Thursday, 26 May 2011


At Salters' Hall on Wednesday 12 May the Masters - Prime Wardens in the case of the Fishmongers and Goldsmiths - attended their last Great XII Masters and Clerks Dinner of the 2010/11 year.  It was an excellent end to a most interesting series of dinners.

At each of the dinners the Master Mercer speaks and this year's Master Mercer, Sir David Clementi, has devoted a part of his speech to consider a former member of the Company - the only rule is the individual is deceased - in whose Hall we are dining as a candidate to enter a Great XII Hall of Fame.

On Thursday the final, Salter, candidate was revealed to complete a list comprising the following:

Mercers:   Sir Richard Whittington (c.1354-1423) was a medieval merchant and politician, and the real-life inspiration for the pantomime character Dick Whittington. Sir Richard Whittington was four times Lord Mayor of London.

Grocers:  Sir John Houblon (1632-1712) was the first Governor of the Bank of England from 1694 to 1697.

Drapers:  The 6th Marquess of Exeter (1905-1981), styled Lord Burghley before 1956 and also known as David Burghley, was an English athlete, sports official and Conservative Party politician. He won the gold medal in the 400 m hurdles at the 1928 Summer Olympics. David Burgley was a particular interest of the Master Mercer as in his athletic prime he managed to match the time of 53.4 seconds Burghley set in the Olympics some fifty years previously.  Also one of David Burghley's daughters, Lady Victoria Leatham, is currently Second Master Warden.

Fishmongers: Sir William Walworth (circa 1330-1386) A wealthy fishmonger and mayor of London in 1374. During the Peasant's Revolt of 1381 Walworth's moment came when the rebel leaders and the young King Richard II were discussing terms of ending the rebellion at Smithfield. The story is somewhat blurred, but it is reported that, unhappy with the way Tyler was speaking to the king, Walworth dealt the rebel leader a blow with his sword, either killing him outright or gravely wounding him. With Tyler's death, the rebellion swiftly ended.

Goldsmiths:  Paul de Lamerie (1688-1751) the best-known English silversmith of his generation. He is generally held to be the greatest silversmith working in England in the 18th century.

Merchant Taylors:  Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) an English clergyman and scholar, who held high positions in the Church of England during the reigns of Quen Elizabet and King James. During the latter's reign, Andrewes served successively as Bishop of Chichester, Ely and Winchester and oversaw the translation of the Authorized Version (or King James Version) of the Bible.

Skinners:  Michael Joseph Oakeshott (1901-1990) was an English philosopher and political theorist who wrote about philosophy of history, philosophy of religion, aesthetics, and philosophy of law. He is widely regarded as one of the most important conservative thinkers of the 20th century.

Haberdashers:  Robert Billesden, Lord Mayor in 1483 (I cannot trace any other dates) who famously arbitrated in the dispute of the precedence between the Skinners and Merchant Taylors by saying that they should alternate sixth and seventh seniority each year.  The spelling, I understand is crucial, the Skinners favouring Billesdon and the Merchant Taylors (and Haberdashers) Billesden.

Salters: Sir Richard Glyn, 1st Baronet (1711–1773) was a British banker and politician.

Ironmongers: Admiral Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount Hood (1724-1816) was a Royal Navy hero known particularly for his service in the American War of Independence and French Revolutionary Wars. He acted as a mentor to Horatio Nelson.

A relatively recent interpretation of the Feast of the Five Kings at Vintners' Hall.  Image courtesy of the Worshipful Company of Vintners
Vintners: Sir Henry Picard (dates very uncertain but probably inconveniently dead by 1361).  In 1363 in the City of London there is a story that there took place the famous Feast of the Five Kings. This was the occasion when, as the story goes, Alderman Sir Henry Picard, at that time Master of the Vintners' Company, hosted a dinner and sumptuously feasted King Edward III of England, King John II of France, King David II of Scotland, King Valdemar IV of Denmark and King Peter I Lusignian of Cyprus and many other noblemen. It was the time when the King of Cyprus was travelling around Europe in an attempt to assemble an army for a new crusade.  One of his gambits to gain support was to bring his own Cypriot wines to banquets and some were served to great acclaim at the Feast of the Five Kings. I do not believe this is a tradition that the Vintners have maintained in more recent times.  It is a powerful legend but difficult to prove.  The Master Mercer noted a lot of dates are difficult to reconcile: Picard's possible death in 1361 creates a particular problem, John of France was probably not in London until January 1364 and having Vlademar make a visit to London during a major war betwen Denmark and Sweden takes a bit of explaining.

Clothworkers: Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a great Royal Naval administrator and MP.  He is now most famous for the diary he kept for a decade while still a relatively young man. He rose by patronage to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and subsequently King James II.

The Master Mercer then went on to consider a seating plan for the Great XII Hall of Fame.  This reminded me of the now largely forgotten popular historian Hendrik van Loon.  In his 1942 book Van Loon's Lives: Being a true and faithful account of a number of highly interesting meetings with certain historical personages, from Confucious and Plato to Voltaire and Thomas Jefferson, about whom we had always felt a great deal of curiosity and who came to us as dinner guests in a bygone year, he invited deceased great men to dinner.  Generally I recollect that the literary conceit was that most meals did not go well, despite the delicious food prepared by his cook, as the most famous tended to be rather self-centered and incapable of interacting with other famous individuals from differing historical periods.

Anyway the seating plan is as follows:

The intention is to create lively conversation with plenty of opportunity for comparative note taking.  Thus Clothworker Pepys could compare the progress of the Royal Navy with Ironmonger Hood.  Merchant Taylor Andrewes and Skinner Oakshott could return to the events of 1483 with Haberdasher Billesdon/Billesden.  It was presumed the present Masters could sit on a nearby table and try and follow what transpired.

Next year it has been suggested that miscellaneous villains and traitors could be conjured up from history.  Skeletons in various Great XII livery cupboards will doubtless start rattling if this is the case.

1 comment:

  1. This is particularly fascinating! Well done, Master!