The year’s rushing away like nobody’s business. June 2013 was particularly hectic with a slew of goodies. It began comparatively quietly, with an evening reception on the 4th June at Plaisterers’ Hall to celebrate (and collect money for) Peterborough Cathedral Choir - worthy but not outstanding. Then a summery luncheon on the 5th June down in Surrey at the City of London Freemans’ School, pleasant and relaxing, as aperitif to the blockbusters that followed. Thursday, 6th June was a wonderful day. The Stalwart Consort Ann travelled up from Birmingham and I met her at Euston as the temperature rose – one of the first days of a real summer (which was not sustained). She was elegantly dressed in a floral outfit with a most becoming hat; I in traditional morning dress, with the top hat in which I was married back in 1973 - I’ve hardly worn it since, but it’s not too moth-eaten. Taxi to the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, where Master Constructor Stephen Rigden hosted a convivial luncheon and champagne flowed. Then hot foot to Buckingham Palace, for what turned out to be an historic Garden Party. We had followed orders and had left out cameras and phones behind. We entered through the Palace Courtyard and swept into the gardens. Notwithstanding orders, people were snapping away with their phones – it seemed uncontrollable and frustrating. After we had battled with the tea queue the Royal Party emerged at 4.00 pm and made their way through the marshalled crowds – the Queen in a pale green outfit – we got quite close and she was her customary self. So was the Duke of Edinburgh. It was only afterwards that we heard of his departure for hospital – meticulously planned in advance. You’d never have known it from the way he and the Monarch carried the afternoon in outstanding devotion to duty. We returned to the RAC and contented ourselves with being photographed against an immaculate classic 1940s touring Riley.
Scarcely a pause for breath and then it was off for to the Master’s Weekend in Ironbridge (June 7-9). This was another highlight of the year, an intensive dawn to dusk tour of the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, following the successful smelting of iron in the mid-18th century by Abraham Darby I (who begat a dynasty, all confusingly identically named from I to IV). There were almost 100 Masters with their ladies, partners and consorts. We were divided into three buses, with the consequence that we didn’t see the others as they did the itinerary in differing sequences. The original ironworks, the Jackfield tile works and Blists Hill village were highlights – at the latter Christine Rigden had donned leather breeches to give a demonstration of ale conning, which involved sitting in a pool of the liquid, to test for stickiness (and she put herself up for re-election at Common Hall so she clearly enjoys the task). Two black-tie dinners later, we were ready to choose the name for our Masters of 2013 Association. The proposition from the floor of Great 13 could have been controversial, especially as Master Mercer of the number one company attended, but he went with the flow as the title was unanimously and noisily acclaimed. So Great 13 it is and will evermore be.
Wednesday, June 12: Garden City Lecture at Welwyn Garden City – this was for the Welwyn Garden City Heritage Trust, and not a Company event, but it was comparable in its high profile with the Milo Lecture. ’Hands across the Sea’ chronicled the Transatlantic ideas on community planning from Ebenezer Howard to the advent of the British New Towns through Letchworth, Hampstead Garden Suburb, Welwyn Garden City, Radburn NJ and Greenbelt MD, with the career of Raymond Unwin providing a linking thread. Introduced by Lord Salisbury of Hatfield House, whose Great Grandfather had sold some of his land for Welwyn Garden City, the audience included the Town and Country Planning Association as well as local dignitaries. It all went smoothly and was enthusiastically received.
Two days later, on Friday, June 14 we had the Canterbury Cathedral visit, scaled down from the original weekend possibility, but a full day, arranged by John Burton, Surveyor to the Fabric and just about to become Master of the Masons’ Company. It’s so easy to reach Canterbury from St. Pancras. We began with a general briefing and a session in the Masons’ Workshop with Heather Newton, Head of Stone Conservation, followed by an architectural tour from the Crypt upwards. After lunch two excellent guided historical tours, a wander round the Precinct in beaming sunshine, and Evensong, to which we were officially welcomed. A pause for an ale in an historic hostelry (plastered with notices about the consequences of drug taking on the premises), then a smooth, swift ride back to the smoke, rounded off an excellent day.
