Summons to Common Hall

Livery Committee

A website about the Livery Committee, and its responsibilities relating to Livery Companies, and the election of  Sheriffs and other City officers

Common Hall - Election of Sheriffs
Each February, the following formal notice (or something very similar) will be received by Livery Clerks from the Town Clerk, Mr Barradell, at Guildhall:

By the Mayor

To the Master and Wardens of the Worshipful Company of . . . . . .

These are to require you to cause all the livery of your Company to be summoned to meet at Guildhall on Tuesday 24th June, next, by 11.45am for the election of sheriffs and other officers, annually chosen on Midsummer Day.
The Lord Mayor will take the chair at 12.00 noon precisely.
Hereof you are not to fail.
28 February 2014 Barradell

If you wish to attend this extremely popular and traditional livery event, and to exercise your right as a liveryman to vote in the election (see note below), you will need a ticket, and you should also note that you need to be at Guildhall at least by 11.30am to get a seat. Tickets are free, and may be obtained by liverymen only (not spouses or guests) from the Clerk.

Common Hall is a term used to describe a gathering of liverymen, and often associated with an election. Most will understand it to mean the two elections held each year at Guildhall to elect the Sheriffs and the Lord Mayor. This note gives guidance on those two events. But Common Halls are also held just for individual companies for reasons other than elections, or indeed for their own elections.

The Election of the Sheriffs and Lord Mayor in Common Hall occurs each year on Midsummer Day (24th June - Sheriffs) and Michaelmas Day (29th September - Lord Mayor). When the quarter day falls at a weekend, as in 2012, the election takes place on the following Monday. The time is noon for Sheriffs, and 11.45am for Lord Mayor, though liverymen will need to get there very much earlier to secure a seat (before 11.30am).

Both Common Halls follow a similar pattern, and arrangements for the livery are broadly identical at each. The key difference is that the Lord Mayor's election is preceded by a service at St Lawrence Jewry, to which Masters (and others) process. There is an opportunity for questions at the Sheriff's election (nowadays very seldom exercised), and this can affect the timings, but both elections should end by about 1pm.

Attendance. All liverymen (but NOT their spouses or other guests) are entitled to attend. It greatly helps if they have a ticket, though this is not essential. Tickets are free and distributed through the Clerk. To vote, a liveryman must have been clothed prior to May in the preceding year. [The reason for the requirement to have been a liveryman since the previous May is, like everything else described here, historical. When these things really mattered, and there was a real election for Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, it was not unknown for companies to pack their livery with new members at the last minute, who would then vote for the preferred candidate. The May rule effectively prevented this practice, and it lives on today.] Freemen may not attend. As noted above, you should get there early.

Dress. There is no laid down dress code at Guildhall - day dress (suits) is fine, though a few Masters and others wear morning coats, and some ladies wear hats.

Notes on the actual election of Sheriffs

Two sheriffs are elected by the livery each Midsummer Day (24th June), unless a weekend. They take office in a ceremony at Guildhall on Michaelmas Eve, 28th September (followed by the so-called "Sheriffs' Breakfast). There is normally one aldermanic and one non-aldermanic sheriff, but if the number of aldermen below the chair who have served sheriff dwindles, then from time to time there are just two aldermanic sheriffs (not so in 2014).
Unlike the election of Lord Mayor, here it can be a real election by the livery. The Court of Alderman do not interfere. If there is more than one non-aldermanic candidate, by a resolution of Common Hall in October 2011, the candidates will be strongly encouraged to accept the result of the count of hands at Guildhall in June. And NOT to demand a further ballot two weeks later, though that does remain their legal right.

In both June and September the Guildhall is invariably packed to capacity for Common Hall. There is considerable spectacle, and it is an interesting and historic ceremony. 
An historical record of those who have served as Lord Mayor or Sheriff (since 1832) may be downloaded here.

© Nigel Pullman 2015