Monday 23 April 2012

The Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters, Installation Dinner

On April 20 John and I drove through torrential rain and hail to arrive at a serene and sparkling Goldsmiths’ Hall for the Framework Knitters’ Installation Dinner.

I have had the pleasure of meeting the outgoing Master, Paul Bethel, at several City functions over the past six months and he was our guest at the Mansion House. Well – time to move on and we were delighted to congratulate their new Master, Graham Smith, who was installed earlier that evening. We always get to know the Framework Knitters well during the year as they are number 64 in order of precedence and we are 65 so whenever we are processing we follow in their footsteps!

Although the Framework Knitters, like the majority of Livery Companies, no longer controls its trade it maintains a close association with them. Many of the Company’s members have direct connections with the knitting and hosiery industries, and assists them with various charitable works including Student Bursaries, Scholarships, and Almshouses and has strong connections and quite a number of Liverymen from Leicester.

The Master does indeed come from Leicester - his ‘day job’ is running a 140 year old milk delivery business in and around Leicestershire, employing about 150 people, delivering to around 30,000 households 6 days per week. We wish him a very successful and enjoyable year.

The Goldsmiths' Hall is one of the most opulent halls in the City, all red and gold. In the main Hall there are four matching chandeliers each with 48 candles and the sight of the candles reflecting off the cut crystal was magical. You can visit the Hall for one of their exhibitions (sadly without the candles). Goldsmiths exhibitions and promotions.

Needlemakers’ Wind Final, Guildhall School of Music and Drama

In between all the events of other companies, Wednesday April 18 was a very important date in the Needlemakers’ calendar. It was the final of the Annual Wind Competition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

This competition was introduced by Past Master, Alan Foster, in his year of office 21 years ago and has gone from strength to strength. We were treated to two hours of superb music with a number of pieces I had not heard before.

There were 25 entrants to the competition so it was a great achievement for all four finalists just to reach the final. They played to a packed auditorium with many students and staff there to cheer them on – and a contingent of Needlemakers!

As they say, there can only be one winner and this was Luke Russell (flute) with a very well balanced and movingly played programme, accompanied by Jan Willem Nelleke on the piano. Luke was born in Bath and began playing the flute aged 8. He graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in July 2010 with a 1st Class BMus(Hons) degree, having been awarded a Major Scholarship to study there in 2006. During his time at the college, Luke won the Solo Woodwind Prize and places on the Welsh National Opera Placement scheme (2008-2010) and BBC National Orchestra of Wales Side-By-Side scheme (2009).

Luke auditioned for Postgraduate study and was offered scholarships to three major London conservatoires and chose the Guildhall School of Music and Drama on the internationally renowned Orchestral Training Course in September 2010.

So as you can see we were treated to great music – and Luke is definitely someone to watch! Alan Foster presented the prize and reminded everyone there of the origins of the competition. May it go from strength to strength.

The adjudicator was Tim Lines, who is professor of clarinet at both the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music.

The Needlemakers entertain the finalists and partners and the staff to dinner at a local restaurant afterwards. It is a great opportunity to learn more about the musicians and their ambitions. I was particularly interested to hear from Tim Lines about how many more opportunities, outside the mainstream orchestras, there are for musicians these days. This is very encouraging as it is a tough and very competitive field.

Election of the Sheriffs

On Tuesday April 17 I attended a Supporters' Meeting for Nigel Pullman at the Armourers' Hall. Nigel is standing for election as one of the two Sheriffs that attend the Lord Mayor. He has my personal support and I will be with other members of the Livery Companies at the Guildhall on June 25 for “Common Hall” to vote.

Two sheriffs are elected by the livery each Midsummer Day (24th June), unless a weekend (therefore Monday 25th June 2012). They take office in a ceremony at Guildhall on 28th September. Normally, as it will be in 2012, one of the Sheriffs is an alderman, who will hope to go on to become the Lord Mayor of London; and the other, sometimes referred to as the non-aldermanic sheriff, who has no further ambitions after completing his year at the Old Bailey.Unlike the election of Lord Mayor, here it can be a real election by the livery (as it was last year).

In 2012 the aldermanic candidate will be the Hon Jeffrey Evans, Alderman for the Ward of Cheap, and past Prime Warden of the Shipwrights' Company. Nigel is the only liveryman who has so far declared his candidature to be the non-aldermanic sheriff.

Note: The Armourers' Hall is an extraordinary place – not one I have visited before. I have never seen so much armour in one place before with some lovely paintings – a return visit is definitely required to look at everything more closely.

Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers, Master’s Dinner

I attended the Masters’ Dinner of the The Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers Company on April 16 with the Clerk – preceded by a service at St James’s Garlickhythe. It is a lovely little Wren church; also the Needlemakers’ church and I can vouch for the excellence of the music, always.

After the service we went a few steps to the Skinners’ Hall for dinner. You will have heard the phrase “at sixes and sevens”. A version of this phrase has been traced back several centuries but the exact phrase is commonly thought to have resulted from a dispute between The Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors and The Worshipful Company of Skinners when the order of precedence was set in 1515. So in diplomatic fashion a compromise was reached where the precedence changes each year at Easter so each company alternates being at six or seven – the Needlemakers is at 65!

