I begin by wishing everyone a very Happy New Year. I hope and pray that 2021 will see a turnaround that enables us to start getting together to enjoy once more the great things that our wonderful City of London has to offer.
The year commenced in great style with our new Clerk, Heather Smith, taking up her position. A huge welcome to Heather who has already got her feet well under the table, having organised and planned a few events and having already met up virtually with several Liverymen. We all look forward to working with Heather to continue the great work of our previous Clerk, John Brooks.
January brought the roll out of the major vaccination programme, including the approval of a third vaccine, the Moderna Vaccine. To date some 8 million people have been vaccinated, which is fantastic news for the country. Unfortunately, despite the vaccine programme, the PM had to implement a third lock down from early January, which meant closing down all non-essential shops including restaurants and bars and hairdressers. There was a feeling of déjà vu that swept the nation, but I am glad to say that the vast majority of people simply got on with their lives in lockdown once again.
January is generally a quiet month in terms of T&B business, but this year it was a bit different with a number of virtual events to attend. The year started brilliantly with our virtual cheese tasting event hosted by Cheesemonger of the Year, Andy Swinscoe. Andy took us expertly through the six wonderful farm crafted cheeses that had been delivered to our doors and gave us a great insight into each cheese and its provenance. We have some fantastic small farms making the best cheeses in the UK and we certainly appreciated them all. It was equally wonderful to enjoy the wines that had been recommended to us by our Wine Chairman, Past Master Philip Parris. A great event.
I also attended several virtual meetings with the Clerk, Upper Warden and Renter Warden and the annual meeting of the Nominations Committee where we considered future appointments to the Court and Committees.
In terms of City functions, there were several very interesting events which I attended. There was an incredibly interesting virtual tour of Spitalfields given by Blue Badge Guide Katie Wignall who took us through the history of this amazing place, from splendid opulence to squalor and then on to street art and today's million pound residences. The area has a fascinating history which was superbly illustrated by Katie.
Another really interesting event was a virtual tour of the Wren Churches in the City given by Lance Whitehouse, Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Bakers. After the Great Fire of London in 1666, Christopher Wren was instructed to design and rebuild 51 churches in the city. He was later knighted and became the architect who, more than any other, left his mark on the city in a way that has survived more than three centuries.
I also attended a virtual meeting hosted by the Lord Mayor at which we heard several interesting talks on the current position of Livery Halls given by Col. Richard Winstanley OBE, Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Drapers; how catering companies are currently managing in the City, given by Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Cooks, Mark Grove; and how Information Technology is enabling us to communicate during lockdown, by Alan Simpson of the Information Technologists Company. Other events I attended included a virtual City Walk, an informative talk on the Treasures and Coat of Arms of the Chartered Accountants' Company and a Climate Action Strategy Livery Seminar arranged by the City Corporation, all very interesting indeed and helping to keep us all connected during these difficult times.
December has been another month of continuous change, with rising Covid-19 infections as the backdrop. The short lockdown ended on 2nd December but a new 3 tier system of restrictions was introduced by the Government, which changed to a 4 tier system by the end of the month. The good news was that the UK was the first nation to approve two vaccines, the Pfizer/BioNtech solution and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. This means that the vaccination programme, which is already well underway, can be accelerated immediately in the New Year and we can hopefully get back to some sort of normality in the Spring. I am very optimistic that this has signalled the start of our journey out of the Covid-19 crisis and that we will be able to get some normality back into our lives in the early part of 2021.
December has been relatively quiet month in terms of T&B meetings, reflecting the run up to Christmas. I have continued to meet with the Wardens and Acting Clerk on a weekly basis via Zoom to discuss various Company issues and I also met with our new Clerk designate, Heather Smith, to discuss the Master's role and to commence planning how we will work together in 2021.
I also attended the Treasures Committee, a meeting of my Past Masters' Association and the December meeting of our Court of Assistants. The Court meeting had a large number of items to discuss, the major one being the report on the 2020 Strategic Review. The findings of the review and its many recommendations were introduced by Past Master David Szymanski and there followed much constructive debate and discussion about numerous items. There was general agreement that the Strategic Review had been carried out very professionally and effectively. Thanks to Past Master David Szymanski for coordinating the review and bringing it to a satisfactory conclusion. Thanks also to all the other Liverymen and Freemen involved in producing this excellent review, especially the Chairmen of the three sub-committees who drove the review forward despite the setback of Covid-19. The three Chairmen were, Court Assistant Jenny Rolls, Past Master Roger Westbrook and Renter Warden Professor John Schofield. A special thank you for all the hard work you have undertaken during 2020. The finalised Review will now be presented to the whole Livery at Common Hall in February 2021.
