Saturday, 15 October 2011

A new chapter....

I feel rather pretentious putting up such a grand photo of myself on my profile but if the gown fits - well actually it is too long - but I am very proud to wear it.

I was admitted to the Needlemakers in 1987 - one of a very small number of women at that time. I remember my introduction to the Court (the managing committee) where it seemed that each member wanted to impress me with the strength of his handshake. This would have been fine if I had not been wearing a rather bulky ring so I was in some pain by the end. It was a mixture of a fairly intimidating and yet friendly meeting and as I now invest our new liverymen I have an understanding of how they must be feeling.

Thursday October 6, 2011 was a pretty historic day for me and something I shall remember and treasure and also for the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers as I was installed as the first woman to be Master since the company received its Charter from Oliver Cromwell in 1656. I believe that I may also be the first immigrant and the first person to have come from the Third Sector. Charity is at the heart of the livery companies today and all our past Masters have had a heavy involvement in a wide range of charities but we don't think anyone has been employed in the sector before.

I am of course deeply honoured and also chuffed to bits. The Needlemakers is known for being a very friendly and hospitable company and I have received nothing but friendship and warmth in the years I have been a liveryman.

For those not familiar with the Livery Companies of the City of London - they date back to the twelfth century and were trade/craft guilds which regulated activities within the City - traditionally the Square Mile - which subsequently developed into the financial district. There are over 100 companies today including some very new ones such as the World Traders and the Marketors with around 40,000 people belonging to them. Even though some of the old trades have ceased to exist the companies carry on and provide tens of millions of pounds worth of support to a wide range of charitable causes.

They have a language of their own - I no longer swear to be a good and true "brother" but the head honcho is still called the Master, not the Mistress. The Mistress is the woman married to the Master. So I put my feminist sentiments aside and embrace tradition. Number One Husband is known as my Consort (and had a super time at a lunch for Mistresses and Consorts at the Tallow Chandlers Hall where he was one of only a handful of men surrounded by delightful women - how tough is that?)

It is quite awe-inspiring and humbling to realise that you are part of something which goes back centuries. I was installed after a wonderful dinner at the beautiful Vintners Hall on October 6. The Clerk reads the Charge when I agree to do a good and honest job and then the robe goes on with the chain and I move and sit in the central chair. I was fairly relaxed until then - after all I have given many speeches and been seated at the top table of various events - but when I sat down and looked at all those faces looking at me and realised the historical chain of Masters leading up to this - I felt somewhat daunted.

Through this blog I will attempt to chronicle my year for members of the Livery but also for friends and those who are unfamiliar with the traditions and the work of the Company. Please come along for the ride.

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