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July 2023

4th July: AGM of the Sheriffs and Recorders Fund at the Old Bailey. Founded in 1808, the Fund gives grants to ex-prisoners and their families in London, to help them stop offending and start a new life – a cause close to my heart. The AGM is held in famous Court Number 1 which is always exciting to be in. The fund is supported by a large number of Livery companies and is now brilliantly chaired by Lady Russell, former Lady Mayoress.

5th July: Excellent meeting of the Arts Scholars Auction Committee at the Oriental Club – it’s all getting very exciting now and we have over 90 lots thanks to the generosity of our members. The website looks fantastic – you can bid now in the online auction to raise money for our wonderful charitable causes: https://www.givergy.uk/artsscholars/

6th July: Lunch with Past Master Alastair Leslie at Brooks’s. Alastair is a marvellous host and gave me very good advice while also regaling me with all his recent and forthcoming international travels: I hope I have half the energy that Alastair has when I reach his age!

At the Royal Hall, Harrogate for the Brigantes Breakfast

7th July: By train to Harrogate for the Brigantes Breakfast. Over 200 Liverymen, including over 70 Masters, met for a sumptuous lunch in the Royal Hall with a carpet guard provide by the Royal Lancers. This event has been organised for several years now and is for City of London Liverymen with connections in the North of England. The event alternates between Lancashire and Yorkshire. It was great to see Arts Scholars Alan Cook and Deborah Black over drinks. At lunch I sat next to Arts Scholar Miriam Kramer. I was very glad Miriam had told me that we were sitting together as, just before lunch, all the Masters were lined up back stage and stood in the dark behind a theatre curtain (one Master joked that it felt like being a lamb lined up to be slaughtered!).

We were instructed to march out down the steps to our tables when the trumpet sounded. When the curtain was raised we were rather blinded by the bright lights and finding your table was not easy – but luckily I spotted Miriam so I knew exactly where I was headed. We were welcomed by Simon Theakston, Past Master Brewer. It was great fun and a very enjoyable day. On the return train journey, which is single track between Harrogate and York, I noticed we passed through Marston Moor where, in July 1644, a Civil War battle was crucially lost by the Royalists.

10th July: To Plaisterer’s Hall for a concert given by young children who had been taught by volunteers from the charity Music Masters. This is a charity that the Lady Mayoress, Felicity Lyons, told me about. I have to say that it was an excellent concert with groups of children, from age 6 to 11, giving energetic performances under expert and enthusiastic guidance.

11th July: A very enjoyable lunch with Tim Schroder who has kindly agreed to speak at our Livery Dinner at Brewer’s Hall on 30th October. In the evening, I attended the first of the week’s Arts Scholars committees, the Events Committee which is now efficiently chaired by Sonya Zuckerman. The number and range of quality events organised by the Events Committee never fails to amaze me.

12th July: Lunch with the Wardens, Roy, Deborah and John; as the senior executives of the Company, it is important we meet to discuss Company issues. As there was an Arts Scholars event at Trinity Buoy Wharf that day, we met for lunch in Canary Wharf which I had not visited for quite some time – it is an astonishing place. We had a very good discussion about the Arts Scholars then I travelled back on the Eliabeth Line for an excellent meeting with the Master Plaisterer, Stephen Gilbert. This was followed by the Membership Committee under the thoughtful guidance of Wynyard Wilkinson.

13th July: My day began with a Teams meeting with Durham University to discuss key arrangements for the forthcoming Durham tour which I have been planning for some time. The Charity committee, chaired by the delightful Victoria Wolcough, was held by zoom. Victoria steered us through a good range of applications from charities some of which were approved and some were not, but always after good discussions. The final committee of the week was the Education Committee under the good-humoured chairmanship of Mark Dennis; this committee is always brimming with enthusiasm and fizzing with ideas.

Painter-Stainers’ Hall

18th July: At the invitation of the Master Painter-Stainer, James Clover, the Clerk and I attended a black-tie dinner at Painter-Stainers’ Hall, at 9 Little Trinity Lane EC4. Alan and I were made extremely welcome from the very start and more than one member of the Court expressed a wish to work more closely with the Arts Scholars as we have so much in common. This was music to my ears, as whatever you do in life, it generally makes sense to look for links with others especially where the areas of interest are similar. We enjoyed a splendid meal. A little unexpectedly, we had after dinner entertainment from a brilliant guitarist who ended his performance by exhorting us to sing along to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody! We all left the Hall with broad grins on our faces.

