Thursday, 13 January 2011


Arms of the Skinners' Company
On Tuesday it was the Skinners turn to host the Great XII Masters and Clerks.  This is traditionally a lunch party.  A tradition I was informed went back to the Blitz when it was decided to continue with Company functions but to move them to daylight hours to save electricity and avoid the risks of night bombing. Quite plausible as traditions go and if you read this post further you will find another link with the London Blitz of 1940/1.

Roberts leading his column from Kabul to Kandahar in 1880.  The artist has imagined a very neat and tidy Afghanistan with no dust - Roberts' horse looks as though it is on Rotten Row - and not a fly in sight.
As lunch concluded Hugh Carson, the Master Skinner, set us a a collective conundrum by first asking us to link Alexander the Great, British India and the London Livery Companies.  None of us could answer.  He then offered a further clue that the person was one of only two commoners to be granted a lying-in-state in the twentieth century.  At this point someone recognised it was Lord Roberts, or 'Bobs', the archetypal imperial hero of late Victorian Britain. 

Hugh also went on to mention that, along with a plethora of other honours, Bobs was a member of the Fishmongers and Merchant Taylors, thereby creating the London link.  The reference to Alexander the Great was a link to Roberts' march from Kabul to Kandahar in Afghanistan in 1880 where he followed, in part, the great Macedonian's route of 2,210 years earlier.  Kandahar is also a corruption of the Alexander's name. 

Finally to sustain perfect symmetry the day of the lunch was the exact centenary of the first competition for the Roberts of Kandahar Cup.  This has become the blue riband of Swiss downhill race and first took place in Crans-Montana in 1911,

Even today Alexander's march from Kabul to Kandahar starting in September 330BC and lasting through the winter seems almost unbelievable.  Particularly as he is reported to have led 32,000 men through this most inhospitable country with relatively few casualties.
Lord Roberts won a VC during the Indian Mutiny in 1858.  But he came to national prominence as the leader of the column that marched from Kabul to relieve the garrison at Kandahar in 1880 in the Second Afghan War.  An action was fought before this at Maiwand where a British column was severely mauled and had to retreat to Kandahar.  Heroic withdrawals have always been a mainstay of British miltary art and Richard Caton Woodville's well-known painting Saving the Guns at Maiwand is part of this canon (no pun really intended).  I only include this picture as I can remember many years ago being in a unit that received this image from a neighbouring gunner unit as their Christmas card.  Without, as far as I could discern, any trace of irony this scene of mayhem was accompanied by a wish that the recipient should enjoy a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. 

We may have concerns about advertising ethics these days but it would hard to beat the chutzpah of Wilson's Beer!  Or is it a sly comment making an intellectual or some other comparison between a bottle of beer and a general?

Hugh also showed one of the treasures of the Company, the George Cross posthumously awarded to Leonard Miles GC for the great gallantry he showed at Ilford, Essex on 21 September 1940. Like many other Londoners at that time he was a part time air raid warden in the street where he lived with his family.  On that evening there was an unexploded bomb in the street.  On hearing about this he left the safety of his shelter to warn others about this.  He was fatally wounded when the device exploded. Leonard worked for the Skinners' Company and his family presented the medal to the Company.

The George Cross was instituted in 1940.  Leonard Miles GC received one of the earliest awards.  Only 161 GCs have been awarded in the last 71 `years.

It was a stimulating lunch.

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