, known as ‘Additional Assistants’ who join the Court, usually in preparation for becoming a Warden. The Court is chaired by the Master.
The General Court, consisting of all members of the Company – Liverymen and Freemen, meets four times a year. These meetings inform members about the current activities of the Company.
The Company currently employs around 60 staff, headed by the Clerk.