On 27th April 2023, members of the Company and their guests gathered for a Court and Livery dinner at Saddlers’ Hall. Having held several functions at this Hall in recent years, it is becoming increasingly familiar – but its splendour and grandeur never fail to impress.
At the reception, we were treated to a choice of Laurent Perrier La Cuvée Brut, Bombay Sapphire and Martini Vibrante (the latter in a nod to the Master’s former career). The Master and Wardens had little time to linger, however, given that, as soon as the receiving line had finished, they were required to hot-foot it down to the courtyard for a photoshoot with the founders of MSport, Malcolm and Elaine Wilson, and the showcar they had arranged – the WRC Ford Focus 1999 Safari winner, resplendent in the world-famous Martini Racing livery – followed by a presentation of a bottle of Master’s Cask.
The Beadle then gavelled for dinner and, after photographs with the Masters of the Brewers, Coopers, Innholders and Glass Sellers’ Companies respectively, the Master, Wardens and principal guests processed into dinner.
After an hilarious grace by the Honorary Chaplain – who imagined that the Master, having been unable to secure David Jason as a guest speaker, had had to settle for “Sailor Parkin” instead! – we sat down to a delicious starter of Smoked Duck Breast, accompanied by a crisp and refreshing “Calvarino” Soave Classico, Pieropan, Veneto 2020. The main course followed, with Pork medallions, hasselback potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli, in a delicious cider brandy sauce, accompanied by a very splendid Château Pibran, Pauillac 2009 (which was drinking so well that the Clerk to the Coopers – a Company known for its fine wine cellar – was effusive in his compliments). A savoury course was inserted before the pudding – an unusual (but nonetheless delicious) creation of cheddar Eccles cakes and Pear sorbet – which was followed by Spiced carrot cake roulade Walnut, dates, cream cheese, orange sorbet, accompanied by Pellegrino Passito Pantelleria 2020 – a truly magical combination which Jonathan Neame, the Master Brewer, particularly enjoyed.
We then proceeded to a variation on the Loving Cup, with each diner presenting a Cup full of individually wrapped liqueur chocolates to the person on their left, whilst the person on their right protected their back with a dagger. The results were somewhat mixed and, in line with other Livery Companies, we hope to return to the traditional Loving Cup ceremony very soon.
The Royal Toast to the new King followed, with the Livery singing lustily the first verse of the National Anthem, accompanied by the Clerk on the Hall’s electric piano.
After the Loyal and Civic Toasts, Liveryman Ian Taylor welcomed the guests on behalf of the Company, to include the new Freemen and Liverymen, the new Steward, the various visiting Masters and their Clerks, two past Commanding Officers of our former affiliated warship, the recently decommissioned HMS Montrose (Commander Clare Thompson OBE and Liveryman and Steward Rear Admiral James Parkin CBE respectively), representatives of the Master’s Charity (The Salmon Youth Centre in Bermondsey) and the Master’s personal guests. The theme of the speech was the Master’s two alma maters, Aldenham School (ironically, a Brewers’ Company foundation!) and King’s College, London – together with his love of cars. He concluded by introducing the guest speaker – Rear Admiral Parkin – with the quip: “everyone loves a sailor!”.
And how they do – particularly our very own Rear Admiral! – who proceeded to give one of the best speeches I have ever heard and demonstrated clearly why he has risen to the very top of the Senior Service with such apparent ease. His theme was the importance of the Liveries’ and the Guilds’ association with the military, which dates back many centuries. By way of example, he highlighted the South African War Medal – physically on display for the first time in many years – which had been presented personally to the Company by HM King Edward VII in commemoration of the part taken by the Distillers in raising and equipping the City of London Imperial Volunteers in 1900. Today, that association is stronger than ever, with over 500 military affiliations in existence at the present time. As he warmed to his theme, the Rear Admiral could not resist a gentle jibe aimed at the Brewers – given that, historically, sailors were given a daily ration of beer; all that ended, however, when the Distillers came along as, from the mid 17th century onwards, it was replaced by rum. (The Master Brewer suddenly looked rather glum…!) He concluded his speech by updating the Livery on its prospective new affiliation with HMS Campbeltown, when her construction is completed in a few years’ time, before proposing a toast to the health of the Company and the Master.
The Master responded with a witty speech, including an amusing anecdote about Rear Admiral Parkin’s first encounter with Jenever gin at a Dutch Naval base, which had resulted in him accidently falling into the water in the grounds of the Historic Dockyard – an event which had been caught on CCTV! He then proceeded to update the Livery on the recent decommissioning of HMS Montrose – to include a special thank you to Liveryman Steve Wilson for being the Company’s liaison person for many years – before updating it on various matters such as Vocation and Training, Charity (in particular, the Master’s Charity and the Silent Auction; and the second Distillers One of One Auction) and new initiatives (such as the forthcoming City Food and Drink Lecture, where we are the very first drinks Livery Company to become involved). He then presented Past Master Keith Garrard with a cut glass fruit bowl in recognition of his many years’ service as President of the Distillers’ Gold Society, before calling upon Immediate Past Master Chris Porter to present the first “Distillers Spirited Award” (which Chris had instituted in his year as Master to be presented to a liveryman chosen by the trustees of The Distillers’ Charity, who has given exceptional levels of time and commitment in contributing to the delivery of the charity’s goals): the proud recipient of the inaugural award was Assistant James Higgins, in recognition of his hard work in relation to the Distillers One of One Auction. The Master concluded by thanking the assembled throng for attending and wishing them safe travels, before inviting everyone to join him in the drawing room for a stirrup cup.