I extend warm Spring greetings to all. It is hard to believe that we are already in April - the months seem to pass so quickly despite us all being in lockdown with continued limited activities at our disposal. However the good news is that the Prime Minister's path out of lockdown continues apace, with no adverse changes being announced so far. This, of course, reflects the fantastic progress being made with the vaccination programme. At the latest count, 31 million people in the UK have received their first vaccination and 5.5 million people have received their second vaccination, and most importantly, the numbers of people catching Covid 19 and being hospitalised continues to decrease. This is a fantastic achievement by the NHS, for which we are all immensely grateful.
The first phase of the easing of lockdown commenced in early March with all schools and colleges reopening, weddings being allowed with up to 6 people attending, and a slight easing of restrictions on visits to care homes. And at the end of March, the stay-at-home rule ended and people were allowed to meet outside in groups of up to 6. Everybody is now looking forward to Stage 2 which will hopefully commence on 12th April, with all shops being allowed to open, including hairdressers at long last. Things are certainly looking brighter for the Spring and Summer, let's keep our fingers crossed that we keep making progress with the vaccinations and the consequent reductions in the numbers of people being infected by the virus.
March has been another relatively busy month - it was Census day on the 21st March, when everyone had to complete the online census for the first time. Also, we had the second hottest March day on record, with temperatures reaching 24.5°C on 30th March.
I continue to meet with the Wardens and Clerk on a regular basis to discuss Company business and make plans for the future. There was a meeting of the Court of Assistants in early March, via Zoom, at which many items of business were covered, including the election of Officers for the next year 2021/2022.
I am happy to report the Officers elected were:
Master: Simon Martin
Upper Warden: Prof. John Schofield
Renter Warden: Christopher Causer
Renter Warden in Nomination: Mrs Jenny Rolls
Hearty congratulations and best wishes were extended to them all by the Court.
We also admitted a new Freemen to the Company, Mrs Charlotte Pienaar, who is the daughter of Liveryman Ian Wilson. Charlotte swore the Oath and was warmly welcomed to the Company by everyone.
The court meeting was followed by an interesting talk given by Sean Wilkins, Technical Manager at the Brick Development Association, entitled Build Back Better (in Brick), in which Sean took us through the contribution that good quality bricks have made to the City of London and the world as a whole, displaying some wonderful examples of master craftsman brickwork as shown below. Sean's talk was fascinating and much appreciated by the many Liverymen who took part.
Odder Cemetery Chapel at dusk
I also attended a meeting of the recently established Events Support Group at which we discussed plans for the events for the rest of my year as well as making plans for Simon Martin's events for his year as Master.
In the City I attended several talks, including the "True and Fair" lecture given by the Chartered Accountants' Company and a Fire Service lecture given by the Worshipful Company of Firefighters. There was also a fascinating talk about the life of Samuel Pepys and a seminar on the Future of Transport by the Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners.
These were followed by a lecture about the Royal Exchange, and a hilarious talk entitled Dying Laughing, given by a Former Commander of the Metropolitan Police and Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Security Professionals. All very interesting and illuminating as usual.
I am delighted to announce the wonderful news that one of our own Liveryman, Roger Booth, has had a book published. It is his first book, entitled Promised Land, and, although based on historical fact, is a novel.
The novel opens in Burdigala (Bordeaux) in the early fifth century AD, soon after the Emperor Honorius withdraws the legions from Britain. When under Alaric the Visigoths captured Rome they took as hostage the Princess Galla Placidia, half-sister to the Emperor, who has travelled with them ever since. There begins a relationship between Galla Placidia and the new Goth king Athaulf which is an ambiguous mix of personal attraction, political calculation and genuine idealism culminating in marriage and the birth of a son. They hope that their union and in time their son will lead the Western Roman Empire out of the developing chaos. They might have changed the course of history. Except that history is not so easily changed.
It certainly feels like Spring is in the air now. We experienced some of the coldest days for many years earlier in February, with temperatures as low as -20C in some parts, but things have improved considerably over the past few days and Spring is definitely beginning to show its face, brilliant! And with the recent announcement by the Prime Minister about the ending of lockdown, we have plenty to look forward to.
The big news for this month was the fantastic progress that has been made with the vaccination programme. To date, over 20 million people have had their first vaccine, which is an incredible achievement. The Government has announced their intention to offer a first vaccine to every adult by the end of July and it is this wonderful progress with the vaccination programme that has enabled the Prime Minister to outline the roadmap to end lockdown.
Following the announcement by the Prime Minister, there was a frantic scramble by everyone in the City to rearrange dates and venues for "live events" from July onwards. I am very pleased that our Learned Clerk, Heather Smith, was quick off the blocks and managed to get some key reservations for lunches, dinners and other events for the rest of my year. I am quite optimistic that we will be able to go ahead with these events, which should hopefully ensure that we are able to enjoy each other's company and good fellowship in the not too distant future.
To turn to the events in February, once again I have attended several excellent online events and T&B meetings, including the Craft Committee, the Communications Committee and the Finance Committee. We also held Common Hall virtually, another first for the Company, which was well attended and much appreciated by all those who were present. We extended the invitation to include Freemen this year, in accordance with the recommendations of the Strategic Review, another positive change. There was good feedback from all and a general feeling that more people contributed than usual and we saw a much wider cross section of Company members in attendance than in the past. As a result of this success we have agreed to hold Common Hall virtually again next year to enable more people to participate. The dinner which normally follows Common Hall will be held on a separate day, giving all Liverymen and Freemen the opportunity to attend either one or both.
Other City events I attended included the Lord Mayor's Gresham Lecture, Building Back better - The City's Role in a Green-Led Economic Recovery, in which Mark Carney and other experts gave their views, and a talk hosted by the Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners on Reopening Business Premises Safely and Sustainably, both fascinating and thought provoking sessions. I also attended a wonderful tour of Leadenhall Market given by Peter Cave, a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Insurers
and a fascinating tour of the Clockmakers' Museum given by Curator Anna Rolls. Both tours gave us a fascinating insight into these wonderful gems in the City.
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.
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.
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.