June began with the Court visit to Armagnac in gloriously sunny weather. 47 of us including consorts assembled in Barbotan les Thermes in Gascony – a spa town in the Bas Armagnac region.
The visit is the subject of a separate report by PM Watling so I will not dwell on this now except to say that it was a wonderful opportunity to spend time with members of the Livery and their wives and to introduce them to an area which the Mistress and I have come to know well.
We are great enthusiasts for this part of France and appreciate the warmth and generosity of the local people – which was very much in evidence during our visit. They expressed great pride in being selected as the place for the Court visit of the Worshipful Company of Distillers and saw it as an chance to present and promote the different styles of Armagnac and the wines from the Cotes de Gascogne region.
We arrived back to very wet weather and drove up to Ironbridge in Shropshire for the annual gathering of Masters and Consorts of all Livery Companies. This event is hosted by the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs including Sheriff Vincent Keaveny, a Liveryman in the Distillers, and Ironbridge is selected every year as it is the cradle of the Industrial Revolution which brought so much rapid prosperity to the country in the 18 and 19 centuries.
The City Corporation and Livery Companies have contributed to the development of the many museums on the site and indeed our own Company crest is proudly displayed on the wall alongside other Liveries in recognition of the contribution we have made over the years.
This year the Lord Mayor used the occasion to organise a working session on the Friday afternoon to discuss the future of Livery Companies and the role we can play in today’s post industrial society.
He reminded us that the City and Guilds of London Colleges and Qualifications were set up by 16 Livery Companies in 1878 in reaction to a challenge by the then Prime Minister Gladstone who had questioned the relevance of Livery Companies in the Industrial Age.
A meeting with Liveryman Malcolm Davis in Meson Don Felipe a traditional Spanish bodega offered a perfect opportunity to drink Dry Manzanilla sherry on a very wet Monday afternoon and at the same time discuss the history of our Company and in particular the role of our Founder Sir Theodore de Mayerne.
A large book by the renowned historian Hugh Trevor Roper tells the story of Sir Theodore and is entitled “Europe’s Physician” reflecting the remarkable fact that Sir Theodore was physician to King Henri IV of France and then to Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of the British King Charles 1. This belongs to PM Sills who kindly lent it to the Company.
Malcolm has done a lot of work in researching the Founder which we hope to bring together in a revised history of the Company and a celebration of the Founder on October 8 this year. Please note the date in your diary.
A Summer drinks party of our Affiliated Regiment, the London Scottish, took place in their historic HQ in Horseferry Road and was very well attended by other Masters. We were all treated to a stirring performance by their pipers and drummers (one of the oldest pipe bands in the world).
The band and Regiment were founded in 1859 and still wear the distinctive Hodden Grey tartan from that time – a tartan that has no pattern and was therefore good for camouflage.
A meeting of the Military Affiliation Liaison Team under the Chairmanship of PM Raines reviewed the activities and future planning for all our Military Affiliates and the role we will play in their activities.
There is undoubtedly more interest from our Military Affiliates in getting to know the Livery better and we have the chance to find out more about them and the work they do. This is something the MALT will focus on over the coming months.
We welcomed 4 new Freemen into the Company at a Freedom Ceremony in The Sanctuary all of whom have different but direct links with our industry and who no doubt will make an enthusiastic contribution to Livery life.
The Court Meeting and lunch took place in Pewterers’ Hall. I had been keen to use this Hall for an event as I felt there was a link between what they have done over the centuries in providing drinking vessels and plates and our role in providing spirits as part of the conviviality of the Livery Companies.
The Pewterers gained their Royal Charter in 1473 and are 16th in order of precedence. Their current Hall was built in 1962 and contains features from the second Pewterers’ Hall such as the panelling on the first floor dating from after the Great Fire in 1666. There is also a collection of old pewter artefacts on display.
Here we welcomed Air Marshal Sir David Walker to our ranks as a Liveryman by Presentation and also 2 Liverymen, Richard Forsyth and Richard Quellyn-Roberts, by Redemption before the Court all of whom were then introduced to individual members of the Court.
PM Garrard presented the book on which he and other Livery members have laboured for some time to produce a photographic record of Past Masters and Clerks from 1958 to 2018. A remarkable piece of work for which the Company is grateful.
A menu from 1932 of a Distillers’ Banquet in Cutlers’ Hall has kindly been donated to the Company by Steward James Higgins. It is clear that Liverymen in the Past were made of stronger stuff with 8 courses and accompanying wines – finished off with a Boulestin 1865 brandy (Cognac) and a Benedictine liqueur.
The Sung Grace was a feature as was the National Anthem and God Bless the Prince of Wales. Musical entertainment was provided by a pianist and 4 artistes male and female who sang popular and traditional songs. The Court lunch provided an opportunity to remind Court members that we have a strong tradition to maintain…in the selection of excellent wines and spirits which is certainly the case today and in musical content where we may be somewhat lacking!
A visit to the Crypt of St Martin in the Fields with the Clerk, PM Watling and Clive Bairsto, the Development Director, was helpful in planning for the Founder’s Day Commemoration. We noted that the Latin inscription on the Founder’s memorial is translated as “May the Reader of this always be in good health.“
The election of Sheriffs of the City of London takes place on Midsummers day in the Guildhall. All Liverymen can vote by raising hands during this ancient Ceremony attended by the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and members of the City Corporation.
The Masters proceed in reverse order of precedence ( Distillers are number 69 with Patten Makers 70 and Wheelwrights 68 ) and take their allotted seats at the front of the Guildhall.
The Aldermanic Sheriff elected unopposed is Professor Michael Mainelli, an American who has worked in the City for many years and the non Aldermanic Sheriff who received 72 % of the votes in a contested election was Chris Hayward / PM Patten Maker and the candidate whom I had supported. He attended our February lunch as my guest. They will take up their roles officially on September 27.
The Clerk and I attended a lunch afterwards at Wax Chandlers Hall a long established Livery Company ( no 20 in precedence ).
The Clerk and I attended an Evensong service at St Stephen Walbrook in the City where the choir of St Martin in the Fields were performing. Afterwards at The Reception in the gardens behind the Church we met the daughter of Rev Chad Varah who founded the Samaritans’ when he was Vicar there in 1953.
The 400th anniversary of the Royal Charter granted by King James 1 to the Tobacco Pipe Makers and Blenders rounded off the month in style.
The Service of Thanksgiving was held in Temple Church followed by a Reception in Middle Temple Hall at which we were offered Cuban cigars and a gift of The Master’s Snuff to commemorate the event.
Some Livery Companies still offer snuff at their formal dinners. However this is not a tradition we are planning to reintroduce!