In terms of City functions, again, it was a fairly quiet month. I attended the Lord Mayor's Christmas Carol Service which was live streamed from the stunning Church of St Anne & St Agnes in the heart of the City - a most joyous occasion. I also attended two very interesting lectures given online. The first addressed "Faith in the City", given by Niki Gorick who gave a fascinating and illuminating talk about how different religions have impacted and shaped the City of London as we know it today. The second event, presented by Lance Whitehouse, Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Bakers, covered ‘Victorian City Life within the Square Mile’, an illuminated talk including an exploration of Dickens’ role in fighting Victorian poverty. Both excellent events.
And of course, there was the magnificent Tylers and Bricklayers Annual Christmas Carol Service, held virtually for the first time in our history. There was a fabulous turnout for the Service, which was really professionally performed. The Lothbury Singers were on top form as usual and did the Company really proud. The Carol Service always marks the start of Christmas for me, and this year was no different - truly beautiful.
We also managed to catch up for a short while afterwards via Zoom, to raise a glass of champagne and wish each other Happy Christmas. It was really wonderful to be able to see so many fellow Liverymen and Freemen before Christmas - a delightful evening despite us all being so far from each other.
This is my last blog of 2020, a year that none of us in our wildest dreams could have foreseen. It has been a strange journey, but we have all coped well despite the difficulties that the year has laid in front of us. I am honoured and delighted to continue being the Master of such a wonderful Company.
I wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year 2021.
On Thursday 1st October I had the privilege of being installed as Master of the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers for the second time. On this occasion, there was not the usual pomp and ceremony of "normal times", instead, the whole Installation Service was conducted online via the ever-present medium of Zoom. Despite the long distance arrangements, I felt very honoured and privileged to be asked to serve as Master for a second term, so thank you to everyone. Although we were not able to celebrate the Installation in the usual way with a wonderful church service and lunch, we nevertheless made the best of it by raising a glass of champagne together at the end. Let us hope that things will improve in 2021, enabling us to get together for some good fellowship.
Regrettably cases of Covid-19 continued to increase rapidly during October, with the UK exceeding 1 million cases. A new 3 tier alert system was introduced in England with a 5 tier system in Scotland, just to keep us all on our toes! And on top of all this, we had the wettest day on record this month.
In the City, all functions were cancelled, including the National Federation of Roofing Contractors Awards and the Tile Association Awards, both excellent functions that were hugely missed. Also, Maureen was due to attend a luncheon with the Lady Mayoress at Mansion House, which she was very much looking forward to, but regrettably that also had to be cancelled.
However, I did attend some wonderful online events, including a fun quiz night and an inspirational event entitled 'Wizardy in Wood' hosted by the Worshipful Company of Turners, which showcased the stunning and intricate work of some of their very talented Turners. Two examples of this magnificent work are shown here:
I have continued to meet with the Wardens and Acting Clerk on a weekly basis via Zoom to discuss various Company issues and the Strategic Review Steering Committee has soldiered on remarkably well considering the difficult circumstances of the lockdowns. The Chairman, Past Master David Szymanski, is putting the final touches on the report in preparation for presenting it to the next meeting of the Court on 17 December.
The excellent and informative Company Newsletter and White Book were despatched to all Company members by post during this month. The Newsletter is a bumper issue, packed with many interesting and informative articles. It was especially nice to read how some of our fellow Liverymen running their own businesses have coped during the period of lockdown. It appears that despite the very serious setback of lockdown, they have all found ingenious ways to cope and keep running their businesses. Well done all. And hearty congratulations to Upper Warden Simon Martin and Liveryman (and Editor) David Williams for producing such an excellent Newsletter for us to enjoy.
Sadly the month ended with the announcement of yet another lockdown for England, commencing on 5 November and ending on 2 December. Watch this space!
The month of November was one filled with hope following the announcement of several successful vaccines around the world, including the UK based Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The UK Government ordered 5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine in preparation for a mass roll out of the injections during December, with coronavirus vaccine centres being established throughout the UK. Additionally the Chancellor extended the furlough scheme to the end of March 2021 in recognition of the fact that measures to restrict business activities will remain in place for the next few months. The Government announced the end of lockdown from 2 December but with the introduction of "tougher" three-tiered regional measures being introduced until March 2021.
