ENTRY No.8 – March 2019
Having visited the Royal Marines in Devonport and Lympstone, a small number from the Company had the opportunity to spend an evening with the Reserves (RMR) at their base in Wandsworth. Once again the defining hallmark of an impressive organisation is the dedication of all members of the unit; the standards demanded of the Reserves is the same as at Lympstone with no concessions on what is required to secure the coveted Green Beret. If anything it is a tougher process as many of the reserves are holding down full time jobs and in order to deal with the arduous weekends at Lympstone and the annual two week training assignment are maintaining an extraordinarily high level of personal fitness and mental rigour.
Our evening began with a briefing from Lt. Col. Jason Durup, a regular officer currently in command of the Wandsworth unit. This was followed by a demonstration of small arms and an opportunity to handle the weapons. Our Clerk seized the moment to have me in his sights with perhaps a little too much alacrity….a prize will be awarded for the best caption!
You’ll see from the photographs that the Upper Warden was also busy examining another firearm and deciding whether or not to accelerate her succession to Master, ‘though I think some training may be necessary on weapon handling!
ENTRY No.7 – February 2019
I have been fortunate to be entertained by a number of other companies during February, on each occasion demonstrating my utter lack of self discipline by enjoying every wine on offer: ideas of a dry February (‘cos it’s the shortest month…) evaporated with the very first dinner and continued unchecked throughout a bucolic month.
A couple of high points to share: firstly attending the President’s Lunch with the FIS which was held in Plaisterers’ Hall and included a presentation of awards to young managers who are already making a difference to their company and their colleagues. In the style of the Oscars (less the dry ice and self serving speeches), the event concluded with a Lifetime Recognition award, on this occasion to Ray Deeks, a long standing member of our Company and doyen of the heritage plasterers, G Cook & Sons of Cambridge. Those who know Ray will appreciate the challenge he faced in keeping his emotions in check as he came forward through the cheering tables and onto the podium… In all seriousness it was a fitting end to the event and a great moment to see one of our own being acknowledged by his peers.
In the last few days the Mistress and I have been down to Lympstone for a second visit to the Commando Training Centre, on this occasion to see the passing out of the King’s Squad. It was such a privilege to join the families of 18 young men who have completed the toughest training course in the World. A few had succeeded in meeting all the requirements without incurring injury and defied the odds by making it through in one attempt; for others the award of the cherished Green Beret was the culmination of a long process, in one case after nearly two years as a consequence of a severe injury. The dedication of all at CTC, the deep professionalism alongside the virtues of good humour and humility is truly inspiring; the challenge for the Corps is to recalibrate the public perception which focuses over much on the physical demands and even now can be a gross distortion of those who have benefited from such a world class training facility.
Amongst the family and friends was Major General Julian Thompson who commanded a brigade in The Falklands War and whom I’ve met before in Jersey and London. General Julian reminded me that he was one of the first contingent of Marines who used our Hall when the Master at the time invited those participating in the Victory Parade to return to us for lunch. It was the beginning of a long standing affiliation of which the Company is rightly very proud.
ENTRY No.6 – January 2019
My plans to engage the Company with its historic craft took a major step forward on Thursday, 24th January thanks to the generosity of Jon Riley of the heritage plasterers, Locker & Riley.
Jon and his senior team welcomed a group of us to their premises in South Woodham Ferrers and through a series of presentations and hands-on workshops helped all of us to appreciate the range and depth of skills required to be a master plasterer; there is much more to it than those of us outside the trade would ever realise. The heritage of fine plasterwork is something to cherish and it was heartening to hear how Jon and his team have worked on numerous restoration projects in addition to exciting commissions for new projects both in the UK and overseas.
The results of the practical tasks were mixed, particularly when we were tasked with constructing a model from clay, the initial part of the production process. Our Plaisterers’ apprentice, Esme, secured first prize by some margin and rightly so. The more tightly fought competition arose with the second task of mixing plaster and then applying it to a mould. Past Master Peter Cook even dressed for the event, donning overalls and a flat cap. Silence then descended as the team focussed on the challenge of getting the consistency right, avoiding air bubbles and then allowing the plaster to set before releasing the finished item. Modesty prevents me from disclosing the winner but as the Clerk commented, my Father would have been delighted, and the Mistress, who was part of the group, remains flabbergasted and is still lying down on her chaise longue with a wet flannel across her brow!