It was an excellent dinner with interesting speeches and very entertaining company. Our two companies both support the Royal School of Needlework and also the Guildhall School of Music and, of course, we had a joint Carol Service last year. It was interesting to hear that early in 2012, in conjunction with the Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Council, the Company sponsored one of the major awards in the fine jewellery section.

Monday 16 April 2012

Quilts and Embroidery 2012, Uttoxeter

Sunday, April 15 was the final day of the Quilts and Embroidery show at Uttoxeter Race Course. This annual exhibition and competition, organised by Margaret McQuillen, attracts stitchers from all over the country. It shows work by individuals and also quilting groups.

The Needlemakers sponsors the Visitors’ Choice Prize. Throughout the three days of the show visitors are encouraged to vote for their favourite. John and I went up on Sunday afternoon to meet Past Master Henry Milward and his wife, Sue, who started the award and attend every year. We spent a very happy couple of hours admiring the creativity and skill of the exhibitors and I was very pleased that I didn’t have to judge the other prizes as the competition was stiff.

The Visitors’ Choice went to “compare the quilt dot com” which, as you will see from the photos (Margaret and I at the quilt and the close up of a detail) was very amusing and well designed. The aim was “to be bold and to make you smile”. They certainly did.

As a Londoner by adoption I was very struck by the London Skyline quilt, also pictured, which won the Children's Prize, designed and made by teenager, Luke Daymond. He said, “I lived in London and liked the buildings. I used an old A-Z map for my pinwheel blocks.” His mother said that she has always sewed and he has been using her machine since he was three!

Friday 13 April 2012

Needlemakers’ Court Lunch, April 4 2012

After two weeks of Spring the day of the April lunch felt more like Winter again. It was held at the Apothecaries' Hall and was my first visit to the Hall. It is the oldest extant livery company Hall in the City, with the first-floor structure and arrangement of the Great Hall, Court Room and Parlour remaining as re-built between 1668 and 1670.

I was particularly pleased to be at the Apothecaries as my introduction to the Civic City was from Sir John Chalstrey – the first practicing physician to be Lord Mayor. I met him in the 1980s when he was already an Alderman and he proposed me for the Freedom of the City, which was my first step towards my current role. There is a super portrait of him at the top of the stairs.

The lunch was preceded by a meeting of the Court where we heard reports from all the various committees and the Court was brought up to date on all activities during the last quarter.

We also admitted two new Liverymen: the first was Valerie Hamilton who has a wide involvement with the City – she is a Scrivener, an officer of several ward clubs and President of the United Wards Club.

The second new liveryman is Dr Susan Kay Williams. Susan is already known to many of us, as she is the Chief Executive of the Royal School of Needlework, one of the charities we support and we are looking forward to our visit to the School in September.

The Guest of Honour and our speaker, Dr Simon Chaplin, gave a very entertaining and informative address. I first met Simon when he took a group of us on a very lively tour of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England where he was Director of Museums & Special Collections. In 2010, he moved to his current position as Head of the Wellcome Library at the Wellcome Trust - an excellent place to research his talk. Appropriately he is also a Yeoman of the Society of Apothecaries.

Amongst the subjects he covered he spoke about the dangers of the needle making trade where life expectancy was short and children were also employed. We will be visiting the Forge Mill Needle Museum in June where this is clearly demonstrated.

In the hall next to the entrance I was also intrigued to see a framed illuminated transcription in Hebrew (with translation) of the Doctor’s Oath based on the oath of Maimonides from the twelfth century. This was next to a graphic representation of the Hebrew word for Peace – Shalom -worked in 14 languages including Japanese, Korean, Latin, Arabic etc by the artist Ardyn Halter, surrounded by filigree made out of papercut. Peace and health – one really couldn’t ask for much more!

Monday 9 April 2012

City of London Guide Lecturers Association Annual Lecture

My year continues with the discovery of places I have often passed but never noticed. I was delighted to be invited to the 9th Annual Derek Melhuish Memorial Lecture on April 2 at the Dutch Church in Austin Friars.

I have occasionally slipped through Austin Friars as a short cut but never really noticed the church. The Dutch connection started in the sixteenth century although the original building was destroyed during the Blitz and the current church built in 1950. It is a very simple and elegant building covered in Portland stone.

The lecture was given by Alderman Fiona Woolf CBE and was a history of the role of the Sheriff with a number of her own personal experiences during her own year as Sheriff – The Role of the Sheriff both Ancient and Modern.

The earliest references to sheriffs date back to the tenth century where their main role was collecting taxes. The office of Sheriff in the City dates back to the Middle Ages and reflects their long-standing importance in the government of the City of London. The office of is of greater antiquity than any other in the City of London. Until the institution of the Mayoralty in 1189, Sheriffs or 'Shire Reeves' governed the City as the King's representatives, collected royal revenues and enforced royal justice.

