I realised at the end of March that I was exactly halfway through my year as Master. Previous Masters had told me that the year would fly by and that certainly has been my experience over the first 6 months and there is so much still look forward to.
Membership and Diversity
I am also increasingly aware that a Master has to work in close harmony with his or her predecessors, the Wardens and, of course, the Clerk as there is only so much that can be achieved within the compass of an individual Master’s year. By way of example, I have focussed this year on our membership, seeking to build on the recommendations of the 2020 strategic review. There are three related challenges: attracting new members, retaining new and existing members and ensuring that all members are informed about and engaged with the life and work of the Company (attending events, participating on committees and working groups and supporting our charities). This work will continue long after I step down as Master, and rightly so, but initiatives that we start this year clearly need to be (and are) supported by those who follow me.
We also participated in a discussion on equality, diversity and inclusion led by Sheriff Alison Gowman and Erica Stary, the Upper Warden of the Tin Plate Workers, at which about 30 Livery Companies were represented. Equality, diversity and inclusion (“EDI”) is a challenge for all Livery Companies but we were pleased (but not, I hope, complacent) to find that we had made more progress than many other Companies in both discussing the issues and taking some practical steps. There is much more to be done but I encourage you to read the Company’s EDI statement which can be accessed via the home page of the website.
Another important initiative which we have started this year has been to consider in what ways the Company might support the aims of the Livery Climate Action Group (“LCAG”). The LCAG was formed by Sheriff Alison Gowman on the back of the City of London’s climate action strategy. The declared aim of the LCAG is to provide practical guidance on net zero emissions and climate resilience measures that are appropriate for Livery Companies. We established a LCAG working group which made recommendations to the Court in March.
I was pleased that the Court adopted almost all of the recommendations made by the working group. Some of the main recommendations and agreed actions were:
- the Company has joined the LCAG and the Renter Warden will be the Company’s representative and report to the Court periodically on the Company’s progress against the agreed actions and other initiatives proposed by LCAG members;
- we will add a section on the LCAG and climate change on our website, with a link to the LCAG website, and a suggestion box for members;
- the Clerk will obtain sustainability statements from our caterers. Our aim will be to reduce the climate impact of the menus that we choose (so, for example, eating vegetables grown in the UK in season, rather than those imported by air from overseas). We also had an interesting debate as to whether the Master might choose a menu with a vegetarian main course, with an option for meat eaters to choose a meat alternative;
- the Craft Committee will work up plans for new awards at the Craft Awards and/or the Triennial Awards, to recognise environmentally friendly design and construction;
- the Finance Committee will request an update on ESG issues from our investment advisors when they next present to the Committee; and
- we will seek to organise one or more lectures, to be held on Zoom, on the topic of sustainable building and the challenges of climate change within the building industry, to which members of the Company and members of other Companies within the Construction Group of Livery Companies might be invited.
This represents a good start but there is undoubtedly more that we can do individually and collectively. For example, we need to think about the impact of the way we run the Company: should Committees continue to meet on Zoom to reduce the need to travel or do the benefits of meeting in person outweigh the climate impact?
This blog might give the impression that the Master’s role is all work and no play. This would be misleading! There have been a number of excellent and enjoyable Company and City events in the last month.
On 28 March 2022, a group of members and guests enjoyed a private visit to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to see the spectacular £60 million restoration, completed last year. The visit was organised by Jacqueline Wheeler from the architects Haworth Tompkins who worked on the project for the owners, LW Theatre Group. It was a privilege to be able to see the theatre “out of hours” and hear about some of the challenges of the restoration from one of the architects who worked on the project.
Patrick Hayman from architects Haworth Tompkins
The United Guilds Service was held at St Paul’s on 1 April 2022. This is one of the great City occasions with all the Masters present in gowns, chains and badges, the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, Aldermen, Bishop of London and Dean of St Paul’s. Wonderful singing from the choir and lunch afterwards at Carpenters’ Hall, where I was asked to reply on behalf of guests.
The Master, Upper Warden and Clerk, windswept on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral
Finally, on 7 April 2022, a group of 25 members and guests attended the Lord Mayor’s Big Curry Lunch at Guildhall. This is an annual lunch for some 1,200 guests to raise funds for ABF The Soldiers’ Charity and the other two principal service charities - the RAF Benevolent Fund and the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity – with the funds being used to support veterans undertaking the Pain Management Programme at King Edward VII Hospital and the RBLI Lifeworks programme. We were joined by Sean Bonnington, the Director of National Fundraising at ABF TSC, who outlined the work of the charity and the importance of helping injured veterans back into employment.