Overseas the big news was the election of Joe Biden as US President and his preparations for Office from January 2021.
In the City, all functions were cancelled, however, I did attend some wonderful online events, including a wonderful virtual musical concert put on by the pupils of Treloar's School. The pupils, who are all severely physically disabled, displayed their superb talents in playing a wonderful orchestral piece, facilitated by their most remarkable music teacher and a piece of very clever software (called Clarion) that enables even the most disabled pupil to play so beautifully. A truly wonderful event, hosted by the Lord Mayor.
Other events I have attended during November include a lecture on the sustainability of plastics by the Worshipful Company of Horners, a virtual tour of the Guildhall led by Murray Craig, the Clerk of the Chamberlain's Court, and a cheese and wine tasting evening, all very interesting, informative and fun events.
Our own Company also held a wonderful Magic Show at which Magic Circle member Alan Hudson amazed and amused us all. He is a very talented magician who makes his tricks come to life on the screen, plus he is very amusing.
I have continued to meet with the Wardens and Acting Clerk on a weekly basis via Zoom to discuss various Company issues, and the Strategic Review Steering Committee has soldiered on remarkably well considering the difficult circumstances of the lockdowns. The Chairman, Past Master David Szymanski, is putting the final touches on the report in preparation for presenting it to the next meeting of the Court on 17 December.
I also attended virtual meetings of the Craft Committee, Finance Committee and Communications Committee during the month.
I was very happy to pay a (real) visit to St Margaret Lothbury to meet with Jeremy Crossley the Reverend Prebendary, to commence planning for our virtual Christmas Carol Service which is being held virtually this year, for the first time, on Thursday 17th December at 6:00 pm. There are a lot of new logistics involved in setting up this annual service which we are all getting to grips with quickly. Luckily we have a great team of professionals in the Rector, Reverend Jeremy Crossley, Cliff Radmore (Pastoral Assistant and Service Pastor of St Margaret Lothbury), Richard Townend the Musical Director, and John Cook our Chaplain, who are getting on with making all the new arrangements for recording and broadcasting the service. This promises to be a wonderful evening which will enable us to celebrate Christmas together as we have done over the centuries, albeit in a slightly different format.
September saw the reopening of most schools in England and the introduction of the new "rule of six". Transmission rates of the Covid-19 virus were on the increase leading to speculation that a second wave was imminent. The UK Government published its Internal Markets Bill which caused uproar as it threatens to break international law.
This month proved to be another fairly busy one. We held our first ever virtual wine tasting, "A vinous journey through France" which was a huge success, with over 30 people attending. We travelled through France, comparing the wonderful wines such as Pouilly-Fumé and Pouilly-Fuissé and making comparisons between Left Bank and Right Bank Bordeaux wines. Francis Flavin, our wine expert, brought the whole experience to life with his insightful and witty narration. We even had time for a short catch up amongst friends as our Acting Clerk, Past Master Lesley Day, had expertly managed to arrange breakout rooms for us at the end. A truly wonderful event.
Maureen also attended a virtual lunch with the City Consorts which she enjoyed very much despite having to provide her own food and wine in the comfort of our dining room.
Unfortunately, the annual Sheep Drive over London Bridge had to be cancelled, but I did have the privilege of attending the ceremony for the Election of the Lord Mayor at Guildhall. This was a very different ceremony to the usual affair. Usually the Guildhall is packed out for this most prestigious event, with thousands of Liverymen squashed tightly together in the Halls. This year it was completely different. There was no procession of Masters, no wearing of Robes by the Masters and no procession of the Lord Mayor with his fantastic entourage. Instead, those few Masters who turned up were seated in a very socially distanced manner and once seated, nobody was allowed to get up and mingle as normal. However, it was still good to be there to celebrate the Election of William Russell for his second term as Lord Mayor of London.
Maureen and I also had the privilege of attending the memorial service of Jean Stokes, a Companion of the Company, held at the beautiful All Saints Church at Rickling in Essex. We all had to wear masks in the church, were socially distanced and were not allowed to sing, but the Vicar encouraged us to join in by "holy humming" along with the hymns which were played through a loudspeaker system. Despite these strange restrictions, it proved to be a lovely service in a beautiful corner of England. A very fitting tribute to the memory of Jean.