Sunday, 26 June 2011

St Dunstan's College CCF Contingent Dinner

St Dunstan's College CCF with whom we have a strong and happy relationship goes from strength to strength. On the left you see cadets at the Armed Services Flag Raising Day in Guildhall Yard last Monday.

On the same day their enormously talented Corps of Drums performed in the garden of Stationers Hall before the City Livery Club Civic Lunch.

A number of us were privileged to attend as guests their Contingent Dinner in the college main hall on Saturday evening.

A black tie event the room was full of gilded youth immaculately dressed and immaculately behaved. The Contingent Dinner is an 'end of term' affair whose principal role is to celebrate the achievements of the year and award prizes to the winners in various categories, including the award of the Coxswain's Sword generously gifted last year by Court Assistant David Williams. The guest of honour was Tim Lowe Commodore of the Marine Warfare School. With wide international experience and many ship commands he was in a perfect position to explain the role of the military in the modern world and, essentially, the human requirements of those who serve. It is people he said, not equipment or services, which are at the heart of successful operating units and in this respect he was full of praise for the schools CCF which he had at an earlier time had the responsibility of checking and monitoring.
I cannot say I was in any way reminded of the dinners I suffered when I was at school. On Saturday night we were treated to a quite excellent dinner and listened to some very mature speakers from amongst the CCF award winners. If the CCF is representative of the school as a whole Past Master Sir Paul Judge, Chairman of the Governors, and an old boy should be a very happy man.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Common Hall-Election of Sheriffs

The offices of Sheriff and Alderman go back to medieval times and the office of Sheriff is older than any other in the City. Until the institution of the Mayoralty in 1189 Sheriffs or Shire Reeves governed the City as the King's representatives. These days two Sheriffs, an Aldermanic Sheriff proposed by the Court of Aldermen and a lay Sheriff are elected on, or as close to, Midsummer's Day in Guildhall. The election was on Friday last. These annual elections are grand ceremonial occasions with the full panoply of the Civic City's great and good performing. For it is a performance with much bowing and, for the Lord Mayor, hat doffing.
This year there was only one candidate for the role of Aldermanic Sheriff so he was elected unopposed.For the office of lay Sheriff 3 candidates competed. The hall was full and Liverymen, who are exclusively entitled to vote, overflowed into other rooms. The 3 candidates stood and individually verbally presented their case. The vote was taken by a show of hands which were counted by tellers. The election rules are perhaps not as simple as they might be and in the event that the votes cast for each candidate show that there is less than a 10% difference in the votes cast between the candidates and the candidate with the majority then a second, written poll vote is called for on another occasion. Which is what happened on Friday. The poll vote requires Liverymen to vote again on July 8th at Guildhall.
The election of the Sheriffs coincides with the election of other officers, such as Auditors, on the same occasion. Most interestingly Ale Connors are voted for. What or who are Ale Connors I sense you asking. Four Ale Connors are voted and their role, which is an ancient one, is to examine the measures used by beer and liquor sellers to guard against fraud. Early trading standards folk if you like. Originally ''to examine and assay the beer and ale, and to take care that they were good and wholesome and sold at proper prices according to the assize..'' was to ensure that the ale brewed by the many ale houses didn't contain too much sugar. Sugar being a way of using cheaper grain and hops--excessive sugar being a sign of poor ingredients. It is said that the ale connor had a simple task. He would visit a pub and upon being given a pint of ale would pour half of it on to a bench and sit in the puddle. He wore strong leather breeches. He drank the remainder and after half an hour stood up. If his leather breeches stuck to the wooden bench there was too much sugar in the ale. I find this explanation handed down through history charming, and probably true if you believe there are fairies at the bottom of the bottle.

After the election we were hosted to a delightful lunch at Farmers and Fletchers an intimate hall well suited to a smaller more informal gathering. Masters from some 12 Companies were there and the excellent lunch was accompanied by some lively conversation given the hung result of the election. The name of the successfully elected lay Sheriff will not now be known until the close of play on July 8

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

City Livery Club Lunch

Straight from the Armed Forces Flag Raising ceremony in Guildhall Yard to the City Livery Club Civic Reception and Luncheon at Stationers Hall. The weather was beautiful and so the drinks reception was held in the garden of the hall which as you can see from the picture above is quite lovely and lends itself perfectly to this sort of occasion. There I met many friends from other Companies before we went up the garden steps into the hall for lunch.

The City Livery Club was founded nearly 100 years ago in 1914 and comprises not just City Liverymen but Liverymen and Freemen of all Livery Companies as well having Associate membership for related bodies such as the Guild of Freemen, the Society of Young Freemen, Ward Clubs and others. So the membership is wide, many Marketors are members and I am pleased to say that this year's President, who hosted the Luncheon, is a Marketor--Valerie Boakes. It was a beautifully run event with fine food and wine and good company. Valerie spoke well in proposing the guests-and then the Lord Mayor spoke. I have heard Lord Mayor Michael Bear speak now at least half a dozen times at various events. He invariably finds a way to introduce into his speeches puns, one after another. Who puts him up to this I wonder: his wife, his speech writers or is he a natural punster. I look forward greatly to hearing him again at our Mansion House Banquet. If I can Bear more puns.

