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London's billion-pound guilds (bbc.co.uk)
98 points by blowski 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

I dunno why they used the adjective "secret" -there's nothing secret about them. You drive by enormous buildings with their names on 'em in London, and there's a detailed wikipedia entry listing them all.


or for HN


It's a cool piece of deep culture that the UK has. Other European countries have such things as well (usually Catholic religious confraternities or dinner clubs), though nothing like this dense concentration.

Not only that, they have a big annual parade with their names all over the place. Maybe they mean "secret" in the sense of "not in the press every single week, because the press have the memory of a goldfish"?

The use of charitable foundations to concentrate money and pay generous salaries while being exempt from tax is definitely a problem, but it's shared by quite a few charities in the UK, including some of the private schools.

I would go a step further and say charity, as a Western institution, is generally misunderstood. There is an economist, Bill Easterly, who has written extensively about what much of Western aid/charity is actually accomplishing, and it's often not charity. You have the Red Cross losing half a billion in charitable donations and this kind of thing never makes front-page news(1).

Now not 100% of charity is bad, but it is my opinion that if someone is aware of such things noted above, this article reads like a manipulative, deliberate hit-piece against these old-money groups, probably for some political reason.


I only found out about German academic fencing clubs recently:


As i understand it, they function in part as social networks for the upper class, a bit like masonic lodges, or the Skull and Bones etc. I came across them because there's a social networking platform for members which has the same initials as a communication protocol i was interested in.

>for the upper class

Any university student can join these. They may have been somewhat elitist in the past, and many still think of themselves like that, but most of them are strapped for new members. Sure some time investment is required as well as a general cultural fit, but the vast majority of those corps and other flavors of German fraternities still remaining nowadays are open to any interested students.

A lot of those old clubs have entry requirements (gender, religion...), but if you meet them then just about anybody could join. They’ve mostly become more interested in recruiting members to maintain their traditions than they are in maintaining exclusivity.

The best part of the deal is usually the cheap dorm room in a great part of town where otherwise you’d have to pay a small fortune as a student. Of course it mostly comes with the obligation to drink heavily... in Germnany most of them have a “Pabst” for relieving purposes during those drinking events

> most of them have a “Pabst”

I just went looking this up and am none the wiser, please explain?

My guess is it's a big canister which, when enough people have relieved themselves into it, is shipped to the USA and distributed to hipsters in Brooklyn:


It’s basically a toilet but for vomiting .

General cultural fit = ideally you are far right wing . Some also still require having a noble title (even to attend their parties unless you are a woman ). My hometown has a lot of these and some of my fellow high school students were very attracted by these . I went to a few non noble title requiring parties because my friend asked me to and it was quite shocking tbh (people singing the full German anthem including the forbidden part , a general bias towards German music and even more towards songs with excessive patriotism, a lot of “jokes” about people from other countries etc. ). They’d claim not to be racist and proving that by saying they have friends from Argentina or Chile (that happen to have German names ). I’d bet a lot that most of these fraternities vote AfD. I also remember them throwing expensive glasses down from the balcony laughing about how poor people would have to use the same glass twice .

Check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qlf6i8_7UAU

I don't care if they won't let me in for not being german enough; still a cool thing.

When I went to school they had a reputation for being pretty right-wing.

I think they mean "secretive", not "secret", in that we know they exist but we don't know anything about their internal affairs.

They called it "secret" because "secret" titles are clickier. We've taken that out.

Edit: this just gave me an idea for a bit of code to do that automatically. Thanks!

Beware the Scunthorpe problem

- 10 Things FBI Secretaries know that you don't

- Secretions of Billions of Insect threaten California Trees


(I know \b ... but I really worked on the insect secretions one so I am not losing the post)

Edit - and I actually want to read the FBI article now

Oh I'm talking about a much specialer case.

> They called it "secret" because ...

My understanding was that it was because they have secrets - handshakes, codes etc. - not because people don't know they exist.

Heh, an old coworker of mine's last name is Secret.

We're definitely not getting rid of all the secrets.

They are secret in that you could live your life and career without encountering them if you never looked, despite them being around you and running things, should you choose to look.

So, as secret as the BT tower. (Or maybe even less secret)

Not really secret.

To join one of the guilds is to become part of a small club of extremely wealthy and/or well connected people, and the establishment in particular. One route to entry is through charitable donations, and it's one of the more direct means of exchanging money for power/influence in the UK.

