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!
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.
July saw a major easing of the lockdown in England with the Government allowing the reopening of bingo halls, cinemas, galleries, hairdressers, hotels, pubs, restaurants and theme parks. Later in the month saw the addition of outdoor pools and water parks, indoor gyms, pools and leisure centres to the list of businesses that could reopen, as the Prime Minister announced his plans for a "significant return to normality" by Christmas. The new rules allowed people to use public transport for non-essential journeys with immediate effect, but face coverings were made mandatory. Regrettably, following the easing of overseas travel restrictions, there was a fairly swift return to a requirement for a 14 day quarantine for travellers returning from Spain.
In the city, despite all major events being cancelled, some Livery Halls and the Mansion House were commencing their planning for reopening their doors, albeit with a very cautious approach and in a limited way. Regrettably we had to postpone our wonderful Triennial Awards until next year, when the event will be even bigger and better.
We continued to hold many committee meetings virtually, including the Wine Committee, the Finance and Communications Committees and the Strategic Review Steering Committee. I am really pleased to be able to report that work on the strategic review has been carrying on apace despite the lockdown and the difficulties that this brings. It looks like we will be able to stick to the original timetable after all, which is very good news. Well done everyone involved in working on the strategic review, this is excellent work.
Additionally I have continued meeting weekly with the Wardens and Acting Clerk and we have been concentrating on the recruitment of the new Clerk to the Company. Our timetable is to hold interviews during August and hopefully make an appointment at the meeting of the Court on 3rd September and we are still on track to achieve these timescales.
This month we recorded the hottest day in the past 17 years, with temperatures reaching 36°C. Other notable events for August were the ending of free TV licenses for the over 75s and the "A" level results fiasco!
However, we did have some great news for August, which is that we have managed to appoint a new Clerk to the Company following a series of challenging interviews, both face to face and virtually. The Appointment Panel made a recommendation to the Court on 3rd September 2020 that Heather Smith be appointed Clerk to the Company and this was agreed unanimously. We had hoped to introduce Heather, in person, to the whole Court at the Installation Court Meeting, planned for 1st October, at Carpenters' Hall. Regrettably, following the recent Government advice, we have had to change the arrangements and hold the Installation Court virtually once more. Heather will meet the Court virtually, but we will have to wait a little longer for a proper face to face "meet and greet" session.
In addition to the Appointments Panel meeting on several occasions during August, we held meetings of the Craft Trust and Craft Committees and the Strategic Review Steering Group. Good progress continues to be made in all of our meetings via Zoom.
Regrettably we had to cancel the Charter Day Visit to Hatfield House, however, I did attend some excellent virtual events, including a brilliant virtual magic show and an Elvis tribute act, both great fun.
Maureen and I decided to pay a visit to the City of London this month to see for ourselves what is happening. The tube trains were fairly empty, as we travelled out of the rush hour, and once we arrived at Moorgate we could hardly believe how empty the station and the streets were. It was quite surreal to be able to cross the roads with ease and to walk past so many closed shops, restaurants and coffee shops. We walked slowly around, covering the area around London Wall, The Guildhall, St. Paul's Cathedral and along the Thames. We did stop at one of the few restaurants along the Thames which was open, The Oyster Shed, where we had a very pleasant lunch, and were even more delighted when the bill arrived as the restaurant gave us credit for the "eat out to help out" scheme as well as for the reduced VAT on food! We left the City with an overall feeling of sadness at the huge changes we had seen, but still optimistic that eventually things will revert to some form of normality, even though it might be a different type of normality to the one we have all been used to.
June saw the gradual easing of the lockdown, albeit with some very confusing messages from the Government. Some Primary Schools were allowed to reopen but these had highly variable levels of attendance. There was some confusion around overseas travel with the threat to force almost all arrivals to the UK to self isolate, but this was soon relaxed. Additionally, the wearing of face masks was made compulsory for travel on public transport in England and non-essential retailers were allowed to reopen. The UK's Coronavirus alert level was downgraded from four to three, meaning the virus remains in general circulation but transmission is no longer "high or rising exponentially."
The really big news in June were the mass rallies and anti-racism protests across the UK following the death of George Floyd.
In the city, once again all events were cancelled, including the Consort's visit to the Royal Opera House. The Masters' Ironbridge Livery Weekend was due to be held in the first weekend of June, but unfortunately this was also cancelled. Instead, we held the first virtual Ironbridge Livery meeting, which was very well attended. This allowed us to form our Past Masters' Association, aptly entitled The Zoomers. I was happy to be invited to a virtual "tea and biscuits" session with the Lord Mayor, which I found most enjoyable.
Our long awaited and carefully planned trip to St. Kitts was yet another casualty of the virus, much to the regret of the 30 people who were eagerly looking forward to spending 10 days in the Caribbean sunshine! Never mind, hopefully we will be able to do it in 2021 and have even more fun.
We continued to hold many committee meetings virtually, including the Charity Trustees' Committee, the Strategic Review Sub-Committees, the Recruitment Sub-Committee, the Treasures Committee and the Wine Committee. Additionally, we had our first virtual Court meeting this month, another milestone in the 600 year history of our Company. I am glad to report that all went really well, everyone managing to get online and to use the software very proficiently. We covered a lot of business, including the proposals for the extension of my year as Master, for which I continue to be very grateful to the Company, the composition of the Court for the year 2020/21, the Company finances, reports from all the committee chairmen, an update on the progress of the strategic review, and the position of the Learned Clerk. It does appear from the feedback that the meeting was well received by all who attended, with everyone getting the opportunity to have their say. So, all in all, a good successful meeting. Having said that, there is still nothing to beat a face to face meeting, which I hope we can get back to in the not too distant future.