Saturday, 6 April 2013

Speaking to the Rotarians Wednesday 27th March

I was asked some time ago if I would give an insight into the life of a Master of a City of London Livery Company and I was delighted to fulfil that request at dinner with the Rotary Club of South Foreland in Dover. This Club is a member of Rotary International, and I researched to find with interest that Rotary was founded in Chicago in 1905 and now has well over one million members worldwide and some 32,000 branches. The origin of the name is that meetings “rotated” from one members place of business to the next.
The business of the Club was interesting to observe, particularly the ‘money box’ that was rattled to see if members had any good news to impart.  If you do, you tell everyone and put money into the kitty. The meeting is also conducted with the aid of a table top ship’s bell that is rung. 
I mentioned that, while I had come by train from the City of London, I have also in past years been variously hosted by the Welsh Livery Guild in Cardiff, the Merchant Venturers of Bristol and the Merchant Adventurers of York so the Guilds were not confined just to London.
I gave a brief history of the origins and developments of the guilds and friendly societies that grew up in all of the major cities in Great Britain within trades to promote, regulate and maintain standards in a particular craft or profession. In London I explained how wealthier guilds were granted charters, at a price, which extended rights to trade and also provided the basis of the City of London’s governance, its Sheriffs and Lord Mayor.  Today the City Livery Companies still retain involvement in the annual election of both the Sheriffs and of the Lord Mayor.
With the oldest Livery Company believed to be the Worshipful Company of Weavers, receiving a Royal Charter in the 12th century, I explained how in the 16th century an order of precedence was established, at the head of which are the ‘Great Twelve’ Livery companies: Mercers, Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, then Merchant Taylors alternating their place with the Skinners, along with the Haberdashers, Salters, Ironmongers, Vintners and Clothworkers.
I went on to say that my Livery Company, of which I am only the second lady Master, promotes excellence in marketing and was established by letters patent in 1978.
The events and activities, structure and governance, as well as charitable work of all Livery Companies and the professional and social occasions which take place in the 40 Livery Halls, Mansion House or Guildhall was outlined.  The recent enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury had been attended by the Masters and Upper Wardens of the Great Twelve Livery Companies, and whilst not invited as Master MARKETOR at lowly number 90 in the roll of the 108 livery companies, I was there wearing a different hat – that of a member of General Synod representing Canterbury.
Attempting to distinguish Livery Companies from Freemasonry in questions often seems necessary – there is a perception that they are somehow related.  I indicated that Livery Companies do not have secret ceremonies, passwords or hand signs.  However, one always feels this is a bigger subject than one can tackle with authority and certainty as there is debate between Freemasons in where the historical connection or divide may or may not lie.   I also explained that the older Livery Companies had evolved to meet more modern skills and industries.  The Worshipful Company of Fanmakers, for example, are now involved in aerospace engine fans and the whole “air moving” industry while the Stationers and Newspaper Makers are well connected into the digital media world.
 I was introduced by John Dunkley and received a vote of thanks from Robin Dodridge.

Sally with some of the members of South Foreland Rotary Club

I do think that it is vital that livery members should feel able and willing to speak to other organisations and associations about the City of London Livery Companies. It is always useful to have a reason provided for conducting personal research and engaging in reading in preparation. It takes away the mystery for those outside the City as to what Livery Companies do and could lead to raising interest.  It certainly helps reveal exactly what knowledge or ignorance may exist in the public at large.  Equally it should make us modest in our City based philanthropic endeavours when one realises that there are also organisations like Rotary quietly doing very valuable work to benefit good causes in every town across this country, and many others worldwide.

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