In my last blog, I didn’t mention an extraordinary concert I attended last month at Mercers’ Hall. Each year, the Master Mercer chooses the theme which is closely guarded secret until the night. Last year it was Indian sitar music, and this year it was R & B (rhythm and blues) music. We were treated to a spectacular musical extravaganza from the acclaimed singer Ruby Turner MBE, with lead guitar, bass guitar, keyboard player and drummer. I suspect Mercers’ Hall has never looked quite like this before!
Then, on 1 June, the Mistress and I attended the Salters’ Company’s annual lecture at their Hall adjacent to the Barbican. The Salters’ Company is over 600 years old and one of the “Great Twelve” Livery Companies. Their hall is within a unique Brutalist building built in 1976 which is strikingly modern in comparison to many others.
Salters’ Hall is also home to the largest landscaped area created in the Square Mile since the First World War, a delightful garden in which we had a drinks reception prior to the lecture which was given in the Livery hall on the 5th floor. Just outside the Salters’ garden is a huge bronze sculpture of a rather menacing crouching minotaur by Michael Ayrton, a neo-romantic painter who later trained as a sculptor as an assistant to Henry Moore.
This year the Salters’ lecture was delivered by John Simpson CBE, well known BBC World Affairs Editor, overseas correspondent, broadcaster and author. The topic on which he was asked to speak was “Ancient Institutions and Lessons from Current Affairs”, and he started by explaining that his address would be based on his own experiences of Cambridge where he studied, Oxford where he is now a Fellow of Brazenose College, and the BBC which was formed in 1922.
He emphasised the importance of honesty, openness and transparency. After a discussion of freedom of speech and changes in culture over the years, he talked of his experiences meeting and interviewing many world leaders, particularly in recent times Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He described a strictly hierarchical military system in Russia, which combined with a blame culture meant that decision making was often delayed.
During the Q &A session he referred to the US “friendly fire” incident in Iraq in 2003, where 18 people were killed around him including his interpreter. John Simpson is deaf in one ear and has shrapnel left in his “backside” after the incident. Stoically, he explained that the American soldiers were very apologetic afterwards, but these things happen when fighting a war. I was able to chat to John Simpson after his presentation, and he is a delightful character showing no intention of retiring at the age of 78!
On 18 May I boarded the train to Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire for a week away with the Mistress and a few friends. The weather was stunning, and our long walks on the coastal path were spectacular. The views over St David’s Head are truly breathtaking. I was fascinated to find bricks on the top of Carn Llidi, left over from World War II when an early warning radar station was sited there.
We visited the disused slate quarry at Porthgain which opened in 1831. By the early twentieth century the slate had deteriorated into shale which was used for brick making. Subsequently, brick hoppers were built to load granite brought from a quarry nearby. Slate production ceased by 1910, and the business closed in the early 1930s. It remains a fascinating site full of industrial history.
Our newly affiliated Royal Navy vessel HMS Magpie was on duty nearby, so on 22 May, courtesy of Commanding officer Lt Cdr Hywel Morgan, the Mistress and I were able to visit the ship.
She moored briefly at Brunel Quay, Nayland, near Milford Haven, before setting off with us on board to survey the area in and around the bay.
The Commanding officer and his crew kindly posed for photographs. Part of HMS Magpie’s brief is to map the ocean floor to detect obstructions such as wrecks or other debris which could pose a hazard to submarines, and we were specifically seeking a civilian mooring which had been recently washed away. The submarine imaging equipment is the very latest available, and the crew highly skilled. We quickly identified the missing mooring and noted its precise location so that it may now be recovered. In addition, we deployed some sea-bed data recorders designed to gather information about currents and water movements.
I had the interesting experience of taking the wheel of the ship for about fifteen minutes and managed to steer a reasonably true course! My thanks to Lt Cdr Morgan and his crew for a wonderful morning on board.
May got off to a spectacular start with the Coronation of their Royal Highnesses King Charles III and Queen Camilla, and celebrations for several days afterwards. The Mistress and I watched the Coronation on television on Saturday 6 May along with millions across the globe.
The Coronation ceremony included the all-important anointing of the King behind a specially created embroidered screen to which our Company contributed. A wonderful event, and the celebrations are already legendary.
