Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Livery Stable

Photo: an old livery stable at Fort Edmonton Park, August 2012

Livery. I first heard this word from Dad. I was born on his 49th birthday, and his stories were old-fashioned, like grandpa stories. He talked about going to the livery stable when he was a kid.

The Free Dictionary defines a livery stable as a business that "boards horses and keeps horses and carriages for hire."

The contemporary equivalent of a livery stable would be limo rental companies, like Park Lane Livery and Rosedale Livery in Toronto, or Brentwood Livery in Kitchener-Waterloo.

The term livery comes from Great Britain, and it has other meanings. In the past it was "a distinctive uniform, badge or device formerly provided by someone of rank or title for his retainers." Livery once referred to uniforms worn by servants, and is now the "distinctive attire" worn by officials, or maybe  even members of certain companies.

The word goes back to the medieval days, when liverer meant an allowance of food or clothing. Today it is also used to describe the distinctive marking painted on aircraft. (

The City of London currently retains 108 tradition-steeped livery companies, descended from the guilds of the Middle Ages. Each has its own insignia and rituals. Some are of recent origin: for instance, the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists was established in 1992. By scrolling down its charter, a reader can learn the history of the still common term Journeyman.

Along with the ancient Tanners, Wheelwrights, Glovers and Farriers, there are also the Hackney Carriage Drivers (or cabbies, who drive "hacks"). Their order of precedence is 104, just behind the World Traders and Water Conservators and ahead of the International Bankers and Tax Advisers.

As for the old Edmonton livery stable in the photo, it existed simply to board horses and hire out horse and carriage combinations, complete with the necessary equipment to drive them.

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