The two Sheriffs are appointed for one year and their primary role is to support the Lord Mayor. They attend the Judges at the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey and are actually resident for their year of office in the courthouse complex, so that one of them is always attendant on the judges. In Court No1 the principal chairs on the 'bench' are reserved for them and the Lord Mayor, the City's Sword hangs behind the 'bench'.

Their role with the Lord Mayor involves travelling with him principally to support the various business delegations that usually accompany trips abroad as well as entertaining business groups visiting the City.

Fiona said that one of the most enjoyable parts of the year was doing the research for the various speeches and activities. Her “day job” must have prepared her well to speak on subjects such as “socially responsible investment” and “Russian legal reforms” not forgetting “Women in the City”.

It was a most informative and entertaining lecture.

British Design 1948 – 2012: Innovation in the modern age

I donned my glad rags and went off to the opening of British Design 1948 to 2012 at the Victoria and Albert Museum on March 28th. The significance of the dates is to coincide with the two Olympic Games held in London. If you look back to my blog on January 24th you will read about our speaker, Sandra Smith, who is Head of Conservation at the V&A. We are currently funding a travel bursary for a trainee in the Textile Conservation Department.

The opening was packed with no doubt the great and good, but certainly the young and the glamorous. It is many years since I used to attend gallery openings – they are fun and the noise levels have not reduced!

Sir Richard Rogers opened the exhibition with some observations of his own career and the development of the Museum from a dusty warren to the present day where exhibitions are lively, well curated and accessible to all.

The exhibition is a must and I will return when it is not so crowded. It started obviously with the 1948 Games, through the Festival of Britain to the modern day focusing on artists born, trained or based in Britain. It looks at buildings, objects, images and ideas; posters and clothes, toys and cars. I remembered much of it from first time around – certainly from the 1960s where London was swinging but I was just an observer – no money, no time! So not much has changed there then.

There is something for everyone there – including the gorgeous E-type and the Mini, movies, photos, architecture, fashion – Mary Quant and Paco Rabanne – a wide range. Given how short the lifespan was of many of the clothes of that period the conservation department has its work cut out looking after them!

British Design 1948 - 2012

Thursday 5 April 2012

The United Guilds Service at St Paul’s Cathedral

On Friday March 23, we attended the 70th Service of the United Guilds of the City of London at St Paul’s Cathedral. The Lord Mayor’s dinner is traditionally held the night before this service – see earlier blog.

This service originated from a meeting of the Masters and Prime Wardens of the Twelve Great Livery Companies, held at the Goldsmiths’ Hall on February 1, 1943. It was decided to hold a service in St Paul’s Cathedral for the Livery Companies and Guilds of the City of London. The idea was to help lift the spirits of the City following the Blitz of the Second World War. Having regard to the religious origins of the Companies, the first day of the year according the Julian calendar – Lady Day - was selected, Thursday March 25, 1943.

As far as records show, this was the first time all the Companies and Guilds combined to hold a service and remains one of the few occasions when we all gather together with the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs as a whole.

Every time I travel and marvel at the glories of Florence or Paris or Berlin, I come back to London and come into one of our great cathedrals or galleries and wonder why I ever need to leave London. St Paul’s in all its glory at a service like this with wonderful music and, yes, all the pageantry of the Church and the Civic City, is wonderful.

The Needlemakers’ Charitable Fund supports a chorister at St Paul’s. A chorister is chosen on merit to wear the jewel for the year and recognised for his achievement and a chorister is selected according to need and the bursary is awarded anonymously. This is a rather gracious way of visibly marking achievement while quietly and privately doing some good.

The Lord Mayor's Dinner to meet the Livery

Every year the Lord Mayor holds a dinner to meet the "Masters, Prime Wardens and Upper Bailiffs of the Livery Companies of the City of London" at the Mansion House. These are not three different sets of people but all the heads of the Livery Companies called by different names.

The Lord Mayor was accompanied the Civic Party as well as the Common Councillors and we were accompanied by our partners (known as Mistresses (sic) or, in my case, Consorts). As you can imagine this was a very splendid affair (and my new outfit had its second outing in a month). I have never seen the Mansion House quite so full - close to its 350 capacity and the dinner was served with superb precision as always.

In addition to the orchestra of the Honourable Artillery Company providing the musical entertainment the Lord Mayor was accompanied by his formal escort drawn from The Company of Pikemen & Musketeers, also of the Honourable Artillery Company. The elegant black and white programme for the evening had a stunning artwork by David Hockney, Tall Black Trees.

Coming so soon after our own banquet it was a pleasure (and relief) to be able to relax and enjoy the evening without any responsibilities. I have never seen quite such a glittering occasion - every Master was wearing his badge and chain, every Consort or Mistress was wearing theirs and the Lord Mayor and party were covered in more gold than you can imagine.

I spent the last twenty years of my career persuading people that you could have fun and still raise money for good causes and you shouldn't feel guilty about the former if the latter was the consequence. As frivolous as this Banquet might seem on the surface - the people in that room represented over £42 million donated to good causes from the Livery Companies alone - not including the substantial sum raised every year through the Lord Mayor's Appeal. No one becomes Master of a company without substantial personal involvement in philanthropic activities as well - so a night of celebration is quite in order!