Friday 28 October 2011

Broderers, Drapers and The King’s Speech

I was very privileged to be a guest at a magnificent banquet hosted by the Worshipful Company of Broderers at the Drapers Hall last night. It was such a super event that I hardly know where to start.

The Drapers Hall is a magnificent building – if you saw the movie “The King’s Speech” the ‘Accession Council’ meeting took place in the Livery Hall where we had dinner. If you haven’t been to the Hall do look at it on the weblink above – it is beautiful.

There were over thirty-five Masters of other companies there with as many Clerks and other officers of a number of companies, so there were many and varied badges (and medals as well).

This is the 450th anniversary year of the Broderers’ Company and they have raised a substantial amount of money for their charitable activities from Liverymen. Both our Companies support the Royal School of Needlework and Fine Cell Work and the Master was presented with a lovely cushion from the Fine Cell Work exhibition that I mentioned in an earlier blog.

Apart from the delicious dinner (I am getting into serious eating……) there was very amusing entertainment provided by musicians from the Guildhall School of Music. As part of the Broderers’ fundraising for City Gateway during their 450th year, the Master initiated a ‘Master’s Raffle’ for a sculpture of a running hippopotamus by Mark Coreth. Needless to say the entertainment concluded with a raucous rendition by all of The Hippopotamus Song by Flanders and Swann. It was doubly hilarious hearing this sung in such grand surroundings with everyone in their finery.

The Broderers’ has a tradition that the Master sings a special song (can be found on the website) with all joining in with the rousing choruses. What a nerve-wracking thing to have to do and he did it with style and panache.

Thank you Broderers!

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Fine Cell Work – exhibition of work

This excellent charity is one of the causes supported by the Needlemakers’ Charitable Fund. The background to this, and much of our charitable support, is that we support people who use needles as the manufacture of needles has ceased within the UK.

I make no apology for quoting Fine Cell’s mission directly – I couldn’t express it better. Have a look at their website for further information Fine Cell Work. Fine Cell Work trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework undertaken in the long hours spent in their cells to foster hope, discipline and self esteem. This helps them to connect to society and to leave prison with the confidence and financial means to stop offending.

Both my mother and grandmother (who trained as a milliner) were fine needlewomen so although I may not be very skilled I can tell good work when I see it. I have several cushions and the quality of the work is superb. The designs range from the traditional to the funky.

More importantly - some of the stories told by the prisoners are very moving. They are paid for their work and the purchaser is encouraged to write a letter of thanks – just first names – and some report crying when they receive these letters. I defy you to read some of the stories with dry eyes.

So it was a delight and a privilege to be invited to represent the Needlemakers at a reception at the Glaziers’ Hall for a pre-Christmas display and sale of work. Fine Cell Work has been commissioned by the Glaziers to produce a triptych for the Hall – the work will be done in up to 100 separate batches in different prisons and the design looks stunning. It was also a chance to see the quilt that was created for Help for Heroes listing all the different regiments serving in Afghanistan.

Fine Cell Work receives support from a number of the Livery Companies and I am proud that ours is one of them.

A twelve hour day – counting money

I love counting money. In the early days of Breast Cancer Campaign we used to count all the money from street collections in the office and bag it up to take to the bank – there weren’t very many collections or many of us. Now most of the collections are done by others – groups of volunteers, RAGs etc and they count the money and deposit it – except for one day of the year, the day of the mega-raid during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Part of the deal when I left was that I was invited back for mega-raid day, which was Friday October 21. Raggies from a number of universities across the UK come to London and collect at tube and train stations around the City. Members of staff volunteer to don backpacks and go and empty the buckets (too much like hard work for me) and bring the cash back to the office to be counted, which is the bit I like. Members of staff also give a hand and a contingent from Barclays come in and work in shifts as well and it is hard work but great fun. The Raggies are hugely competitive so the first task is to count the total from each bucket so that by the end of the day (or an early hour of the following morning……) they know who the top money raisers are – the sorting and bagging come later. I finally left just before 10 pm at which point the total was over £31,000.