Flag Raising Day

Last Monday, 20 June, was Armed Forces Flag Raising day in Guildhall Yard. Guildhall was not the only venue for this ceremony, flag raising was going on all over the country last Monday. It is an event to recognise the contribution made to our country by those who serve or have served in the armed forces. It is an opportunity to demonstrate support for the men and women who make up the armed forces from currently serving troops to service families and from veterans to cadets.

It was a grand ceremony with representative contingents from all the services as well as cadets and, of course, a military band. The Lord Mayor and Sheriffs were there in full robes and the Lord Mayor spoke eloquently of the debt owed to those who serve in the various branches of the services. With immaculate timing, as the clock struck noon, the flag you see above was raised over Guildhall. As one of the crowd of onlookers I then had to slip away as, like the Lord Mayor I was due at the City Livery Club Lunch.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Justice to Tea

In 1866 Parliament announced a competition for the design of a new central Supreme Court and 11 architects submitted their ideas. 7.5 acres of slums were compulsorily purchased; 450 dwellings, housing more than 4,000 people, were demolished and having chosen an architect, in 1873 construction of what we know as the Royal Courts of Justice began. With more than 3.5 miles of corridors and more than 1,000 rooms it took more than 8 years to complete. The Marketors who had a guided tour of the building on Thursday happily were not required to walk all 3.5 miles.
It is an architecturally marvellous place in which the Court of Appeal and High Court sit hearing varied and sometimes complex cases. It is to here, in a tradition dating back 800 years, that on the second Saturday of November each year the new Lord Mayor rides in his Golden coach to be sworn in before the Lord Chief Justice of England and to pledge his loyalty to the crown and to the duties of his office.

Both inside and outside there are remarkable architectural features and statues, none more remarkable than the mosaic floor of the main hall which measures 238 feet in length by 48 feet in width with every small piece of mosaic being laid individually, not in blocks. Not forgetting the clock hanging outside which if it ever breaks down may remain silent forever as it is reputed that its maker took the secret of its balance with him to the grave and no-one has ever managed to duplicate it.After a thoroughly fascinating tour the party crossed the road to the infinitely smaller premises of Twinings Tea where a room had been set aside for us to learn more about tea from an expert. A slide presentation and practical exploration of tea introduced us to the different types of tea which we were then encouraged to taste and to 'slurp' to gain the greatest flavour out of each tea. It was a fascinating and highly educative experience much enjoyed by all present and concluded with, yes, tea and cakes.

Luncheon with the Drapers

Yesterday our Clerk, Adele, and I were at a Court Luncheon of the Drapers Company by kind invitation of their Master and Wardens. It was not a small affair. This may be deduced when I explain that the Master proposed the toast to the guests, represented by more than 40 Livery Companies and 5 Draper related Guilds or Fellowships from around the country-Edinburgh to Exeter. I mean proposed them all individually by name, not en bloc, swiftly, charmingly, amusingly. I would not have believed it possible had I not heard it. A virtuoso performance.
It is of course always a pleasure to go to Drapers hall, probably the most magnificent hall in the City and I'm very pleased that we shall be holding our Bowden Charter Dinner there in October. The word opulent is not too strong to describe the hall-I doubt there's any scagliola here.

The pictures gracing the walls are wonderful but as readers of this blog will know from an earlier blog following a previous visit to Drapers it is the ceilings which fascinate me. Large oil paintings are of course splendid but you can see them in every stately home or National Trust property you go to. Not so with late nineteenth century ceiling frescos. The ones in the hall in which we were dining were Shakespearean with Titania and Oberon at either end and representations from the Tempest in the grand central panel. Knockout! But not sufficient to detract from from a beautiful meal accompanied by the kind of wines that only an ancient cellar containing generations of wine purchases can produce. Like the ceiling, heavenly.

Mansion House Scholars

The Mansion House Scholarship scheme is one the Marketors have supported for many years. It is a scheme designed to give scholarships in support of overseas students training for work and work experience in the UK's financial services industry. The majority of scholars take Masters' Degrees in financial services or related subjects.
This year the scheme reached its 100th award milestone since it started 12 years ago. Scholars number 100 and 101 are both Brazilian and were awarded their scholarships by Lord Mayor Michael Bear whilst he was leading a business delegation to Brazil. Both award winners will use their scholarships to attend the London School of Economics for post graduate study
On Monday I represented the Company at a Reception to meet the 2010 scholars and some from earlier years. The Chairman of the Trustees Julian Tregoning gave an interesting speech covering the width and value of the scheme and thanking Companies like the Marketors who support it. It is a charity which does nothing but good for individuals on the one hand and benefits the City long term on the other hand. It is one we should be very pleased we support.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Historical setting for an historical lunch

