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Court & Livery Dinner, 30 January 2017

On Monday 30 January, 2017, The Master Bowyer and Wardens welcomed Liverymen and Guests to The Dyers' Hall for a Court and Livery Dinner. It was a great privilege and pleasure to dine in this fine and less-visited hall. It was a first visit even for our well-travelled Beadle.

Several stuffed swans provided a welcome to us and were a reminder that the Dyers are one of two Companies that own swans on the Thames, and who exercise that right during the annual Swan Upping ceremony. A further welcome was provided by the sight of bottles of 2004 Pol Roger. These created a very convivial evening from the start.

The present Dyers' Hall is their fifth. The first two burnt down and the second two collapsed. This one has fire detectors and appears sturdily built. Dyeing was one of the aromatic trades, together with the Skinners and the Tallow Chandlers, whose halls were grouped down near the river.

The Dining Room is of a size that comfortably held 46 diners, but created an appropriate intimacy for a Court and Livery Dinner.

A very nicely-executed three-course dinner was prepared by, unusually, in-house caterers. Halibut was served with an excellent nutty and caramelly buerre blanc sauce. A rack of lamb followed that was a precise medium rare. A treacle tart with homemade custard was a natural ending for the two previous courses. The choices of an unoaked Chilean Chardonnay, a Saissac and a Dow's LBV Port were a skilful matching.

Following sung Grace, the Ceremony of the Loving Cup, the Loyal Toasts, the Civic Toast and the silent toast to the memory of the Company's benefactor James Wood, we were greatly entertained by Mr Peter Gill at the Dyers' upright piano.

The Master Bowyer is known for his enjoyment of the songs of Tom Lehrer. This enjoyment was clearly shared by the Bowyers and Guests present in the hall that evening. Mr Peter Gill is one of two musicians presenting faithful performances of the 46, or so, songs written and performed by Tom Lehrer in the 50s and 60s. Although some of the songs are now considered a little politically incorrect, it is true to say that their satire is seeming more and more relevant to the world in 2017. Six songs were performed ranging from the harmless Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, to the worryingly perceptive Who's Next and National Brotherhood Week to the ever-pleasing The Vatican Rag. I Got It from Agnes does not need much comment.

The toast to The Guests was proposed by Liveryman Myles Archibald. Colonel Andy Hadfield was warmly welcomed. Colonel Hadfield is currently Deputy Commanding Officer of 4 Infantry Brigade but previously was Commanding Officer of 1 Mercian. Myles described Colonel Hadfield's distinguished military career in both Iraq wars, in the Balkans and in Afganistan. A love of Extreme Sailing complements his military life – he has represented the British Army as a competitive ocean-going racing yacht skipper.

Myles next welcomed Mr Christopher Hurrion, Master of the Parish Clerks' Company. The Parish Clerks historically are not a livery company, even though they are one of the oldest companies in the City. They declined to take the Livery on the grounds that the surplice was older than the Livery. The company has letters patent from 1441, which makes them very much contemporaneous to the Bowyers. In a previous life Christopher flew planes for the Post Office, which means he says he was never trusted with passengers.

Our third guest of the evening was Mr Rupert Meacher from one of our fellow warrior companies, The Cutlers. He was a warrior himself, having served four years in the Life Guards. We will be seeing more of Rupert this year as we are holding both the St George's Banquet in April and the July Court & Livery Dinner at Cutlers' Hall.

Our principal guest of the evening was Mr Robert Pitcher, Master of the Gunmakers' Company. The 600-year-old competitiveness between our Companies' respective weapons has given way to a great friendship, and we rightly celebrate the fact that London produces the finest guns in the world. As a Company they are still very actively involved in their trade. They run London's only proof house, where the Bowyers will dine in February. Robert is clearly a very accomplished sportsman. During a joint longbow/shotgun challenge event between our Companies he had the second-highest shotgun score and stunningly, having never touched a longbow before, the fourth-highest longbow score of the day. Mr Pitcher gave an absorbing response to the toast to the Guests describing the history of his company and the process of gun proving.

Responding to the toast to the Company by the Clerk, the Master Bowyer spoke of the sharp satirical wit of Tom Lehrer and Peter Cook, observing that they were writing for a 1960s generation that had huge optimism and high expectations, which have never really left him. Organisations are what their officers and members make of them, and it in our hands to make and keep the Bowyers' Company what we want it to be. We celebrate our history and we care for our affiliations and charities, and we do it with a strong spirit of conviviality. Tony introduced our new Bowyer Freeman admitted that evening, Mark Benstead, and welcomed the good relationships we were building with our fellow medieval arms manufacturers and other like-minded companies across the City.

It was an excellent evening in an excellent hall. We are sure to return if we can.

John Manley

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