Full reports on all three events can be found in the events section of the website.
The Craft Awards Lunch
It was wonderful to have a full house for the Craft Awards Lunch which was held in the magnificent Library at Trinity House, overlooking the Tower of London, on Thursday 10 March. This is one of the most important events in our calendar when we celebrate the achievements of those in the early stages of their careers as tilers and bricklayers, as sappers with the Royal Engineers or cadets and adult volunteers with the RE affiliated cadet units within Greater London. We also recognise the excellence of those who have achieved Master Craftsman status.
The principal guest at the Lunch was Dr Anna Keay OBE. Anna is a historian, writer, broadcaster and the Director of the Landmark Trust. The Landmark Trust is one of the UK’s leading building conservation charities. The Trust rescues and restores buildings of architectural or historical interest which might otherwise be lost forever and then makes them available to anyone and everyone for self-catering holidays. By rescuing and restoring these buildings, the Landmark Trust also helps to preserve traditional craft skills. I was delighted to be able to pass on a cheque to Anna from the Company’s Craft Trust to support the work of the Landmark Trust.
The Company recognised three Master Craftsmen. Master Craftsmen status is awarded to those who achieve higher levels of competence in our crafts of bricklaying, roof slating and tiling and wall and floor tiling. Master Craftsman status was awarded this year to:
Liveryman John Gorman – Heritage Bricklayer
Danny Lyon – Roof Slater and Tiler
Mark Exley – Wall and Floor Tiler
An additional special award was made to Bob Coutts in recognition of services to education. Bob has been teaching, training and mentoring apprentices in the roof slating and tiling since 1975.
A full report on the Craft Awards Lunch can be found in the events reports on the website.
Visit to Christ’s Hospital School
I announced at my Installation Lunch on 30 September 2021, an appeal to raise £36,600 to fund the cost of sending another young person to Christ’s Hospital School when our current (and second) presentee, Kiyan Rahmann, finishes his time at the School. I am delighted to report that we have achieved the target. I am truly grateful for the support and generosity of so many members. The Court has agreed that the Appeal will remain open until the end of the year and all funds raised in excess of the original target will be invested in a designated fund in the Company Charitable Trust and will be put towards the education of a fourth child at Christ’s Hospital School in the future.
On Monday 14 March, I was delighted to meet Simon Reid, the Headmaster of Christ’s Hospital School, and present a cheque for £36,600. I was accompanied by Past Master Lesley Day, Liveryman Keith Aldis and Freeman Onyinye Udokporo, who was the Company’s first presentee at the School from 2009 to 2016. We were also delighted to meet our current presentee, Kiyan Rahmann. We also had an opportunity to tour the School and watch band practice.
The Master, Onyinye Udokoporo, Simon Reid, Kiyan Rahmann, Keith Aldis and Lesley Day
A new year but the spectre of covid continues to have an adverse impact on work and social life and make event planning at best uncertain. Fortunately, January is generally a quiet month in the Livery world and therefore there have been fewer occasions when I have had to ask “is the event going ahead?” or consider “should I take the risk and attend this event?”.
City New Year Service – St Michael’s, Cornhill – 7 January 2022
The streets of the City were eerily empty – perhaps in part because some people were still on holiday at the end of the first week in January but mainly, I suspect, because of the covid “work from home” order. The City New Year service is usually overflowing, with late arrivals crammed in behind pillars. But not this year – St Michael’s Cornhill was, at best, only half full, with the congregation masked. The Lord Mayor and the Governor of the Bank of England read the lessons, the choir sang beautifully and the highlight for the congregation was a rousing, if muffled, rendition of “I Vow to thee my Country”. The sermon was given by Jeremy Marshall, the former CEO of Hoare & Co and first non-family member to hold the post. Mr Marshall spoke movingly of a terminal cancer diagnosis 8 years ago and his simple, yet profound faith so that he does not fear death. A very powerful and thought-provoking testimony.
Sadly, the reception at Drapers’ Hall that usually follows the New Year service was cancelled but there was an opportunity to greet fellow Masters and their Clerks on the steps of the church after the service.
Brickskill lecture and demonstration – Monday 10 January 2022
The Brickskill lecture and demonstration was given by Master Bricklayer and Liveryman Dr Gerard Lynch, assisted by Master Bricklayer Elect and Liveryman John Gorman, from Gerard’s workshop at his home in Woburn Sands.
