22 January 2018

As I left Merchant Taylors’ Hall on the night of 30 November, our Autumn Livery Dinner, I found myself musing on what had made it so enjoyable. We had experienced a rather unfortunate incident that night as the PA failed part way through our guest speaker’s speech, and yet so many had come up to me after dinner (and since) to say how much they had really enjoyed the evening. Mike Brown, the Commissioner for Transport in London was, of course, entirely un-phased with the lack of amplification, and simply ‘projected’ his Northern Irish passion into the far corners of the cavernous and beautifully decorated hall. The food and wine on the night were exceptional and we were, once again, fully subscribed, which is always a relief if you happen to be Master or Clerk. It seems that our November Livery Dinner had simply been a wonderful evening of fellowship; something that remains a mysterious recipe, but I imagine the Chateau Haut Batailley 2005, part of Stuart Waring’s generous gift to the cellar, rather helped everybody’s perspective. I am very grateful to the Clugston Group, who sponsored the dinner alongside our Gold Sponsor, The Ashley Charitable Trust.​

​Earlier in the month, we were lucky to attend the Luncheon Club lunch at Guildhall, which is always a special and relaxed event, and perhaps the Paviors’ prelude to the coming Christmas season. I rather enjoy the fact that the Luncheon Club events require nothing from me and I can relax as the Club’s Chairman, Past Master Tom Barton, has to make all the running (and the speech). However, I didn’t get away with it at their wonderful Christmas Dinner at Stationers’ Hall on 11 December, where a speech was required and I had forgotten all about it until the morning before. I had to make a mad dash through the Paviors’ history to produce some anecdotes, including a Court decision in 1942 to drink the wine that had survived a wartime bomb attack ‘immediately’ lest it fall into the hands of the Luftwaffe. The evening included some wonderful music from the Welsh Ensemble, introduced of course by the Upper Warden, whose distinctive regional voice later carried above the throng during the carol singing. Trains were a challenge and Mistress Judy was caught up in delays caused by a fire at Waterloo, both there and back (on the way back clutching a huge floral table decoration gratefully received from the Chapmans, which lightened the mood on the train). The Luncheon Club have had an exceptional 2017 and a full programme is emerging for 2018, staring with the perennial favourite of the RAF Club on 30 January.

Just three days later, I found myself a guest of the Paviors Lodge at The Charterhouse, and what an entertaining evening it was, with more carol singing and a very hearty welcome. I am also grateful for their most generous gift to my charity, Warchild.

There have also been some notable events external to the Livery itself, and I think particularly of the Lord Mayor’s briefing where he addressed the subject of how the Livery movement is seen externally, and how we need to do so much more to ensure that there is more awareness of the work done by the Livery Companies to address directly today’s issues. Two days before, he had launched the Lord Mayor’s Appeal, ‘A Better City for All’, which will work over three years in conjunction with subsequent Lord Mayors to tackle wellbeing within the City and beyond. It is a compelling idea. The aim to have an inclusive, skilled and fair city is supported by the involvement of charities, including the Samaritans, Place 2Be and Onside Youth Zones. The presentations were inspirational and I do believe Liverymen across the City will find themselves drawn to its objectives over the next three years.

I have also been a guest at a number of dinners and, frankly, it is difficult to keep up as the Masters and Prime Wardens I knew are replaced by their successors…it’s a challenge but, of course, we must if the Paviors are continued to be recognized for what we do. Judy particularly enjoyed lunch at the Tallow Chandlers, and I will always remember the Masters and Clerks’ Dinner at Plaisterers’ Hall, a good chance in particular to get to know the new Master Apothecary (where we held our summer event all those months ago!).

I am pleased to say we have been busy at our various meetings, and the Charity Committees on 14 November and 16 January discussed the initiative with the Construction Youth Trust to extend our support to four schools, where we will work with them and the industry to design an introduction to construction that will dovetail with their existing curriculum. It is an initiative which is gaining traction, and the intention is to use this approach nationally, so a good thing with which to have our name associated.

A pipeline of new members is also good, and we are ever renewing strength and building diversity through those who are joining. I am always pleased to introduce new members at our dinners and particularly pleased to welcome our two new apprentices: Oliver Lofthouse (aged 17), son of Julia Lofthouse, and Christopher Castello-Cortes (aged 14), grandson of Past Master John Carpenter.

Lastly, I want to mention Common Hall, which was held last Thursday 18 January at Saddlers’ Hall. Whilst well attended, it was a shame not to have more presence from the main body of the livery. I think we all believe this is our AGM, a chance for us to tell the people we represent (i.e. you…) a little more about how the Livery is run, the activities of its committees and, most importantly, to give a chance for people to raise questions and issues. As ever, there was a lively debate and much was considered: our links with universities, the cost of events and where they are held, the effectiveness of Common Hall, our educational giving, the initiative to create a long-term reserve both operationally and for our charitable funds, and the arrangements for sponsorship. There is a temptation to provide answers that present a competent and well run organization but, as ever, it is the questions that are always more important. Listening to wider views informs us and helps us try to strike a balance in everything that we do to ensure that, for most Liverymen, it is an organization that continues to interest and inspire them. We must reflect on how that works more effectively and I am pleased to say, at the end of the evening, the Upper Warden, and your Master-elect, set out a vision for his year, a vision that is clearly targeted on these key issues.

And with that and Christmas well behind us, Judy and I wish you all a Happy and successful year!
Miles Ashley