For this week’s blog I’d like to concentrate on just one day to give an idea of a typical day in the life of a Master – Shrove Tuesday. Shrove comes from the word meaning “absolve” so that Christians are encouraged to repent their sins before entering a period of fasting in Lent. But the English typically concentrate on that aspect while the French call it Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and concentrate on gorging themselves before the fast. Similarly the Spanish and Portuguese say “Goodbye to Meat” (Carnival). But at least the English developed the idea of eating pancakes. In fact these were invented as a way to rid cupboards and pantries of fatty and perishable foods, like eggs and milk before Ash Wednesday – or Lent – begins.
The Livery Companies celebrate Shrove Tuesday with Pancake Races in the Guildhall Yard. The first ever pancake race dates back to the 15th century when a woman in Olney, Buckinghamshire, was so busy cooking pancakes that she lost all track of time. When she heard the church bells ringing for the start of mass, she ran out into the street towards the church with her pan and pancake still in hand!
This year was the 12th running of the Pancake Race. Naturally it falls to the Poulters to organise this event and the Marketors have traditionally entered a team. A team consists of the Master, a Liveryman, a Lady and a Novelty runner where an additional prize is awarded to the entrant with the costume best reflecting the Lord Mayor’s chosen charities.
My running days are over so, completely within the rules, I asked the Junior Warden, Phil Andrew to run for me. I figured that, if he could walk from London to Brighton raising thousands of pounds for charity in a single day, he could run a couple of hundred yards across the Guildhall yard. And so it proved. Phil won his heat and went on to win the final thus receiving a copper frying pan with the Marketors inscribed as winners. Let it never be thought that the current Master & Wardens Committee of the Marketors are not dedicated to raising the name and fame of the Marketors.
Our other entrants, Freemen Caroline Jarvis and Chris Griffin both acquitted themselves well winning their heats in the Ladies’ and Novelty races respectively. Our excellent team was well supported as always by a group of Marketors who made up for lack of numbers with the enthusiasm of their support. We were the only Company who paraded its banner and our noisy cheering was well in evidence.
Afterwards we went into the Guildhall for the traditional lunch starting with a welcome mug of soup. The mug is inscribed and we are allowed to keep it.
Thus fortified the Learned Clerk and I went on to Grocers’ Hall to discuss the arrangements for our next Great Event, the Spring Luncheon on 19th April. The Grocers’ Company is Number Two in the order of precedence of all the Livery Companies and it is many years since the Marketors last graced their Hall. When the Bank of England was established in the 17th century it was first housed at Mercers’ Hall, then Grocers’ and finally the present magnificent building was built on the garden of the Grocers’.
We then beetled back to our offices at Plaisterers’ Hall for another planning meeting, this time with Liveryman Karen Jones who has kindly agreed to help with the running of our City Lecture. This is one of our Great Events and so the logistics are managed by the Master and Clerk, but as the event is intended to reach the Commercial City I wanted Karen to help with that process. As a livery company we have a lot of contact with the Civic City, the Lord Mayor, the City of London Corporation and the other Livery Companies, but we have less contact with the Commercial City. Our City Lecture on 17th May at the Shard with Sir Ian Cheshire as the speaker is designed to address that.
We changed into our dinner suits as we went to the Stationers’ Hall for their annual Master & Clerks’ dinner. 29 Masters, Prime Wardens and Governors were present at a splendid occasion at the Hall I probably know best because of our own association with it. After all I was installed as Master there less than three weeks before. I was therefore the ‘youngest’ Master there. But I still learnt much more about their Company. The dinner was a four course banquet with a different wine matched to each course selected from their excellent cellar. The Master, Mrs Helen Esmonde, the first Lady Master in the company’s 600 year history, gave a witty and learned speech. She had kindly arranged that each guest received a copy of the page registering Shakespeare’s folio at Stationers’ Hall. The publication of all books had to be registered at Stationers’ Hall at that time.
The Master Mercer responded on our behalf as guests. As the premier Company this is his customary responsibility and he has adopted the idea of seeking to identify the greatest benefactor in the host company. He selected Thomas Guy, the founder of Guy’s hospital as the greatest Stationer. He was a book publisher and speculator who sold his shares in the South Sea Company at the top of the bubble. He died in 1724 and his will left £219,499 to the Guy’s Hospital, an extraordinary sum in those days.
But the evening was not over. Helen had arranged for a Welsh Male Voice Choir to sing for us. So we listened to, and then joined in the singing of the Gwalia Male Choir with numbers ranging from Men of Harlech to Delilah.
We were then invited to partake of a Stirrup Cup. The Choir was still with us and I saw Helen singing with them and so I could see that she had realised an ambition to have her own male voice choir. The last surprise was that a dog appeared running around the Hall where I held my Installation Dinner just a few weeks before. The Clerk of the Stationers, William Alden MBE, has a flat in the hall. He had let his dog out for a run. I could not help thinking of Carmen’s and my new four-month old puppy Ollie who would have loved the chance.
So a day of several happy memories and two souvenirs, a mug and a scroll. I’ll need my own museum to store and display such mementoes.