On March 7th I was pleased to attend The Worshipful Company of Plumbers’ banquet in Mansion House. Impeccably organised and suitably formal it was the epitome of a proper Livery ‘do’ – although it broke with tradition in one significant respect – Erica Stary is the first ever woman Master of the Plumbers. Appropriately, the guest speaker for the evening was Baroness Hale, who was the first woman Law Lord.
The event took place a couple of days before World Plumbing Day – I was unaware there was such a thing – and I learnt that the Plumbers are a member of a group of Livery Companies called the Wet Ten – ie those who represent trades that use water in some form or other.
The next evening I went for dinner with the Furniture Makers whose master is David Dewing, director of the Geffrye Museum and patron of good architecture, having commissioned Nigel Coates, Caruso StJohn and now Wright and Wright to design parts of the Museum. The Furniture Makers’ Hall is considerably smaller than Mansion House and the very jolly gathering reflected a more informal aspect of Livery fellowship.
Back to City pomp the following evening with the annual banquet laid on by the Lord Mayor for all the masters of livery companies in Mansion House. Lord Mountevans the Lord Mayor has a background in shipping and the painting on the cover of the menu seemed to sum up so much about City history – it was of a ‘three-decker of the latter part of the 17th century’, believed to be the Prince Royal in 1637 and reproduced by ‘kind permission of The Elder Brethren of Trinity House’. I hadn’t come across the brethren before either, so I looked them up. Wiki tells me that “Elder Brethren are sworn in from the ranks of over 400 Younger Brethren of Trinity House and retain the title for life. The Elder Brethren form the Court of the Corporation. They tend to be Master Mariners or Naval Officers. Eminent Elder Brethren are members of high renown, and have traditionally included Royalty and Prime Ministers.”
There was even more pomp the next day at St Paul’s Cathedral for the 74th Service of the United Guilds. The tradition of the service goes back to 1943 when the Livery companies got together to help lift the spirits of the City following the devastation of the Blitz. It’s one of the few times the whole of the Livery is gathered in one place and all dressed up. “You look magnificent,” the Bishop of London told us from the pulpit, “you are never knowingly underdressed!” The party of twenty or so Architects enjoyed lunch at the Stationers’ Hall following the service.
The next week, on March 14, I had the honour of hosting the Modern Companies’ Dinner at Cutlers Hall. The Modern Companies are those founded since 1936, prior to which there had been a long gap since the founding of the Fan Makers in 1709. What sets the modern companies apart is that the majority of them are by their very nature much closer to their associated craft or profession than the ancient companies. The guest speaker was our own Michael Welbank who was formerly Chairman of the City’s Planning and Transportation Committee and has recently moved up to be Chief Commoner. As Chief Commoner Michael is responsible for promoting the aims, values and responsibilities of the City of London Corporation and supporting the Lord Mayor and the Policy Chairman. He also takes the lead in relation to all matters of City Corporation hospitality.
Next up were the presentations by our two Stuart Murphy Travel Scholars. On Monday March 21, Leon Donald, an MA Spatial Planning and Urban Design student at The Cass, gave us a talk on his study ‘Walk, Eat, Sleep, Repeat – The Architecture of Albergues along the Camino de Santiago’. He was followed by Ashleigh James of the Royal College of Art who presented her research carried out on medical buildings in Rwanda. The talks were held in the Women’s Library designed by Wright and Wright.