The lecture covered traditional lime-based mortars and a demonstration of four traditional pointing techniques. There is a full report and some excellent photographs in the event reports section of the Company website. I was invited to observe the demonstration at first hand and to attempt some of the pointing techniques that Gerard and John had executed. I can report that it is much than it looks and I now have an even greater respect for the skills, stamina and technical expertise of the craftsmen and women who execute these skills to a high standard on site.
We had always planned to hold this event on Zoom to enable all members of the Company to watch the lecture and demonstration in a way that would not have been possible if we had met in person. The filming of the lecture and demonstration was undertaken by Gerard’s son, Liam, also a craftsman bricklayer, who expertly used two cameras to capture the presentation and to provide close ups of the detailed work. I must also thank Gerard’s wife Fiona, and Liam’s partner, Ellie, who kept the team in the workshop refreshed.
Gerard and John demonstrating pointing techniques
It is undoubtedly one of the few positives to emerge from the pandemic that we can film and present a lecture and practical demonstration in this way to more than 30 people, watching live from their homes all over the country and abroad, in a way that would not have been envisaged before the first lockdown in March 2020. I hope that this is an initiative that we can maintain and extend to demonstrations of our other crafts. We should also investigate whether we can open up such lectures to members of other Companies in the Construction Group of Livery Companies.
Back to the City for lunch and dinner – 10 January 2022
No functions in the City for nearly a month and then two in the same day!
I was invited to attend the Worshipful Company of Masons Epiphany Court Luncheon held at Mercers’ Hall. This was a relaxed and happy occasion with just two other visiting Masters: the Master Plumber and Master Chartered Surveyor. The principal guest was Dr William Ricketts, a lung cancer specialist from Barts, who has been on the covid frontline for the last 22 months. Dr Ricketts spoke eloquently and thoughtfully about the strain on NHS staff of dealing with covid patients, especially in the early months when treatment techniques had not been developed and deaths were common. He also offered a glimmer of hope that the omicron variant does not appear to cause such severe illness and that the number of hospital admissions were starting to fall.
In the evening, our Clerk, Heather Smith, and I attended the Worshipful Company of Plaisterers Masters and Clerks dinner. The Plaisterers generously invite all the Masters and Clerks of the other City Livery Companies to attend and more than half were present. The seating plan must be a work of great skill and diplomacy, not least as there had inevitably been some last-minute cancellations and dropouts. It was a splendid occasion in the magnificent Plaisterers’ Hall.
The principal guest was Sir Robert Buckland, former Lord Chancellor and Minister of Justice. It was interesting to compare and contrast Sir Robert’s recollections of his time in office with those of David Gauke, who was the principal guest at my Installation Lunch at the end of September 2021. By convention, the Clerk to the Plaisterers’ Company replies on behalf of the Clerks to the Master’s speech of welcome and her gentle teasing. Both speeches were suitably restrained and well done.
Two wonderful events in the same day which ended any vague of hope of a dry January or a New Year diet!
On Thursday 27 January 2022, the Company held Common Hall on Zoom. Common Hall is the Company’s annual general meeting. We decided that we would meet on Zoom rather than in person because of continuing concerns about the omicron covid variant so that many people were reluctant to use public transport or attend crowded events. Using Zoom also enabled us to reach many more people than would have been the case, even without the uncertainty caused by covid.
The accounts of the Company for the year ended 29 September 2021 were presented by the Chairman of the Finance Committee, Court Assistant Keith Cawdell, and Court Assistant Alan Dodd, the Honorary Secretary to the charitable trusts gave a financial update on the charities. I am pleased to report that both the Company and the charities are in a strong financial position.
Common Hall on Zoom – 27 January 2022
There was also an interesting discussion at Common Hall prompted by a question from Liveryman William Fuller: “Why does the construction industry struggle to recruit new bricklaying apprentices, and what measures can be adopted to alleviate the problem?”. Court Assistant David White, Chairman of the Craft Committee gave an initial response, which was followed by contributions from several members with craft experience. The Craft Committee will discuss the question further and will consider what steps, if any, the Company can realistically take to highlight and address this issue. One option might be to bring together relevant stakeholders (employers, training establishments, industry training bodies and others) to see if there is common ground on the scale of the problem and the possible solutions.
Court and Livery Dinner
We held our annual Court & Livery Dinner at Cutlers’ Hall on Thursday 3 February. This is always an enjoyable and popular event in the Company calendar – the only occasion in the year when we dine without guests so there is an opportunity to spend more time chatting to old friends and new.