Locker & Riley laid on a great day and were kind, solicitous and generous hosts. We all learned a great deal. And so, my fellow Plaisterers, should another opportunity arise to experience a similar day, do grab it with both hands!
ENTRY No.5 – Mid-November – Mid-December 2018
Friday, 23rd November
An invitation to dinner with the York Guild of Building provided an opportunity for the Mistress and me to visit one of our favourite cities in the company of PM Wright and his wife, Christine. And not only that, but enjoy a truly memorable tour of the masons’ yard adjacent to the Minster to meet the team of skilled craftsmen who are replacing and restoring the medieval stonework; painting the Forth Road Bridge has nothing on the lifelong dedication of the small band responsible for the largest medieval cathedral north of the Alps. A highpoint of our year in any number of ways was the trip onto the roof of the Minster to see recently installed stonework including some of enormous proportions and other more delicate grotesques (gargoyles to you and me without a water spout) depicting the Judgment of Solomon on the two women with claims over the same child. We learnt that the medieval craftsmen often included scurrilous images of local notables in the higher reaches of the Minster and that the tradition continues with grotesques of Dougal from The Magic Roundabout and a Star Trek Klingon which are only visible from the rooftop.
A weekend of treats included a visit to the Merchant Venturers’ Hall at the invitation of the Governor (Master in our terms). The hall is a magnificent example of vernacular architecture of the Middle Ages with a series of lovely interiors complete with dodgy flooring at different angles. I strongly recommend that all liverymen visiting York head for the Hall – it is a poignant reminder of all the buildings London lost in the Great Fire.
Wednesday, 5th December
Over 250 liverymen and guests of the Company joined together for the annual Carol Service at St Vedast-alias-Foster. Our friends from the choir of Peterborough cathedral were in fine voice offering us a range of pieces from across the centuries both during the service and at a joyous recital following dinner. The Mistress’ decision to break the mould and serve venison rather than turkey also found favour – phew!
Thursday, 6th November
The morning after the carol service and I joined the Clerk for my second trip to Plymouth to present prizes to the leading students on Landing Craft courses. Our host, the new CO, Colonel Chris Haw MC entertained us for dinner and explained that in addition to the prize giving he would be presenting a certificate of commendation to recognise the bravery of a member of the Corps who had risked his life to save a colleague whilst on a humanitarian mission to Sierra Leone. This proved to be much the highlight of our visit, although it almost goes without saying that the recipient was modest to a fault in reacting to the award.
Thursday, 13th and Friday, 14th December
And so to another trip from Paddington, this time with the Mistress joining the Clerk and me for a visit to the Royal Marines’ training centre at Lympstone. As a closet train spotter (There! The truth is out!), it was a pleasure to take the branch line from Exeter St Davids down the estuary to Exmouth. The halt at Lympstone is a designated request stop; on the return journey passengers on the platform signal to the driver to stop, rather like Jenny Agutter in The Railway Children.
Our two days with the Marines included a series of presentations and a tour of the base and culminated in another prize giving where the leading student also received the recognition of his peers as the exemplar of team spirit – someone to watch, I’m sure.
Saturday, 15th December
The Mistress and I were guests of 282 Squadron for their annual Christmas Dinner at the RAF Club on Piccadilly – and how marvellous to see the local MP and DL both supporting the event. The Company was also represented by PM Bill Mahony who has done so much to build the relationship with the cadet unit and who in turn revere the links they have with us. That said we should hold the senior team in the highest regard given their commitment to the unit and their ambitions for the cadets, most notably through their involvement in overseas aid projects in environments far removed from day-to-day experience. To much whooping Chris Booty, the CO, announced the destination for 2019’s venture.
Monday, 17th December
By this point in the run up to Christmas I’m beginning to think that PM Mahony is stalking me! With the Mistress I attended a fund raising event at Mansion House with the actor Simon Callow talking about Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. The invitations encouraged Victorian dress but the majority opted for business attire. Not PM Mahony and his wife, Rose! Oh no, full Victorian rig for them including a large silver walrus moustache (that’s Bill, of course) which seemed to have been applied with Loctite and may well be a feature throughout 2019.
Bring it on, I say.