19th July - TOUR OF DURHAM, THE LAND OF THE PRINCE BISHOPS: The Arts Scholars are never deterred by interventions such as train strikes. The tour of Durham was due to start on 20th July and this was also to be a train strike day. Many of the tour group travelled up the day before and so I organised an informal supper at glorious Lumley Castle for the intrepid early travellers. Several people drove up to Durham, some travelled by air but reports that the Hon. Treasurer, Mary Foster swam up the east coast are, apparently, quite erroneous.

Lumley Castle, County Durham
Arts Scholars admiring Lumley Castle's elevations

20th July: With the rest of the group successfully arriving on the morning of Thursday 20th we all met together for a buffet lunch in the splendid Priors Hall at Durham Cathedral. As we assembled, the genial Canon Michael Everitt informed us he could take us on an unscheduled private tour of the Deanery. So, we were treated to an additional tour which included the Deanery’s Solarium with its magnificent hand painted silk wallpaper, the recently uncovered Medieval frescos in the hall and the extraordinary dining room with its intricately decorated Tudor ceiling and furnished with Chippendale dining table and chairs. I quoted Ivy Compton Burnett who said that “No chair worth sitting on had been made after the reign of George III”!

St Cuthbert’s Cross, Durham Cathedral

After lunch we divided into two groups and were treated, alternately, to a tour of the Open Treasure exhibition which includes the stunning St Cuthbert’s Cross and a behind the scenes visit to the cathedral library where we were shown some incredible books including a Pontifical dating from 1234 which had been owned by Thomas Cranmer.

Durham Cathedral nave

Following tea in the Prior’s Hall we attended a glorious choral evensong where I had the honour of giving one of the readings (on humility) and the Arts Scholars were fulsomely mentioned in the prayers by Cannon Michael Everitt. After a private tour of the Cathedral we repaired to a splendid dinner in the Medieval Undercroft.

21st July: The morning saw alternate visits to the Oriental Museum and Palace Green Library. The Oriental Museum has the most astonishing collection of Chinese, Egyptian, Korean, Indian, Japanese and other far eastern artefacts.

The collection of porcelain is stunning but, for me, the star object is the ancient Egyptian servant girl wooden statuette. It served as a container for makeup and is unusual as the figure is shown in a lifelike pose rather than the formal and rathe stiff portrayals that were the norm in ancient Egypt.

Ancient Egyptian wooden statuette

After the tour of the Museum we were treated to a handling session of some ancient jade objects. These included a beautiful and rare 18th century jade bowl that had been stolen to order in 2015 but fortunately had been abandoned in a field and recovered.

Dragon detail on jade bowl, stolen but recovered Oriental Museum

We then boarded a coach and took the road to Rokeby Park; we arrived later then planned due to a hold-up on the A66 but the restaurant, Morritts (named after the owners of Rokeby), held our lunch reservation and we were able to enjoy both courses (including an outstanding dessert of sticky toffee pudding!).

We then had our tour of the beautiful neo-Palladian country house, Rokeby Park which had been designed and built by Matthew Robinson in 1730.

The Arts Scholars assemble outside Rokeby Park

There is a copy of the famous Rokeby Venus by Velasquez in the saloon (the original is now in the National Gallery) but there are many other treasures in the house including the only known oil painting of the Coronation of Louis XIV. This picture had been found in the stables, covered in stabling detritus, but now is beautifully restored and has pride of place in the dining room. In the evening we had dinner in a private room at our Hotel in Durham, Hotel Indigo.

The Arts Scholars group at Bowes Museum

22nd July: To the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle to see the jaw-dropping art collection housed in the French Chateau style building that was purpose-built to house the priceless collection of John Bowes and his wife Joséphine Benoîte Coffin-Chevallier, and opened in 1892. Our guides were two former trustees of the Museum Jonathan Peacock and his wife Caroline (who is also a former High Sherriff of Durham). The Silver swan automaton by Joseph Merlin is the most well-known exhibit (though its complex mechanism is in need of restoration). The Lady Ludlow collection of English porcelain is a real highlight and well known to Arts Scholar Felicty Marno who helped to catalogue it. The furniture collection includes stunning pieces by Boulles who was furniture maker to Louis XIV.