Dinner was served in the intimate surroundings of the Court Room and Dining Room at Cutlers’ Hall – one long table, candlelit, with gleaming silver. The Master, Wardens and Clerk have fixed places at the table and all other members draw seats at random. Upper Warden Professor John Schofield introduced the wines: a Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa, tasted blind, which baffled most of those round the table, and two glorious clarets served with the main course – a Chateau Lagrange St Julien 2005 from the Master’s cellar and a Chateau Tour St. Bonnet 2010.
I said in my speech of welcome that, after two years of lockdowns and social distancing, we have all realised that there are some things that can only be done in person and many activities that are better done face to face – and dining together, enjoying good fellowship with friends, is certainly one of those activities. In short, we need to get back into the habit of attending Livery events and functions. The Court & Livery dinner was a good first step.
The Court & Livery dinner at Cutlers’ Hall on 3 February 2022
Wapping Group of Artists exhibition and lunch at the Athenaeum
The Wapping Group of Artists meet each Wednesday evening between April and September to paint “en plein air” anywhere between Henley and the Thames Estuary. Membership is limited to 25 artists at any given time. Liveryman Karl Terry has been a member of the Wapping Group since 2011 and is a talented artist as well as a Master Craftsman roof tiler.
On Friday 11 February 2022, a group of about 25 members and guests visited the 75th annual exhibition of the Wapping Group at the Mall Galleries. We were welcomed by the President of the Group, Roger Dellar. Roger and fellow artists, Geoff Hunt (Chairman) and John Killens (Secretary), as well as Karl, introduced us to their works, explaining when, where and how the paintings were executed.
The Wapping Group of Artists exhibition at the Mall Galleries
After an hour or so, we walked the short distance to the Athenaeum Club where we had an excellent lunch in the appropriately named Picture Room. A full report of this enjoyable and relaxed event can be found in the Events reports elsewhere on the website.
For many people, the build up to Christmas from Advent until 25 December, with the anticipation of time with family and friends, of giving and receiving presents and of Christmas parties, carols, food and drink, is as enjoyable as Christmas Day itself. This year, however, the days leading up to Christmas were overshadowed by the rapid spread of the omicron COVID variant and dire warnings from the media of the risk of being stuck in isolation over Christmas or, even worse, another Christmas lockdown.
The Carol service - 16 December 2021
We were due to hold the annual carol service and Christmas supper on Thursday 16 December, preceded by the last Court meeting of the year. The messages from the Government were confusing and somewhat contradictory: we should work from home if possible (should we therefore move the Court meeting to Zoom?) but church services and Christmas parties could go ahead without restrictions, other than the wearing of masks in church, except when singing. On top of this, the Government's scientific advisors gave clear guidance that people should limit social contact to minimise risk. Against this backdrop, we decided, with a heavy heart, to cancel the Christmas supper but we went ahead with the Court meeting and carol service.
The carol service was as special as always with wonderful singing from the choir and the familiar readings in the beautiful setting of St Margaret Lothbury. Sadly, there were only about 30 of us in the church as many people made the entirely understandable decision not to travel into London with the risk of catching COVID just over a week before Christmas. The carol service was also the last occasion when our Honorary Chaplain, John Cook, preached to the Company. John has been our Honorary Chaplain for more than 20 years and over that time has served us well and faithfully and with great kindness. John has guided us, instructed us, given comfort and become a good friend to many in the Company. I was pleased to have the opportunity during the carol service to thank John for his service to the Company and to present him with an inscribed silver dish. John will remains in the Company as a Liveryman and I hope that we will therefore see John and his wife, Camilla, at Company events and functions for many years to come.
John and Penny Brooks
A few days before Christmas, Past Masters Lesley Day and Michel Saminaden, Upper Warden John Schofield and I visited John and Penny Brooks at home. We were delighted to find them both fit and well and on good form. The principal reason for the visit was to present John with an inscribed silver dish and a cheque to mark his retirement last year after 10 years as Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers. The presentation was long overdue but previous attempts to arrange a date had been thwarted by various lockdowns and medical appointments. I hope that we will see John and Penny at a Company function in 2022.
The New Year in the Livery world begins with the City New Year service at St Michael Cornhill in early January. The Government has just announced that no additional Covid restrictions will be introduced in England before New Years Eve and there appears to be some cautious optimism that the NHS will be able to cope with the level of hospital admissions. Let us hope that this remains the case and we can all look forward to a full calendar of events in the early months of the New Year.
Simon Martin, Master