ENTRY No.4 – Late October-November 2018
Saturday, 20th October
On an unseasonably warm afternoon, the Mistress and I travelled to Cardiff as guests of the Welsh Livery Guild for the installation of the incoming Master. Arriving at the church service at St John the Baptist, we met the newly-wed PM Morley and Heather, Mrs Morley. ‘I’d warned Heather you’d be here’, quipped Gary. With St John’s a city centre church, the Rector and preacher both battled against the noise of Saturday shoppers and a mobile disco, but the rousing singing of ‘Guide Me, Oh Thou Great Redeemer’ got the better of them. Dinner followed at City Hall with delicious Welsh beef that makes you grateful that you have not joined the trend towards vegetarianism.
Wednesday, 24th October
We share our affiliation with The Royal Marines with The Stationers who hosted the Corps’ annual dinner at their fine hall, a building that remarkably survived the Blitz.
Before dinner we were treated to a jaw dropping display of military drill and musicianship by the corps of drums who also coped with the limited space between the two arms of the open square. Affairs of state and a late parliamentary vote resulted in the principal guest, the Secretary of State for Defence, arriving as pudding was served but he made up for it by meeting all the guests and staying on for the stirrup cup when most from top table were by then on the way home, ensconced at the back of chauffeur-driven cars.
Weekend of 10th and 11th November
The juxtaposition of Lord Mayor’s Show and Remembrance Sunday has always struck me as poignant but never more so on the weekend of 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. Our weekend began with a splendid Thanksgiving Supper at the Hall with the American Society of London whose President, Ray College, is a liveryman of the Company. Our caterers were on top form with a traditional Thanksgiving meal served with several twists. The newscaster, Alastair Stewart, was principal guest. I have come across him in Jersey and knew we would be entertained and stimulated in equal measure. Somewhat poignantly, Alastair has been in the news this afternoon (17th) remembering Richard Baker who was a member of the Company and whose death was announced earlier today.
The warm autumn weather held good for the Lord Mayor’s Show and what a treat at lunchtime to see the Hall filled with families from our own Company, the Candlewick Ward Club and nomadic liveries. The decision to cancel the fireworks was just as well as by 4pm the City streets resembled a scene from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner with torrential rain and lights from vehicles fracturing in the looming Dusk.
The sun had returned by the following morning as people converged on St Paul’s for a service of commemoration. Knowing a little about the challenge of keeping a service to time, it was remarkable that the final note of the Last Post aligned perfectly with the first chime of 11 o’clock and a two minute silence observed without even the usual sound of Autumnal coughs.
The livery company Masters at the service were invited for the first time, I believe, to attend the subsequent wreath laying at the memorial outside Royal Exchange. It would be welcomed by many if this was to be repeated in future years.
As the assembly dispersed, I was spotted by the ever vigilant Upper Warden making eye contact with a friend!
ENTRY No.3 – Late September-October 2018
It was mid September when I last blogged and the days rush by at an alarming rate.
A lot has happened in the last three weeks of which the highlights must include the October dinner at Plaisterers’ Hall when well over 200 liverymen and their guests gathered for a jolly good evening, combining the hospitality of our livery company with a bit of ceremony thrown in. Above all the assembly was moved by a memorable address from my principal guest, Sir Ken Olisa, who combines multiple roles in his busy life, including Lord Lieutenant of Greater London and the chairmanship of Shaw Trust, my charity of the year. Painting a broad canvas as he described the objectives of the charity, Sir Ken then shared two anonymised stories of people whose lives Shaw Trust has successfully reshaped. Thanks to the generosity of my fellow liverymen in sponsoring the recent Halls’ Walk, I was able to hand over a cheque to Sir Ken to support the work of the charity.
Friday, 21st September
The trip to Glasgow for the installation of the Master Mason was a voyage of discovery for both the Mistress and me. We were last in the city three decades ago; the transformation has been extraordinary, notably with a series of hallmark buildings along the Clyde and a rejuvenated commercial district. I have to put my hand up to knowing very little about the local guilds and was therefore taken aback by the number of them and how they are all based in the Trades House, an elegant purpose-built hall and offices designed for them by Robert Adam. The trades resonate with London livery companies except with rather more vivid names – thus the Founders of London are known in Glasgow as the Hammermen, and the Butchers as the Fleshers. A Mistress north of the border is a ‘Queen’. Hopes were running high when I saw that the seating plan included Queen of the Fleshers. Also spotted was our very own PM Michael Hall looking particularly dapper in tartan trews!
