Livery company with a modern farming outlook

4 February 2000

Livery company with a modern farming outlook

Wye College is currently hosting a three-week Advanced Agricultural

Business Management course. Its run by the Worshipful Company

of Farmers, one of 100 City of London Livery companies – little-

known groups steeped in tradition and ritual. Tim Relf reports

FORMED in 1952, The Worshipful Company of Farmers is a mere youngster as far as livery companies go.

The Poulters, for example, were formed in 1368, The Saddlers in 1362 and The Weavers in 1155. But their aim of representing professional and business sectors has changed little. They still support and, in some cases, regulate their trades.

The farmers, for example – with nearly 300 liverymen – promote education and technical progress, support a city farm and give travel fellowships.

And it was against this background that the Wye College course – aimed at farmers, managers and executives – began at the Kent campus. The one now in full swing – as you read this the 20 delegates will be tackling such ponderers as communication skills, management stress and European agricultural policy – is the 50th such course. And many of the previous graduates have become captains of industry.

"A lot of people tell us that its changed their total perspective on their business and their lives," says company master John Cossins.

A two-week course – the Challenge of Rural Leadership – was also introduced at Seale-Hayne in Devon. Grant Phillips, recently-appointed head of agricultural banking at Barclays Bank, was there last year.

His objective, as a newcomer to farming, was to "soak up" information. "It helped to crystallize some of the issues of the industry as we move agriculture into the 21st Century."

There was, says Mr Phillips, a good mix of practical and theoretical tasks and plenty of "networking".

But it was hard work. "We started at 8.30am and didnt get to the bar until 9pm or 10pm."

Back at his Dorset farm, meanwhile, Mr Cossins explains his role. "I am hoping to make the company better known and maintain its reputation within the City. Some are well known; others tend to be forgotten."

Looking down the 100-strong list – the most recent addition to which is the Information Technologists – it certainly seems as if theres a company to cater for every need. Food-related ones include the Bakers, Butchers and Farriers. Elsewhere are such seemingly-bizarre titled bodies as Fan Makers, the Playing Card Makers, Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Blenders.

There is, admits Mr Cossins, some ceremony and pageantry. "But I wouldnt say there is a great deal of ritual."

Education, meanwhile, remains high on the companys priority list, giving as it does scholarships for the Wye and Seale-Hayne courses, the all-in fees for which are £2400 and £1670 respectively.

"We are not, in any way, a political pressure group," he adds. "We quite deliberately leave that to the bodies who are. We dont get involved in any agri-political activities. Its not really the role of livery companies."

And then Mr Cossins goes on to explain a little known fact – that it was from the livery companies that the expression "at sixes and sevens" came. The Merchant Taylors and the Skinners, who disputed who came above who in the order of precedence, agreed to hold positions six and seven in alternate years.

Membership facts

You can join by apprenticeship, patrimony

(for children of members)

but the usual route is by redemption where you are proposed – and seconded – by an existing liveryman. The annual subscription, or "quarterage", is £100. And no, you dont have to be a man to be a liveryman. The Princess Royal is the Junior Warden.

Good company…

John Cossins (left).

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