Common Hall – the largest gathering of citizens for any municipal purpose in the City – dates back to the 13th century. On Midsummer day the assembled Liverymen elect new Sheriffs, and on Michaelmas Day they elect the Lord Mayor. Both are ceremonies unrivalled pomp and spectacle.
Thus on September 29 I attended Guildhall along with the 109 other Masters of Livery Companies. We put on our gowns and regalia in the Crypt before processing to a service at St Lawrence Jewry. After a sermon about the need for probity in the financial markets, we moved back into Guildhall followed by the procession of functionaries, Aldermen, the ceremonial Mace, the Sword and the current Lord Mayor.
The hall was packed to capacity with Liverymen who were invited to vote for one of three candidates. Although this is one of the world’s oldest democratic assemblies it is not custom that those present question the pre-selection process. So the election of Lord Mountevans, Jeffrey Evans, was a foregone conclusion. He will take over from Alan Yarrow at the so-called Silent Ceremony on November 13. After Common Hall all those members of the Company who had attended repaired to HQS Wellington, the home of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners, for a curry lunch.
The next day there was a reception at Bakers’ Hall where Artichoke – an arts organisation – explained their plans to mark the 350th Anniversary of the Great Fire. This included lighting up St Paul’s Cathedral with projected flames, delineating the boundaries of the Great Fire with beacons and building a giant line of dominoes, standing on end, which will weave through the City and when the first one is pushed over, the rest follow in sequence.
On October 6 I was pleased to go to Mercers’ Hall as guest of Bill Gloyn the Master of the Masons’ Company for their Michaelmas Court Lunch. I sat next to John Burton, a partner of Purcell the historic building specialists and Past Master Mason. John has been both Surveyor to the Fabric at Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Although the Mercers’ hall was rebuilt after WW2, they retain enough paintings and artefacts to reflect their role as the premier Livery Company, including being the only one permitted to have their own chapel.
That evening I went on to Painters Stainers’ Hall for its Fine Art Society’s exhibition opening. In the middle of the reception was Peter Luscombe – a member of Painters’ Stainers as well as a Past Master of the Chartered Architects – who was painting a still life for all to watch and admire.
The next day the Worshipful Company of Musicians held sung evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral. All Masters were gowned and decked out in their finery before processing into the Cathedral. We were seated under the dome – a wonderful position from which to admire Wrens’ pendentives but acoustically one of the worst places in the building.
A few days later we held an extraordinary Court Meeting in order to swear in nearly 50 new Freemen of the Company as part of the strategy of increasing and widening the membership. After the ceremony we enjoyed a fine lunch at Ironmongers’ Hall.
On October 13 I was once again hosted by the Masons, this time for the presentation of the Craft Awards presented by the Duke of Gloucester. The ceremony was held in the wonderful surroundings of Wren’s St Stephen’s Walbrook, listed by Pevsner as one of the ten most important buildings in Britain. The winner was Pourang Tajally, originally from Iran and now working at Winchester Cathedral. I thought it was rather wonderful that a young immigrant could succeed in this ancient craft, working in such an important cathedral, in an award presented by an ancient Livery Company.
Then on the 19th I attended the Installation Dinner of the Worshipful Company of Surveyors. The new Master is Lady Davies, Jenna Davies, who I have been working with over joint plans for marking the 350th Anniversary of the Great Fire. The guest of honour was Sir John Armitt, former Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority and now of the City and Guilds of London Institute. In his speech Sir John attacked the closure of technical colleges and the absorption of polytechnics into the university system, he called for careers advice in schools from the age of eight and said that training should be the responsibility of employers, not the government. He acclaimed London “the best city in the world – dynamic, ambitious and stable!”. I had a fascinating discussion over dinner with my neighbour Rev Peter Galloway who is Chaplain to the Queen’s Chapel at the Savoy which I had always thought was something to do with the hotel. It turns out that it is on land owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, it was built by Henry Vll and completed in 1515. The Queen still holds the title of Duke of Lancaster and Rev Galloway told me that when they sing the National Anthem in the Chapel the words they use are “God Save our Gracious Queen, London Live our noble Duke.”
The Art Scholars’ is the youngest of the Livery Companies, becoming the 110th Company of The City in February 2014. Its Annual Mithras Lecture was given on October 28 in Goldsmith’s Hall by Detective Sergeant Claire Hutcheon, Head of the Art & Antiques Unit at the Metropolitan Police. She gave an inside view of Scotland Yard’s fight against art crime, ranging from the thieves who target masterpieces from the world’s great museums, to the forgers who have succeeded in deceiving the experts.
In the morning of October 29th 1415 news reached the City that Henry v had ‘by god’s grace, gained victory’ at the Battle of Agincourt. The Lord Mayor and the Livery were mightily relieved to hear this since they had loaned the King most of the funds used to finance the campaign. After proclaiming the victory at St Paul’s they all then walked over to Westminster Abbey ‘like pilgrims on foot’ to give thanks for the victory.
To mark the 600th Anniversary of this event on October 29th 2015, the Masters and Clerks of today’s Livery Companies all attended Westminster Abbey in full regalia, along with the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor, the High Sheriff of London, the Lord Mayors of London and of Westminster, Princess Michael of Kent, the Duke of Kent and the Bishop of London. It was a fine service which began with Henry’s own sword being placed on the high altar and included a sermon on tolerance and respect of other faiths and nations by the Bishop London, the actor Robert Hardy reading the prologue to Henry the Fifth Act iv, the St Crispins’ Day speech by Sam Marks of the Royal Shakespeare and a reading from an account of a French soldier in the First World War.
We were located in a good spot in the transept, but even so it was easier to watch proceedings on the conveniently placed television screens. This, in the light of the recently announced £6 billion bill for making the Palace of Westminster fit for purpose, set me thinking about the inadequacy of some of our great buildings like the Abbey for the uses they must perform. Can we imagine such events taking place in a contemporary building? Should we turn the current Houses of Parliament into a museum and tourist attraction and build a new one somewhere else? If so, where should it be?