The United Guilds’ Service was first held in February 1943 as a coordinated response to the challenges faced by the City of London following the Blitz of 1940-41. The then Lord Mayor, Sir Samuel Joseph (father of Sir Keith Joseph) hosted an ‘austerity luncheon’ after the service for the Masters and Prime Wardens, and hoped that the service would be held annually thereafter, as an opportunity for the Livery to ‘approach God with one voice of united prayer’. His hope has been fulfilled – save for in 2020 and 2021, when it was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic.
On 25th March 2023, Past Masters Allan Cheesman and Richard Watling “came out of retirement” for stand-in roles as Master locum tenens and Warden locum tenens respectively – given that both the Master and two of the Wardens were indisposed. They – together with Upper Warden Lorne Mackillop and the Clerk – convened at Apothecaries’ Hall to be gowned up, before posing for photographs with Jan Cheesman and Seana Mackillop. They then processed to St. Paul’s with various select other Livery Companies, where they were joined by Liveryman François Ginther, Steward Matthew Russell and Honorary Steward Jonathan Orr Ewing. Inside the Cathedral, there was a mass of colour – with the Master and Wardens of the several Livery Companies all resplendent in their gowns of office – and it was packed to capacity.
The 79th Service of the United Guilds of the City of London then commenced with considerable fanfare from the organ, followed by the great procession – which included the Masters of the Great 12 Livery Companies, the Bishop of London, the Serjeant-at-arms, the Swordbearer and the Lord Mayor. The choir of St. Paul’s was in superb voice (a difficult thing for me to admit, having been a chorister at Westminster Cathedral!) and we were treated to a number of beautifully performed anthems, not least the wonderfully soaring I Was Glad by Parry. The sermon was given by the Dean of Westminster – who, as well as being fairly new in post, is facing a rather daunting prospect in May, namely: the coronation of King Charles 111. After several hymns – to include Jerusalem (yet another Parry classic) -and numerous prayers, the event concluded with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem.
We then scuttled over to the newly refurbished Brewers’ Hall with the Master and Wardens of the Coopers’ Company, where we were treated to a refreshing glass of Shepherd Neame at the reception. Upon sitting down for lunch, we were welcomed by the Master, Jonathan Neame DL, who proceeded to give fascinating potted histories of his family company, the Brewers’ Company and the industry itself. (It turns out that he studied Classics at Cambridge at exactly the same time as my older brother, Rupert – who could only explain the fact that they had never met by saying: “The Master Brewer obviously attended some lectures…!”) His speech was interrupted by a ping on a mobile telephone – but all was forgiven when he announced that this heralded the arrival of a new granddaughter for (a visibly delighted) Allan and Jan Cheesman – for whom hearty congratulations were offered all round.
We were then treated to a delicious 3 course menu of Dorset Crab, Guinea Fowl and Chocolate Marquise, accompanied by Sancerre Cuvée Vieilles Vignes Domaine Durand 2020, Beaune Bichot 2019 and Taylor’s LBV. After toasting the King, other members of the Royal Family and the Lord Mayor in customary strong ale, we repaired to the drawing room for a short stirrup cup – which consisted of yet more Shepherd Neame! – before heading home for the weekend, in very high spirits.
All in all, a truly wonderful day – so much so that, at the end, PM Cheesman decreed that, in future, there should be a 3-line whip to ensure the Master and all three Wardens attend!