Monday, 7 February 2011

Quaint Customs In Old Halls

You will I'm sure be familiar with the dispute between the Skinners and the Merchant Taylors which came to a head in 1484 when the two guilds erupted into violence during the Mayor of London's river procession, an occasion when everone wanted to be seen 'up front'. Their dispute over precedence was resolved by the Lord Mayor who ordered that the two companies would alternate in precedence each year one being six the other being seven, the next year the order being reversed. Giving rise to the phrase 'to be at sixes and sevens'.

Last week I had the pleasure of being a guest at Skinners Hall at their Dinner for the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, all of whom were there. A small Grade 1 listed building the hall has enormous charm--and the Company some very quaint cusoms. Here are three:

  1. The hall itself being narrow there is only space for 3 long sprigs. When the Master wishes to take wine with diners he does so a sprig at a time. The first sprig stands and shouts 'Master' as loudly as possible. Then it is the next sprigs turn, then the third sprig. Each trying to outshout the others. It is truly a deafening shouting competition between sprigs. There are no prizes!
  2. At the Installation Dinner for the new Master the outgoing Master puts a special cap on the head of one of the principal guests at which point everyone shouts out ''it doesn't fit''. The cap is then placed on the head of another principal guest and again the shout goes up ''it doesn't fit'' (there seems to be a lot of shouting at Skinners).This goes on several times until the cap is placed on the head of the new Master at which point the shout goes up ''it fits''. Hence we have the phrase 'if the cap fits wear it.'
  3. The Company, dating from the fourteenth century, has accumulated significant treasure. Its most precious treasures are silver-gilt cockerells dating from 1599. The head lifts off and they are in fact cups.. New Liverymen, at a dinner, are required to march behind a band, hold one of these great treasures and run several laps round the room whilst the diners jostle them and make the run difficult.
There is no doubt that old Companies do indeed have quaint customs

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