The Master, accompanied by Mrs Caroline Rider, led a party of some 45 Liverymen and their guests over London Bridge for a visit to Southwark Cathedral.
We assembled in the Queen Elizabeth room which was built as part of the Cathedral’s Millennium Project. This is a development comprising meeting rooms, a library, education centre, shop and refectory on the north side of the Cathedral undertaken in 2000, with the support of many donors including the Tylers & Bricklayers. The scheme was shortlisted for the 2002 Triennial Awards and the 21 tile arches in this suite of rooms received a Special Award for Craftsmanship, which is marked by a plaque placed discreetly above the north door.
This award is not the only link between the Tylers & Bricklayers and Southwark Cathedral. The diocese of Southwark was only created in 1905 but, in anticipation of the church becoming a cathedral, the nave was rebuilt in 1895 to a design of Sir Arthur Blomfield. The building work was carried out by the family building firm of Past Master Thomas Francis Rider, the present Master’s great grandfather, whose contribution to the magnificent building is commemorated in a stained glass window in the retro-choir. It was entirely appropriate therefore that the first event of Master Tom Rider’s year should take place at the “family church”.
Although the present nave dates only from 1895, records show that there has been a place of worship on the site for over 1,000 years. We were divided into two groups, each lead by a knowledgeable guide, for a tour of the Cathedral. There is a reference to a minster at Southwark in the Doomsday Book (1086) but the oldest visible structure of the present building in the retro-choir dates from 1220 when the church was a priory. The priory continued until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 when Henry VIII leased the building to the local parishioners, an arrangement that continued until 1611 when a group of merchants in the congregation bought the church from James I for £800. By the 1820s the building was in need of repair and, having survived a proposal to demolish the church to accommodate the building of new London Bridge, much needed restoration work was undertaken.
We were shown many of the Cathedral’s treasures including the magnificent tomb and memorial to the inappropriately named Alderman Humble, accompanied by effigies of his first and second wife plus children, and the great screen in the choir, built in 1520 but only decorated with cherubs and populated with statues of saints and disciples (including the somewhat unlikely and definitely unsaintly figure of Edward VII) in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The tour was followed by choral evensong led by Canon Precentor Gilly Myers who welcomed the Master and the rest of the party, noting the strong links between the Cathedral and the Tylers & Bricklayers and even managing to incorporate the Company’s prayer into the service.
Uplifted by the wonderful singing of the choir and the opportunity provided by the service to pause and reflect at the end of a busy day, we returned to the retro choir where we enjoyed a glass of wine, a finger buffet supper and the chance to meet old friends and make new acquaintances.