Government and Management of the Company
This is vested by the Charters (which give the Company a perpetual existence) in the Master, Wardens and Court of Assistants.
The business of the Company is conducted by the Court of Assistants which also acts as Trustee of the various Charities. It is comprised of a Master, three Wardens and 16 Assistants and meetings of the full Court are held in February, March, April, June, July, September, October and December each year. A Special Court to admit new Freemen and Liverymen is held on the same day as, and immediately prior to, Common Hall. The Court is assisted in the conduct of its affairs by various Committees, for example, the Charities, Hall, Finance, Investment and Freedom & Livery, upon some of which Liverymen may be invited to serve. The Advisory Group, comprising the Master, the Renter Warden, the Renter Warden Presumptive, the 3 most junior Pastmasters, the Treasurer and the Clerk, meets as required to consider any matter referred to it by the Court, the Master, or any individual Assistant having first obtained the consent of the Master. Advice may be sought from the Company’s Solicitors, Surveyors and Accountants. Decisions of the Court are implemented by the Clerk and his Assistant.
The Court has absolute discretion in making appointments to the Court and neither the Livery nor any individual Liveryman has any right to question the choice of the Court.
A Fine is payable upon joining the Court. A Liveryman accepting appointment to the Court must give an undertaking in writing that he will serve the office of Master, if elected, and that he will resign as an Assistant upon reaching the age of 78 or, if no other retirements are due on account of age or for any other reason, when he is the Senior Pastmaster on the Court. Upon retirement from the Court a member may be installed as an Honorary Assistant and, as such, be invited to attend certain Court occasions.
Ample opportunity exists for every Liveryman to take an active part in the life of the Company. By participating in the various social events held by the Company and by the Society of the Livery (see below), a Liveryman would come to know and be known by the other members. He may be called upon to serve on one of the several Committees by which the Company's funds and properties are managed or assist in the Company's Charitable work by visiting the Company's beneficiaries or serving on the Charities Committee. His professional knowledge may be called upon to advise in the Company's service. In parallel, he might assist in the running of the Society of the Livery as a member of its Committee. By a combination of all these activities, both social and by service, his ability and suitability to eventually serve on the Court will be assessed.
The Governing Charter of 1661 stipulates that "for ever hereafter ... yearly and every year on the Monday next before the Feast of Pentecost" the Livery shall assemble to elect a Master and two Wardens. The Master must be elected from the members of the Court of Assistants but the Wardens may be elected from the Livery as a whole. It has become the practice for these elections to be followed by a dinner for those attending.
The Master is elected annually by the Livery at Common Hall and takes office at the Installation Court Meeting in June. He presides at all formal and social occasions of the Company, at every meeting of the Court and is, ex-officio, a member of all Committees. The Master represents the Company at all official functions in which the Company participates.
The Upper and Under Wardens
The Livery has the right to nominate two of its members to serve as Wardens each year and, in effect and as mentioned below, it is the Society of the Livery which makes these nominations. They are usually senior members of the Livery who have paid the Steward's Fine and it is usual, although not a necessity, for the Under Warden to be elected to succeed to the office of Upper Warden. The Wardens take office at the Installation Court. They represent the views of the Livery on the Court and support the Master on official and social occasions. Unlike the majority of other Companies, the Upper Warden reverts to the Livery upon leaving office.
The Renter Warden
The office of Renter Warden was first created in 1563 and, as the name implies, the holder was originally responsible for collecting rents from the Company's properties. This appointment is not stipulated in the Governing Charter and he is, therefore, junior to the other Wardens. The Renter Warden is an Assistant and is elected by the Court at the Installation Court. It has become the practice for the senior Assistant below the Chair, i.e. the Master Presumptive, to be elected as Renter Warden. The Renter Warden has responsibility for the Company's expenditure and, with the Treasurer, presents financial statements to each Court meeting.
