The Company is one of the ancient craft guilds of the
City of London, first mentioned in City records in 1298, and receiving a
Royal Charter in 1501. It was responsible for the control of the trade
of cask making and their usage, the standard of workmanship, and the
welfare of its members and their families, for the first several hundred
years of its existence.
Casks in their various sizes were the standard container of general trade and were used not just for liquids, such as beer and spirits, but also for food, such as salt beef, fruit and vegetables, as well as being used to store gunpowder. Also it may be remembered that the body of Admiral Lord Nelson was conveyed home in a cask of French brandy, following his death at Trafalgar.
In more modern times, the art and craft of making casks and other wooden containers by hand in Britain has gradually declined. There are no longer any working coopers in the City of London. Although there are still working coopers in other, mainly wine-producing, parts of the world, the links with the craft in this country have become more tenuous. As a result, the Company's main aims are now its work in the fields of charity and education, its history and museum, and the part the Company plays in the life of the City. The Company is controlled by a Master and a Court of Assistants, assisted by the Clerk and secretariat.
The Company's activities would not be possible today without active Liverymen and Freemen supporting the Company in perfect harmony. However, this was not always the case.
Following rumblings of dissatisfaction in the 18th Century, there was open revolt in 1823 after heavy fines and fees had been levied on members of the Company. This revolt resulted in the Livery having its own choice as Warden appointed, rather than a Court nominee, and flushed with that success, the Society was formed in 1827 as an independent representative voice of the Livery. Whilst the Society and the Court were at loggerheads throughout much of the 19th Century, peace eventually broke out, and from then onwards the Society increasingly ran the social side of the Company, as an organisation within an organisation. It is also a conduit for the views of the Livery direct to the Court through the elected Under and Upper Wardens, who have traditionally been the President and Immediate Past President of the Society.