The installation dinner also combined generous hospitality with mildly eccentric tradition and I am very glad that an association exists between the London and Glasgow guilds; long may it continue.
Friday, 4th October
A real treat for me: a visit to the Proof House followed by a cracking lunch. Awarded a royal charter by Charles 11, the Proof House still tests all new small arms, both civilian and military, from its premises in the Commercial Road: a highly sensitive activity undertaken, somewhat incongruously, in a very populous area. Our visit included a demonstration of how guns are tested, a process that goes well beyond checking the firing mechanism as the firearms are stripped down and the key components expertly assessed before the all important proofmark is applied.
The Gunmakers’ Company still run the Proof House, a fine example of a livery company fulfilling its historic purpose and an important and relevant activity.
Tuesday, 8th October
Another first – both the Mistress and me in hard hats, fluorescent jackets and reinforced boots; no, dear reader, this was not a case of misreading the invitation to dine at Fishmongers’ Hall but a trip to St Gobain in the Trent Valley. We were joined by four members of the Company for an excellent day embracing a visit to the vast quarries to the production and distribution of gypsum powder.
Jeff Orton, a long standing freeman, brought with him the history of gypsum extraction in the area. Let me quote from a note Jeff subsequently prepared:
As a plasterer of some 55 years, (ongoing) it was a pleasure to be with the Master of the Worshipful Company of Plaisterers, Tim Cooke and his wife Sara, along with other important guests, on what to me is hallowed ground. When I was an apprentice, I was told about this very high-quality Plaster of Paris that came from the Cafferata works in Newark. It was hailed as the best both at work on site, and at Leicester Technical College. The Cafferata works were founded by William Cafferata in 1858, and in 1936 amalgamated with the British Plaster Board Group. (B.P.B. Ltd).
St Gobain support the annual Training Awards and are keen to explore how we can work together in promoting training in the craft. It can only help in ensuring that as a Company we continue to explore every opportunity to engage with the craft from which we descend.
ENTRY No.2 – September 2018
I was advised by several seasoned liverymen that August would be a quiet month and so headed to Jersey with the family, returning to the UK just before the Bank Holiday.
A few highlights to report on what’s happened since:
Saturday 1st September
And what a way to begin the late summer season! All Masters and Consorts had been invited to a drumhead service at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea to commemorate the role of the London Division in the actions around Amiens in 1918 that proved so decisive in destroying the morale of the German army. Gathered in warm sunshine, the congregation heard the distant sound of a pipe band parading through Chelsea with the Pensioners of the Royal Hospital marching behind in their red frock coats and tricorne hats. The units on parade filled the fourth side of the open square and were stood at ease before the former Bishop of London, now Lord Chartres, conducted the service.
A reception was held afterwards when you could tell where fellow guests had been sitting in relation to the sun from the high colour on one side of their face!
Thursday, 6th September
Tourists in the City of London were treated to the spectacle of 40 members of various livery companies in full rig, including Tudor style hats in some cases, on a sponsored walk around the halls. It is a fine way to get to know other Masters and Renter Wardens, and I was delighted that Margaret Coates, our very own RW, was with me to provide moral support as we trudged on our 8 mile walk around the City.
Mid afternoon tea was becoming a beacon for many as the walk entered its sixth mile. Alas, a breakdown in communication resulted in no tea being available and be-gowned shoulders visibly slumping!
But some of us were carrying the expectation of those who had sponsored us – for the Plaisterers duo with over £2,000.00 being pledged for Shaw Trust, my charity of the year, thanks to the generosity of many members of the Company.
Wednesday, 12th September
After evensong at St Paul’s the Dean hosted a reception to thank those companies who support the choir, in our case by sponsoring a chorister. Oliver Davies has recently been nominated by his headmaster as the new Plaisterer’s Chorister. The Clerk and I met Oliver who at 8 is new to the choir but benefits from two elder brothers in senior years and so is familiar with the weekly routine and the limited amount of time he will be spending at home – just Sunday night, before returning to St Paul’s by 7am on Monday morning.
The photograph evidences Oliver’s zest for his new life, and also the skill of our Clerk in accommodating Oliver and me in a single photograph!