The end of June was nothing if not manic. Thursday, June 20: Lunch with the Drapers Company was the first of to a twosome featuring outstanding hospitality from the ‘great twelve’. I’ve always liked drapers’ Hall which is one of the most opulent livery halls in London. Our banquet there in 2009 was down-scaled due to the riots in the City, when the G8 economic Forum was held in London. The master, Lady Victoria Leatham, was reaching out when she spoke of the contribution made by the modern companies to livery life. Perhaps I’m being cynical but it sounded a little like the hug a hoodie campaign embarked upon by David Cameron when visiting Wythenshawe, a multi-problem Manchester - erstwhile Garden City - housing estate, while he was leader of the opposition. Perhaps a little of the revolutionary zeal of Ironbridge had rubbed off on her presentation and who are we to spurn the hand of friendship, sincerely delivered in the context of outstanding hospitality? That evening there was a Livery Concert hosted by the Mercers’ Company, with musicians from the music foundation at Prussia Cove. Their concert, especially Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, was absolutely outstanding - I doubt whether I’ll ever hear a fine performance of the Beethoven! It was followed by supper, outstanding hospitality from the Number One company which I’ll always remember after the fast approaching end of my year. A hectic but outstanding day! There was no let up as next day, Friday, June 21, I journeyed to south London for the Master’s Reception and Luncheon, for the Firefighters’ Company, held at Winchester House in Southwark Bridge Road. This had been the home of an outstanding 19th-century firefighter poached from Ulster to become the first systematic organiser of the London Fire Brigade. Some of the plush Victorian ambience of his home remained, but its main purpose is now the Fire Brigade Museum. This graphically records its development from its origins when the practice of firefighting evolved, ranging through the early 20th-century and two World Wars. The images of the burning buildings of the 1940s still remain icons of the tragedy of conflict. Peacetime did not bring up any let up in the serious impact of fire, both on buildings and people, not least the firefighters themselves. A photograph of the burnt out ticket hall at King’s Cross underground station reminded me that I had walked through less than an hour before the tragic 1987 fire erupted. That fire was caused by massed litter beneath the wooden escalators of the 1930s. Shortly after it was Terror that stalked the London streets and stations, particularly the horrors of seventh of July 2005. We forget the significance and sacrifice of the Fire Brigade at our peril, and this museum is a timely reminder and reality check.
Monday, June 24 dawned brightly as I hurried to catch an early train to reach the Breakfast Club for Common Hall held at Haberdashers Hall from 8.00 am. These events are really promotions for catering companies keen to engage the patronage of the Livery for their events. Nevertheless a full English breakfast is welcome for the start of a busy day. By mid-morning we were all assembled in the crypt beneath Guildhall searching for our ground and regalia, dressed by the clerks and marshalled into order of precedence to progress into Guildhall at the opening of Common Hall. This was my second and last experience of active participation in the panoply and splendour, walking slowly down the centre aisle at the start of the proceedings. Shortly after the Lord Mayor took his seat at the centre of the dais, the Shrieval Election began. As the two posts were not contested the voting was by acclamation. Although every Liveryman is eligible to vote, in practice it is limited to as many of the livery who can crowd into Guildhall. Voting over, I walked across to Farmers and Fletchers’ Hall for an excellent luncheon. Unfortunately service was slow and I had to apologise to leave before desert was served, as I was due back in Guildhall Yard for the annual Armed Services Parade and Reception. The link between the military and the City is long-standing and remains strong. Veterans from conflicts as distant as the Second World War attended the reception: I was astounded to talk to a veteran of 87, born nearby in Gracechurch Street, who had enlisted in the Royal Marines at 16 to be sent to south-east Asia to try to stem the onslaught of the advancing Japanese army. He had survived both this and many subsequent conflicts, during which many of his colleagues had fallen.
Only two commitments during the last week in June: Tuesday June 25 saw the jury on the WCCA Student Drawing Prizes and the set of Committees as prelude to the Election Court on July 9th, and the End-of-Year show of the Building Crafts College at Carpenters’ Hall. This included some very sophisticated joinery and furniture which was of a professional craft standard, as well as the results of courses designed for young people who had dropped out of full time education. Across-the-board, it was a very worthwhile show and ended a busy month, possibly reflecting a rush of events programmed to happen before the summer recess.
Not that July 2013 looked noticeably quieter,
but that’s for a later installment.
but that’s for a later installment.