17th Jan: In the morning, I visited Goldsmiths Hall with the Clerk and the Beadle to talk through the logistics of the forthcoming Banquet at the end of the month. An invaluable exercise to prepare for such a complex event with so many constituent parts: VIP guests, carpet guards, musicians, visiting Masters, processions, Mace, toasts etc. The staff at the goldsmiths could not have been more helpful. Nick Gilbert, our excellent Beadle, afterwards quoted General Montgomery who said “Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted”. How right he was.
That afternoon I attended a lunch at the Old Bailey at the invitation of Sheriff Dame Susan Langley. A wonderful opportunity to have lunch with the judges of the Old Bailey. It is a great privilege to be invited and I had a wonderfully interesting conversation with a judge holding the enquiry into the case of a man who served 17 years in prison for a rape he is now found not to have committed. After lunch we were invited to hear the proceedings in one of the Courtrooms and I was fascinated to sit in on the enquiry into the murder of three men at the Forbury Park at Reading, Berkshire in 2020.
18th Jan: To Windsor Castle: On a very chilly evening a large group of Arts Scholars gathered outside the visitors’ entrance for a private guided tour of the State Apartments at Windsor Castle. We were ushered through airport style security and then Arts Scholar Richard Williams, who had organised the visit, split us into two groups. One group was guided Richard Williams who is Learning Curator at the Royal Collection Trust and the other by Sally Goodsir, Curator of Decorative Arts at the Royal Collection Trust. We set off up the hill and into the Upper Ward past the equestrian statue of Charles II. The first surprise was that Richard informed us the statue was created by Grinling Gibbons, the famous wood carver.
Richard was our guide and his deep knowledge and understanding of the Royal Collection made the visit all the more special. We were guided through an astonishing number of State Rooms. Early on, in what had been a guard chamber, Richard pointed out a chair made by Thomas Chippendale from the last tree on the site of the Battle of Waterloo. In a side cabinet was the bullet that killed Admiral Lord Nelson – complete with a piece of gold braid still attached. An astonishing relic. We were then guided through rooms created for Catherine of Braganza with ceilings painted by the great Baroque painter Antonio Verrio. Gobelin tapestries lined the walls and magnificent furniture filled every room. The low lighting was very atmospheric and added to the special nature of the private visit.
It would take too long to describe every detail of this astonishing visit where incredible sights and priceless works of art greeted us at every turn. These included roomfuls of paintings Anthony Van Dyke, Artemisa Gentileschi and Peter Paul Rubens. One extraordinary small room – the Closet of Charles II – has a series of wonderful paintings including several by Lucas Cranach. Also in the room is Pieter Bruegel’s Massacre of the Innocents. When this painting came into the possession of the Holy roman Emperor, Rudolph II, he was disturbed by the violence depicted and had the dead babies painted over with food and bundles of clothes, so it looked less offensive. On close inspection you can see women looking with horror at a collection of bread!
Richard also told us that the painting by Gentileschi of Susannah and the Elders had only recently been “rediscovered” as it had suffered the indignity of being extended and badly overpainted in order to fit it into a larger frame. The discovery of the cipher of Charles I on the reverse of the canvas confirmed the identity of the painting, acquired and catalogued under that Monarch.
The scale and incredible skill involved in recreating so many rooms, including St George’s Hall, after the terrible fire of 1992 was also very apparent. It was lucky that, because of the rewiring project that year, many of the works of art had been removed for safety and mercifully saved from the flames.
We were treated to a glass of English sparkling wine afterwards as we reflected on the glory and magnificence of what we had just been privileged to see as a private group.
23rd Jan: Lunch at Drapers’ Hall at the invitation of Christopher Edge, Master of the Chartered Secretaries and Administrators. This was a magnificent occasion to celebrate the first lady to be Master of a livery company : Sylvia Tutt in 1983/84. I was presented with Sylvia Tutt’s book and we heard from Madeleine Hawkins about Sylvia’s amazing life. Sylvia liked fast cars and took part in bob-sleigh races at St Moritz!
In the evening, I met the clerk and Robert Wilde-Evans at Yeomanry House in WC1 for the University of London OTC annual cocktail party in the presence of their Royal Colonel, Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal. On the way in, Robert pointed out the honours board presented by the Arts Scholars with our name and coat of arms prominently displayed.
I had the great honour of being presented to Her Royal Highness who was as impressive and as well-informed as ever.
26th Jan: To Hampton Court Palace to collect the new ribbon for the Master’s badge I had commissioned from the Royal School of Needlework. I was delighted with the design and execution of the ribbon. The old ribbon was suffering from wear and tear and was beginning to look less than presentable on close inspection. The new ribbon is also red but, embroidered onto the ribbon, with threads which include gold and silver, is a design which features acanthus leaves (representing Apollo, the god of the Arts), acorns which references the squirrel on our coat of arms for the collectors, and a silver gavel referencing our auctioneers. Also embroidered are seven stars which represent Mithras, one of the symbols of the company. The ancient Roman cult of Mithras included a belief that Mithras turned the cosmos and the symbol for this was the constellation we know as ‘the plough’. I am particularly grateful to Gemma Murray and Anne Butcher at the RSN and also to Sean Bonnington, Master Broderer, for the introduction.