‘’Put the glass down, Master!’’ may become a familiar retort this year. On Wednesday it was necessary as the Clerk and I needed to leave the reception early in order to catch the train for our visit to HMS Dragon the following day.
Thursday, 13th September
Our affiliation with HMS Dragon is long established and the Clerk and I were glad to be able to visit her before she sails on a 7 month assignment to the Middle East. After breakfast with the captain and his senior team we toured the vessel in glorious weather as more visitors arrived, coachloads in fact – the families of the ship’s company who will on Monday wave goodbye as Dragon sails from Portsmouth. Plans are in hand for the ship to be in Dubai for the Christmas period allowing some families time together.
We hope that the Captain will be able to join us at the banquet in May when I will present the Navy Cup to a member of the ship’s company who has demonstrated leadership and commitment during the tour.
Our liaison officer has offered to send regular bulletins if time allows which we’ll include in the Clerk’s monthly newsletter.
ENTRY No.1 – July 2018
It’s just a week since Common Hall and my subsequent installation as Master and already the rich experience of representing the Company means that the role is happily on my mind for part of each day.
And what a fine start to the year with a memorable service at St Vedast’s conducted by our Hon. Chaplain, The Very Revd Charles Taylor, and the livery responding in full voice to my cheeky exhortation to join in the hymns. With more than a nod to our wedding day both the processional music and first hymn were lifted from the 1987 order of service. Chilled champagne – hurrah! – was waiting for us as we returned to the Hall. The menu choices for our first dinner as Master & Mistress seemed to please – another tick in the box – and having laid out my three objectives for the year I was glad to call out two veteran liverymen whose presence meant a great deal to me : PM Derek Robinson, the doyen of the company, who undertook his wartime training with the RAF at the same time as my Father, and PM Ron Jordan who was celebrating his 95th birthday on the following day.
Thursday, 19th July
Having celebrated with two senior members it was a delight to join PM Jones and his granddaughter, Poppy, at Guildhall for her registration as an apprentice bound to the Company.
The Clerk and I provided book ends to the family photo in our morning coats. Collecting the Mistress at the Hall we set off through stifling City streets for St Paul’s and the annual service of the Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor when an old friend, Lancaster Herald from the College of Arms was on duty resplendent in red and gold uniform and carrying his wand of office.
At the subsequent reception at Apothecaries’ Hall I was greeted as the youngest Master, a title that will quickly disappear given the clutch of installations at the end of July and into August: but nice to have the accolade and interest, if only for a brief moment.
Tuesday, 24th July
For a number of years The Distillers have held a reception where guests sample hundreds of award-winning spirits – for a new master a great mixer so to speak!
I was particularly glad to meet the Master Distiller who is combining his role in the livery with being High Sheriff of Essex – an extraordinary achievement and one that will demand very careful logistics every day. It was great to see a group from our near neighbours, the Barbers, including the incoming Master and their new clerk, Colonel Malachy Doran formerly of The Rifles and old friend of the Director of the National Army Museum. Malachy persuaded us to choose a number at random and then sample whichever spirit it matched. I blame him for my first experience of a buff coloured gin from West Virginia which had the appearance and taste of a bourbon!
Thursday, 26th July
I met the Mistress at Plymouth railway station. I was on the train from Paddington whilst Sara had been visiting her sister in Exeter. In a scene reminiscent of Thomas the tank engine train and car had tracked one another through Devon, arriving at Plymouth within 5 minutes of one another.
Our hosts at RM Tamar were as solicitous as ever, inviting us to a Mess Dinner with a band rehearsing on the lawns outside the open window. As a sergeant was being dined out, we indulged in the tradition of the friendship cup not dissimilar to our own Loving Cup but containing far more alcohol and with the expectation that you down it one and invert the cup over your head to demonstrate it’s empty. I suspect that as a guest I was given a double shot – 8 measures of port and 4 of rum – more than I consume in a month! But my student years must have helped and I was on parade the following morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and determined to confound the sergeant.
It was a huge pleasure to present tankards and cheques to the top students on four very competitive courses and then be shown around the dock where an array of landing craft is moored, some highly agile with capacity for six marines whilst others are reminiscent of the vessels used in June, 1944 to storm beaches on D Day.