This morning the front of Number 10 Downing Street was bathed in pink to raise awareness of breast cancer - what a coup. Well done Campaign!

Saturday 22 October 2011

A book launch at Mansion House

On Monday I attended a book launch at Mansion House. The current Lord Mayor has a very strong interest in the built environment (not exactly surprising with a career spanning engineering, property development and regeneration) and this was the first of two very interesting evenings on this subject.

The book is The City of London, Architectural Tradition and Innovation in the Square Mile. This is a fabulous if somewhat weighty (physically that is) publication. Nicholas Kenyon (MD of the Barbican Centre) is the editor and the photographs are excellent. Despite the physical weight of the book it is a very easy read with lots of interesting snippets of information. It also covers all the major new buildings – although the new Rothschild’s building was still under construction when the book went to print.

I learned something about the Needlemakers’ home church, St James Garlickhithe, a Wren church, that is the tallest of the City churches and has the largest proportion of window area, a response to the buildings then blocking the south side.

This segues very neatly into my second visit to Mansion House on Tuesday for the third in a series of lectures initiated by the Lord Mayor on a range of urban issues, with a particular focus on London and the City. The first was on the development of London from a historical perspective; the second covered the current challenges and opportunities confronting cities, with particular reference to their growth. This final lecture focused on cities of the future what they might look like, how they will operate and what municipal and national leaders can do to ensure they evolve in a sustainable manner.

If the City is to remain a leading financial centre it needs to be vibrant and serve the needs of the businesses working there. Peter Rees, the City Planning Officer, spoke about the City of the 1980s where the only lunch to be found was usually liquid and the City was only alive during the day. I remember too that lunches were either in expensive restaurants (not open at night) a hideous snack in a pub or a sandwich and there was nowhere to buy a pair of tights! Those days are over and the City is alive at night and on weekends and you can shop for anything and eat food from almost anywhere in the world.

This is not only a response to the global market but also some enlightened attitudes to planning which have not constrained developers to keep reproducing versions of old buildings but attracted architects from all over the world with some stunning results. Buy the book to see the results!

Clearly the business community needs to be well served and transport is also a key issue. It was then rather depressing to descend into Bank station to go home. It is a maze that is badly sign-posted and exhausting to use. There is much being done to improve transport in and out of the City with increased buses (so slow with all the road works) Boris bikes (but not for me) and Crossrail – in my lifetime? At the moment the City is heaven above ground but the other place beneath.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

The Master’s first engagement!

My year certainly started off in style. My first engagement was a wonderful dinner hosted by the Worshipful Company of Tinplate Workers alias Wire Workers at the magnificent Fishmongers Hall on the banks of the Thames with the entrance on London Bridge. You don’t get much more historic than that.

I love this Hall (it is where we had our installation dinner last year) especially because it is an opportunity to see the wonderfully romantic portrait of the Queen painted by Pietro Annigoni. I was a child when the portrait was painted and was struck by the fairytale quality of it. It captured a moment in time in the early years of her reign and although it portrayed Her Majesty in a romantic style, the expression on her face is serious and thoughtful and certainly an indication of her commitment to her role. It isn’t lent out to exhibitions so this was a rare opportunity to look at it.

I much enjoyed meeting the Master, Ian Chamberlain, and the Wardens and other guests. A very warm and friendly welcome. It was an excellent dinner with entertainment provided by the Tinplate Workers’ Piano Scholar at the Guildhall School of Music – who just happened to come from my old home town, Johannesburg.

The Company was founded within a few years of the Needlemakers and is 67 in the order of precedence. As we are 65 we usually bump into each other when all the Masters process (we line up in order of precedence). Of course, without wire we wouldn’t be able to make needles.

All the livery companies have websites as do the halls so it is worth looking at them for further information and you can certainly find reproductions of the portrait on line.

PS I won’t continue to refer to myself in the third person as in the headline but I quite enjoyed writing that!

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.