Have a closer look at the embroidered ribbon next time you see the Master at a less formal event – It is a fantastic piece of decorative art.
25/28 Jan: The Clerk and I were in fairly frequent contact over the forthcoming Banquet. As well the usual changes to the guest list and seating plan at the last minute with some people having to withdraw, there was an issue with my guest speaker who is the Minister for Arts and Heritage, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay. His private secretary rang me to say that there would be a crucial vote in House of Lords on Monday evening and Lord Parkinson may have to speak earlier in the evening than planned. The timing changed several times over successive days. We had plans A and B (and others at various points) but would not know until the actual evening which plan we would use. This made the build-up to Monday all the more exciting!
29th Jan: The day of the Banquet dawned brightly! Joanna and I arrive at Goldsmiths Hall in good time and as soon as we enter the Hall we are warmly greeted by the Prime Warden, Charles Mackworth Young and his delightful consort Iona, who is also a freeman of Arts Scholars. They tell us how pleased they are to be coming to the Banquet. I place on the table personal gifts to the principal guests (either a silver gilt spoon by Richard Comyns or a copy of the book by myself and Sam Moorhead on the ‘Rebel Emperors of Britannia’). The flowers in company colours (red, white and gold) are on the tables. The carpet guard from three units are assembling : HAC, ULOTC and Thames Valley Wing. The Mace has been retrieved from the vaults and is on display in the Exhibition Room. The Clerk is managing communications with Lord Parkinson’s private secretary, the security team that accompanies Theresa May as well as the Mansion House team about the various arrival times. Alan will cue the trumpeters to play fanfares for Sir Peter and Lady Estlin and Theresa May. I speak to the musicians from the London Banqueting Ensemble to thank them for playing and request they start with Offenbach’s Barcarolle (did anybody notice the pun?). The award certificates and Mithras Award are placed on a side table. The waiting staff are being briefed in the main hall as the numerous candles in the magnificent chandeliers are lit. The Clerk makes sure the Mace stand is moved to the Main Hall and Mace bearer, James Drabble, takes charge of the Mace. Our excellent photographer Phil arrives. The Beadle dons his new robe with the company colours for the first time. Before we know it, we are invited to take our positions for the greetings and the evening begins.
All our key guests arrive in time and Handel’s March from Scipio heralds the procession to the magnificent Hall with every candle glittering brightly. The Very Revd Andrew Tremlett, the Dean of St Pauls, says Grace, quoting our motto : Artes in Urbe Colamus. The excellent meal is served in a very efficient fashion but, as expected, Lord Parkinson has to speak after the sorbet (gin and tonic flavour!). It is a wonderfully crafted speech praising the Arts Scholars for all we have achieved in promoting the decorative an historic arts in our relatively short existence. It lasts precisely 9 minutes, as requested, and Lord Parkinson departs. Despite concern about rearranging the order of speeches, it seemed a very natural point in the evening for our guest speaker to give their speech.
Before long, I give the toasts and then give the speech to welcome the key guests ending with the toast to all guests. Sir Peter Estlin gives a very polished and sparkling speech ending with some wonderfully corny jokes. I then ask Sir Peter to present the awards: 1) ULOTC Best Officer Cadet; 2) Best Adult Volunteer, Thames Valley Wing ATC; and 3) the first presentation of the Mithras Award. There is scattered laughter when I announce the Best Adult Volunteer as Melanie Kendall-Reid and her male commanding officer gets up to receive the award on her behalf – I explain that he is receiving the award on Melanie’s behalf.
The annual Mithras Award has been newly introduced to acknowledge and celebrate an individual who has made an exceptional contribution to the historic or decorative arts. I was delighted that the first Mithras Award went to an archaeologist, Dr John Schofield, to recognise his outstanding contribution to the archaeological understanding and architectural history of the medieval City of London, including St Paul’s and the City churches. Dr Schofield was proposed by Arts Scholar Ken Dark.
I then thank all those who have helped make the evening such a great success – especially the staff at Goldsmiths Hall. By way of my particular thanks to the Clerk, I present him with a decorated truncheon dating from the reign of Queen Victoria (Alan is a collector of these objects and has published on the subject). I then warn everyone present to be on their best behaviour as the Clerk is now “armed and dangerous!” When I deliver the final Arts Scholars toast – “To our next merry meeting – Sir Peter Estlin comments to me: “I hope I am invited to your next meeting;” a good sign he has enjoyed the evening as, I think, did all those present.
30th Jan: Attended the memorial service at St Margaret's, Westminster, for Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. Peter Brooke was one of the founders of the Arts Scholars and I had been delighted, at the start of last year, to receive a phone call from him in enthusiastic support of the auction; sadly, he did not live to see the auction. The crest on the coat of arms of the Arts Scholars is badger as a tribute to him. The service was splendid and attended by many Tory grandees from the past and present – including Lord Parkinson, our guest speaker at the Banquet. Impressive orations were delivered by Sir John Major and Lord Eames. The Arts Scholars were well represented as, also in attendance, were Georgina Gough, Tom Christopherson, Paul Viney and Hillary Bauer.