On Monday Marianne and I went to a splendid event in the Crypts of Guildhall. Pre-lunch drinks preceded a wonderful lunch presided over by our very own Adele Thorpe who is the current President of the Aldgate Ward Club. We were her personal guests. The occasion was the Civic lunch in the presence of the Lord Mayor, together with the lady Mayoress and Alderman Fiona Woolf.
Of the 25 Wards of the City Aldgate is, with Tower Ward, the Easternmost of the City wards. The Ward club traces its history back over three centuries so it was fitting to hold the lunch in the oldest medieval crypt in London. As the City changes so do the populations of the Wards and the City of London Corporation has undertaken a review of the internal boundaries of the City's 25 Wards and new boundaries will come into effect in 2013. One wonders with the sheer scale of some of the enormous buildings going up in the City, housing huge numbers of people, whether they might not comprise Wards themselves.
After lunch Adele gave a masterly speech, or should I say a Presidential speech, welcoming the guests--all in witty rhyme. It justified the terrific applause it received. Such hidden talent!
The Aldgate Ward club, if this was a fair representation of its social activities, would seem to be in rude good health.

Masters at Ironbridge

What do you call a collection of Masters. Is there a collective noun? I don't know. But this annual event brings together Masters from the majority of the Livery Companies. There were 90 of us last week-end. The purpose is for Masters to become familiar with each other in a purely social environment and have the opportunity, if so inclined, to talk about mutual Livery interests and issues. Principally however it is a social week-end with partners which starts with a black tie dinner on Friday night and ends at Sunday lunch time--for those with the staying power to survive the Ball on Saturday night. I am pleased to report that this very enjoyable week-end was an innovation instituted years ago by a Marketor, Sir Peter Gadsden who was Lord Mayor 1979/1980. It is pleasing to know that our reputation for being a sociable Company has real history.
The days are spent in an organised way exploring all that the Ironbridge Gorge and its museums have to offer. Which is a great deal. It was here within the dramatic gorge of the river Severn that the great iron master Abraham Derby perfected the secret of smelting iron with cheap and plentiful coke instead of expensive and inefficient charcoal. Britain and the world was never the same again. Ironbridge was the birthplace of the industrial revolution. The iron bridge itself, the first ever of its kind was a precursor to mass production iron and subsequently steel.
The gorge houses excellent museums and historic buildings including a large and remarkable tile museum so it is easy to see why it has been designated a World Heritage Site

Beating Retreat

The camera never lies. Or does it. Here is a big picture with, relatively, small people, simply because Horse Guards Parade is a quite vast area and will dwarf any group in it, even a large one. The soldiers and horses Beating Retreat last Wednesday were, however, anything but small. Sitting in the stands as we were, all 50 of us, the bands and horses were of course much closer (and bigger!) and the beating of the music, the sound of the marching and the ambiance of the event made for a viscerally thrilling evening.
Beating Retreat is an old system of recalling troops back to barracks, or their equivalent, at the end of a day's battle. Historically it was drummers and later buglers who sounded the Retreat. Today Beating Retreat is a magnificent spectacle with Corps of drums, massed pipes, mounted trumpeters and military bands evoking a sense of tradition and ceremony going back centuries.
This extremely popular event was preceded by an excellent carvery dinner at 86 St James's Street where we took over the upstairs restaurant for a convivial meal. The choice of venue was perfect for it meant we were within a very short walk of Horse Guards Parade. From this start to the final drum roll it was a stunning evening when even the weather looked kindly upon us.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Jailed and Bailed

Last week I was arrested. It happened like this. I was having a quiet coffee with some other Masters at the Sheriffs' invitation in Mansion House. Suddenly there was a huge racket as multiple whistles were blown. Was this a fire drill I thought. But no, in marched 4 policemen all in full Victorian police uniform. An Inspector then had the temerity to read out outrageous trumped up charges against each of us and we were arrested. A ball and chain was fixed to each person's arm and we were marched out into the street. There awaited us an early twentieth century coach, restored and an eye catcher as it drove us straight into the Tower of London.
Awaiting us were two Yeoman Warders with Halberds at the ready. We were unceremoniously marched, single file, across the central Courtyard and into the dining room of the Fusiliers Museum. Bread and water awaited. Things looked up. The water was golden and sparkled. The 'bread' was served buffet style. Fortunately I had bail, thanks to the generosity of all those who so kindly donated money against this eventuality. All the collected Bail money happily went to the Red Cross. Then, having had my photo taken, whilst holding a card with a number on it against my chest (such indignity!), and my fingerprints taken, I and my fellow Masters were allowed out into the sunshine. An unrepeatable experience for an extremely worthwhile cause.

Lunch with the Carmen

A delightful lunch last week at the annual Carmen's Master and Clerks' Luncheon held at what they call ''our nearest approach to a hall'' which is in fact the Officers Mess at Regents Park Barracks in Albany Street. It was a refreshingly different venue and an event enjoyed by thirteen Masters of different Companies, some now becoming old friends.
The Carmen are an old Company (founded in 1517) and indeed their claim to be the oldest transport organisation in the world is to be believed. Not that they haven't had their ups and downs. Whilst waggons, carts, packhorse and coach dominated City commerce for centuries the nineteenth century brought docks, steam and London's growth. The Carmen faded away and family ties were all that was left. The twentieth century saw resurgence and Carmen rebuilt their Company, regained a Charter, achieved Civic recognition and revived old traditions. Including excellent lunches!