Stunning cabinet Inlay by Boulles (Bowes Museum)

The paintings include works by El Greco, Canaletto, Goya, Boudin and many others. A portrait of Olivia Porter had languished in the stores for many years until it was recognised as being by Van Dyck – now it has pride of place!

Olivia Porter by Van Dyck (Bowes Museum)

After a light lunch at the Bowes Museum, we travelled up the road to Raby Castle which was built in the 14th century by the powerful Neville family. The Nevilles occupied the Castle until 1569 when, after the failure of the Rising of the North, the Castle and its lands were forfeited to the Crown. In 1626, Sir Henry Vane purchased Raby from the Crown and the Vane family still own Raby, the present owner being the 12th Lord Barnard.

A display of arms in the Hall at Raby Castle

The interiors were updated in the 17th and 18th centuries to create a spectacular “drive in” hall for carriages and a suite of elegant rooms along the south side, the most spectacular of which is the Victorian Octagon Drawing room which is a riot of yellow silk and gilded chandeliers. The contents include fabulous paintings by Sir Joshuah Reynolds, Sir Peter Lely, David Teniers and Giordano, among many others and several incredibly large white porcelain birds by Meissen. In the hallway is the beautiful 19th century marble statue of The Greek Slave by Hiram Powers.

The spectacular Octagon Room at Raby Castle

As well a tour of the interiors, open to the public, we were given a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the archives. We were shown a spectacular painted 18th century heraldic roll of the Vane family, a seal of Elizabeth 1st, which had recently been discovered, and a suite of rooms that are very much in need of refurbishment which were still packed with treasures of furniture and art.

Our guide Julie Biddlecombe Brown is newly appointed as Curator as the Castle and is making almost daily discoveries. A large biscuit tin at the back of a shelf was recently found to contain a Victorian coronet! We returned to the Hotel by coach and were at leisure during the evening (though a good number met at a restaurant in central Durham thanks to the good offices of Peter and Felicity Marno).

23rd July: The last day we spent at Bishop Auckland where the attractions are the brainchild of charity investment manager Jonathan Ruffer. We visited the compact Durham Mining Art Gallery, in the town Market Place, where all the pictures are by local artists depicting the grim reality of coal mining. On the opposite side of the Market Place is the spectacular Gallery dedicated to the Golden Age of Spanish Art. The gallery has been specially designed and leads visitors through an impressive series of spaces which are full of imaginative displays of Spanish Art. There are thirteenth century carvings, paintings by key Spanish artists of the 18th century and even a Moorish tiled room and a resin cast of a grand marble tomb on the top floor.

Catalan carved figure of Christ c 1250, Spanish Gallery Bishop Auckland

After a tapas style lunch, we walked, in light drizzle, to Bishop Auckland Castle which dates back to 12th century. The Bishiop of Durham with the impressive name of Shute Barrington employed James Wyatt to turn a drafty medieval edifice into a comfortable palace complete with a throne room.

Throne room, Bishop Auckland Castle
The Zurbarans in the Bishop’s dining room

It was thrilling to enter the Bishop’s dining room, with the walls restored to their original Wyatt green colour, on which hang the famous paintings of Benjamin and his sons by Zurbaran. The tour ended with a visit to the vast Chapel which had originally been the Medieval Great Hall and which the ubiquitous Bishop Cosin converted into a wonderful chapel in the Restoration period. Bishop Bek had constructed a fabulous Royal chapel on the site in the 14th century but, in an act of spiteful vandalism, the Parliamentarian Sir Arthur Hazelrigg blew it up in 1651. Bishop Cosin created a beautiful replacement in the Medieval space complete with extensive 17th century woodwork.

Dinner in the Great Hall of Durham Castle – University College, Durham

The finale to the tour was dinner in the Great Hall of Durham Castle. The Castle was originally yet another medieval edifice belonging to the Prince Bishops but, in 1832, became the dining hall of University College in the newly formed Durham University. Dinner was preceded by a tour of the Castle including the atmospheric Norman chapel dating from 1086, Bishop Tunstall’s 17th century gallery and Bishop Cosin’s Black staircase. We were joined for dinner by the Principal of the College, Professor Wendy Powers.

Georgina Gough completely took me by surprise by presenting me and Joanna, with two beautiful George III silver spoons by Samuel Thompson and Mercy Ashworth of Durham by way of thanks for arranging the Arts Scholars tour of the land of the Prince Bishops. A nicer or more fitting gift could not have been found.

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Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed by the author of this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of the Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars or its members.

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