The office of Treasurer is a comparatively recent introduction. A member of the Court, appointed for not less than three nor more than five years, he is responsible for the overall financial planning of the Company's Corporate and Charitable Funds, particularly the income of those funds. The Treasurer acts as Chairman of the Finance and Investment Committee and is a member, ex-officio, of all other Committees concerned with the administration and use of the Company's funds. He is responsible for the preparation and presentation of the Company's Annual Budget.
The Wine Warden
A member of the Court, appointed annually at the Installation Court, the Wine Warden has responsibility for the purchase, conservation and use of the stock of wines, spirits and tobacco held by the Company.
The office of Clerk dates back to the earliest recorded history of the Company, the appointee being usually a lawyer or other 'Learned Man' and sometimes, but not necessarily, a Liveryman. Now a full-time salaried Officer of the Company, responsible to, and elected annually by, the Court, the Clerk carries out the administration and day-to-day running of the Company and its affairs. The Clerk very often accompanies the Master on those social occasions to which he is invited by other Companies.
The Assistant Clerk & The Beadle
The duties of the Assistant Clerk may be judged from the name and are now usually combined with those of the holder of the ancient office of Beadle. The Beadle was originally a 'constable', responsible for summoning members to meetings at the Hall and for the maintenance of good order and discipline among the Court, the Livery and, perhaps, especially, the Apprentices! Under the Bye-Laws he is required to be a Freeman of the Company and his duties now comprise attendance upon the Master at all official and social occasions in which the Company takes part.
Each year, three senior Liverymen who have yet to serve the office are called upon to act as Stewards and to pay a fine in lieu of the original custom of bearing the cost of the Company's Audit Day Feasts to the Livery. Refusal by a Liveryman to pay this fine is generally accepted as an indication that he does not wish to serve any other office in the Company: in practice he will not be elected as Warden or Master, nor will he be invited to serve as Assistant, though there is no actual bar against such election or invitation.
The Honorary Curator
At the time of the restoration of the present Hall in 1975 a small Museum was created and the first Honorary Curator appointed with responsibility for its maintenance and for the exhibition of memorabilia relating to the Company and the Craft of Coopering. Successive Curators have continued this task and the Museum now forms an interesting and informative addition to the facilities of the Hall. The Hon. Curator also maintains the Company's historical records and assists the Clerk in answering the numerous enquiries on these matters received from the general public.
The Society of the Livery
In 1824 a dispute had arisen between the Court and the Livery as to whether (as had happened for many years past) the nominations of Wardens by the Court should be accepted by their election at Common Hall, or whether the Livery had an unfettered right of choice. The dispute was resolved in favour of the Livery and the Court has accepted the right of the Livery to select both Wardens from its ranks so that the Livery is fairly represented on the Court. The Wardens act as members of the Court ex-officio during their year of office.
On the 25th May 1827 the Livery resolved that a Society of members of the Livery be instituted to contribute their good offices towards the advancement and prosperity of the Company. The Society is managed by a President, Vice-President and Committee, elected annually, and, in practice, the President of the Society for the year is usually nominated to serve as Under Warden.
Liverymen are invited to join the Society upon their admission to the Livery. A proposer and seconder are required and there is an entrance fee and an annual subscription.
The Coopers' Livery Housing Fund (CLHF)
Formed in 1994 as an Industrial & Provident Society with charitable objectives, its aim is to provide funds to assist with the provision of sheltered housing in Tower Hamlets, initially by way of repayable interest free loans. To celebrate the Quincentenary of the Company in 2001 an appeal fund was launched to provide the initial finance for CLHF. Generously supported by the Livery and many outside organisations, sufficient money was raised to enable the Company, in partnership with the Shaftesbury Housing Association and Tower Hamlets Council, to build Coopers Court, a block of 44 residential flats with the most modern facilities, just off the Bow Road. Opened to residents in the spring of 2002, Coopers Court was visited by HRH The Prince of Wales in November that year.