Earlier in the week, on Tuesday 2 May, a small group enjoyed a private view of Sir John Soane’s museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Soane was the son of a bricklayer and was himself in the trade before his skill at drawing singled him out for architectural training, subsequently becoming the most sought-after architect of the early 19th century.
Winning the Royal Academy Gold medal for architecture allowed him to travel to the Continent, and he became fascinated by classical architecture. His three houses are now one of the best small museums in the country, and a full account of the event will appear on the website shortly.
We walked the short distance to the Delaunay, Aldwych, where a very convivial luncheon was enjoyed in their private dining room. We were made very welcome and will certainly be back!
The next day, the Mistress and I were at the Coronation garden party at Buckingham palace, with King Charles and Queen Camilla in attendance. The gardens are spectacular, and it was a wonderfully sunny day with over 7000 guests including the Masters and Consorts of many other Livery Companies. Tea, sandwiches and cakes were all delicious, with two military bands playing in the background.
Two days later, I was delighted to be invited to lunch at Galvin at Windows as the guest of Liveryman Colin Beeck, who was in London for two weeks having just flown in from Western Australia. It was a superb lunch with friends in a very special setting. On the 28th floor of the Hilton Hotel, Park Lane, the restaurant has stunning views in all directions.
A wonderful start to the month!
On 9 May, together with several other members of the Company, I attended the Festival Service of the Clergy Support Trust at St Paul’s Cathedral. Afterwards many of us enjoyed a lovely buffet supper at Merchant Taylors’ Hall. The Clergy Support Trust supports member of the clergy and their families who are in need, providing both financial and personal assistance.
The next day, on 10 May I was at St Paul’s Cathedral again for the “Bart’s 900 charity” Service of Thanksgiving, celebrating the 900th anniversary of the foundation of St Bartholomew’s Hospital. The service was followed by a Bart’s 900 Anniversary drinks reception at Guildhall, with over 1000 guests attending. Funds are being raised for new breast cancer and clinical research units, and I am delighted to confirm that we have made a special donation to the Bart’s 900 appeal, courtesy of the Charity trustees.
A highlight of the Company year is always the Annual Guest Banquet, this year held at the spectacular Drapers’ Hall on 11 May. The Mistress and I were delighted that over 170 members and guests attended the banquet, one of the largest gatherings for some years. It was a very memorable event, with guest of honour Sheriff Andrew Marsden and his Consort, music from the London Banqueting Ensemble, and a most wonderful setting.
The staircase “carpet guard” of Army Cadets were particularly welcome. After an entertaining welcome to our guests by Court Assistant Col Ian Ogden, Sheriff Marsden made an excellent speech stressing the importance and relevance of our Company in the City today.
I presented the Sheriff with a copy of “They Built London”, the history of our Company by Dr Penny Hunting. A highlight of the evening was the horn players’ very amusing rendition of the “Post horn gallop”.
It really was a most spectacular event, which I will remember fondly for many years!
On 27 March, I attended the Master Certificate scheme and City and Guilds Livery Company awards at Mansion house. Several of the Livery Companies present some of their most prestigious awards at this event in the presence of the Lord Mayor. It was wonderful to see Master craftsmen and apprentices being recognised in many different trades.
On 28 March, the Clerk and I attended a Court and livery dinner at Painters’ Hall as guests of the Painter Stainers’ Company as the guest of the Master, Mr James Glover. The earliest reference to the property is dated 1375, which was acquired in 1504 for £30 by John Browne and conveyed to a number of his brother “Paynter-Stayners” in 1532.The Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed most of the building and, after rebuilding, its successor was again destroyed by fire in 1941. It seems apt that the Arms of the Painter-Stainers depict a phoenix!
Then, on 30 March a group of 29 Tylers and Bricklayers attended Guildhall for the Big Curry Lunch, in the presence of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester who I was privileged to meet at the opening reception. This massive annual event supports a number of military charities. Our group was organised again by Liveryman Diana Malzer, and had a marvellous time with champagne in the library and the crypt followed by curry in the Great hall, together with 1500 others spread over three sittings.
After lunch, a wide range of specialist goods were available for sale at generous prices, all proceeds being donates to charity. The Company donated £1500 to ABF The Soldiers Charity in support of the Lifeworks Programme at King Edward VII Hospital. Members of our Company also donated three of the silent auction prizes, and the record turn-out would indicate a very successful fundraising event once again.