I don’t know whether this is true because I never looked into it really, but a colleague of mine in the ndustry told me I could join the banker’s guild. His words were that because I lived in the city[1] at the time, and also worked for a bank in the city, I’d be eligible for membership if the bank would nominate or sponsor me as a representative. I’m hazy on the details, it was years ago, and I don’t really know whether it’s true since as mentioned I never checked it out. I kind of regret not doing so now though, since moving out of the city I’ve learned much more of it’s (weird and interesting) history and it would’ve been fun to at least try to see some of this from the inside. It probably wouldn’t have worked anyway, but would’ve been fun to try.

For anyone looking for a fun little intro to the weirdness of the city and it’s history, I recommend CGP Grey’s channel and particularly his videos on the City of London[2][3].

[1]: for the benefit of people who might not be aware – “the city” is a colloquialism for the City of London, which is a small somewhat autonomous part of London, situated east of what most people (who don’t know this) probably think of when you say the city of London.

[2]: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LrObZ_HZZUc

[3]: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=z1ROpIKZe-c

Here is an eye-opening look at how the city operates in the modern day.


> Not really secret.

A freemason friend of mine once explained to me that they're described as "a secret society" not because they try to hide their existence, but because they have secrets. i.e. shared secrets that they use as a means to authenticate to one another their membership and status.

To me, this seems like an alternative and valid interpretation of the term to the one that you have inferred.

Are there other routes to entry, more accessible to you and I?

In a word, no.

Why is nothing being done about this?

A lot of power has been taken away from the City and given to the city (from the square mile to the mayor/Assembly). Now it’s vestigial and liked.

What, exactly, would you propose?

Eat the rich?

Is there anything stopping a group of totally random individuals from renting a small office somewhere in the City, and calling themselves the Worshipful Society of Penetration Testers or similar?

I guess they wouldn't be invited to the parade...

They'd need official recognition to be considered a livery company, and that would take some effort. But nothing would stop them from starting out as a 'normal' charity.

There is the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists(1). I looked at it some years ago but didn't end up joining. It's relatively open - you need a member or two to nominate you, but they have social events specifically open to non-members in part for the purpose of giving prospective members the opportunity to find someone who would be willing.

(1): http://wcit.org.uk

Similarly, the Inns of Court system of the legal profession where London lawyers train and work, is also fascinating to know about. Even the four Inn names Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Garry's Inn and Lincoln's Inn have something romantic about them.

Melville wrote an interesting story about them "Paradise of Bachelors" (Which is paired with another story "Tartarus of Maids" ).

"Melville wrote an interesting story about them "Paradise of Bachelors" (Which is paired with another story "Tartarus of Maids" )."

Both can be read here:


"The genuine Templar is long since departed. Go view the wondrous tombs in the Temple Church; see there the rigidly-haughty forms stretched out, with crossed arm upon their stilly hearts, in everlasting and undreaming rest. Like the years before the flood, the bold Knights-Templars are no more. Nevertheless, the name remains, and the nominal society, and the ancient grounds, and some of the ancient edifices. But the iron heel is changed to a boot of patent-leather; the long two-handed sword to a one-handed quill; the monk-giver of gratuitous ghostly counsel now counsels for a fee; the defender of the sarcophagus (if in good practice with his weapon) now has more than one case to defend; the vowed opener and clearer of all highways leading to the Holy Sepulchre, now has it in particular charge to check, to clog, to hinder, and embarrass all the courts and avenues of Law; the knight-combatant of the Saracen, breasting spear-points at Acre, now fights law-points in Westminster Hall. The helmet is a wig. Struck by Time's enchanter's Wand, the Templar is to-day a Lawyer." --Melville

> Garry's Inn

Actually Gray's Inn.

break em up

Good luck to them, but new money is coming fast. They either go along with great new tech investments or lose out over time.

Maybe I was just lucky in the past years, but as a person working in tech, coming from a poor family, but with access to great education, I see beating the market as easy.

I won't give tips here, because I'm in the minority and I would be voted down (which I see as a prerequisite for making returns).

They have land. Land usually beats inflation.

Tell that to the barons whose grandchildren or later are plumbers. Not that there's anything wrong with that ;-), but it's not the same as so rich you never work.

Descendants are subject to inflation though.

And dilution.

Additionally, they're coasting on the the tech industry trend which encourages urban agglomeration[1] meaning it's more valuable to have people packed into a given urban area, therefore driving up the price of land. You can see this effect in tech and finance hubs the world over.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urban_area

Land is worth a lot, and still more than other assets, but relative value of non-tangible assets are increasing exponentially compared to land.

Yet land is the only true zero-sum game in economics.

Until you hit a patch where inflation or other economic trauma wipes out those assets.

Old money people always have hard assets as a core part of their wealth.

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