Looking back, looking forward

It is hard to believe that I have now completed three quarters of my year as Master of the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers. As we move towards the summer break, this is a good moment to look back on a memorable time as Master of this wonderful Livery Company but also to look forward to my last two months in office before I hand over the Master’s badge, gown and responsibilities to Upper Warden John Schofield at the Installation on 6 October 2022.

It is vitally important that the Master, Wardens and Clerk work together as a team. Indeed, this is essential because no Master can achieve much in his or her year, working alone. A Master may take on a project from a predecessor and move it forward or may start a new initiative but in the knowledge that it is very unlikely to be completed within the twelve-month span of the Master’s year.

We have taken forward some of the initiatives started in Immediate Past Master Michel Saminaden’s second year (implementing the recommendations of the Strategic Review, encouraging members to return to face to face events after 18 months of lockdown and increasing membership after an inevitable hiatus during the pandemic). Some of these initiatives will continue into John’s year and beyond. We have found, for example, that numbers attending events are down by 10-15% on pre-pandemic levels. This is a problem for many Livery Companies. We are looking at the reasons for this and considering what the Company can do to ameliorate the problem and encourage more members to attend events and bring guests.

I am also pleased that we have started a number of initiatives this year which will continue beyond the end of my year as Master. We have joined the Livery Climate Action Group and have made a number of commitments to change the way we operate and organise our events. We have also renewed our commitment to improve equality, diversity and inclusion in the Company. You can find our EDI statement on the home page of the Company website. Words are easy and the Membership Committee, under the leadership of Jenny Rolls, are looking at practical steps which we can take.

I have been fortunate to enjoy huge support from my Wardens, John Schofield and Chris Causer, from the Renter Warden in Nomination Jenny Rolls, from the Chairman of the Finance Committee Keith Cawdell and of course from the Clerk. We meet on Zoom at least once a month to review and discuss Company events, issues, work in progress and finances. This enables us to make clear and timely decisions and to agree what matters should be taken to the Court for discussion and approval at the quarterly Court meetings or referred to one of the working Committees.

2022 july blog 1The Master, Wardens, Father of the Company, the Honorary Chaplain and the principal guest, Hugo Vickers, at the Masters & Clerks Lunch on 9 June 2022

The Master is (and should be) fully engaged in the running of the Company. He or she attends all Committee and Court meetings and is responsible, working with and supporting the Clerk, for the efficient running of the Company. I have not counted the hours but I agree with the assessment of several of my recent predecessors that being Master of a Livery Company feels like a full time job, when you add the time spent on organisation, planning and administration to the more visible role of leading the Company at our events and functions and representing the Company at a wide range of City and Livery events.

But it’s not all work and no play! There have been several memorable events and trips in the last month. On Friday 24 June, I attended Common Hall at Guildhall for the election of the Sheriffs and other City officers for the following year. This is also an occasion when the Masters of the 110 Livery Companies process in gowns, chains and badges of office and have the privilege of sitting at the front of Guildhall, thereby able to observe proceedings closely. Unfortunately, the day fell between two national rail strikes and a handful of Masters were missing from the procession and there were fewer Liverymen in Common Hall than might otherwise have been the case. It was, as always, a dignified and timeless ceremony. There were just two candidates for the two vacancies, and both were elected: the Aldermanic Sheriff for the 2022-23 year will be Alastair King DL and the non-Aldermanic Sheriff will be Andrew Marsden.

I went directly from Common Hall to Birmingham by car to the Tile Association Awards where my hosts for the evening were Liveryman Bob Howard MBE and his wife, Christine. Bob is a Past Chairman of the Tile Association. I was also pleased to meet a number of other Liverymen who are directors or executives of the Tile Association including Brian Newall MBE, Ian Kershaw and Kay Porter. Paul Luff, the Chairman of the TTA, kindly mentioned in his speech of welcome that the Company had awarded Master Craftsmen status to Mark Exley at the Craft Awards Lunch in March. The relationship between the Company and the Tile Association is very important and occasions such as this splendid awards dinner are a good opportunity to strengthen and build on this.

The Master’s trip to Northern Ireland took place over three days at the end of June and was a great success! The party conclusively proved that Guinness tastes better on the island of Ireland and learned a great deal about the origins, causes and legacy of the Troubles. There is a full report on the Company website.

2022 july blog 2 Some of the Tylers and Bricklayers at the Giants Causeway

Finally, I must mention the generosity of the Leathersellers’ Company who invited many Masters and Clerks to dinner on 7 July. Leathersellers’ Hall is in St Helen’s Place, off Bishopsgate. The Hall is magnificent. It was completed in 2016 and is the seventh Hall in the Company’s history. I believe that the freehold of the building, including the offices above, are owned by the Company – the site was acquired in 1543 when St Helens Priory, a Benedictine convent, was closed by Henry VIII in the reformation. The Hall itself is below ground and reached by an elegant spiral staircase. The main feature in the Dining Hall is a forty-metre-long tapestry designed by Victoria Crowe, which took three years to weave. The tapestry features images and references to the Leathersellers’ Company’s long and illustrious history. The food and wines were superb and included a Vieux Chateau Certan Pomerol 2004, a Chateau Coutet 1er Cru Sauternes Barsac 2005 and a Grahams 1997 Port. Fortunately, I had arranged for a car to take me home!

2022 july blog 3Stained glass window in Leathersellers’ Hall