Annual Banquet - Mansion House - 1 July 2015
It is always a great privilege for Livery Companies to be given permission to use the home of The Lord Mayor for their banquets. There was a time some years ago now, when the low numbers attending our own dinner nearly resulted in our having to “share” the facilities with another Livery Company! How times have changed and our banquet on 1st July was a “sell-out” with some 230 members and guests filling the magnificent Egyptian Hall.
As you approach the Mansion House, it always seems a bit “low key” to find that the entrance is rather a humble doorway in Walbrook, not some grand entrance at the front. In fact the Walbrook Entrance was originally designed as an eight-stall stable and coach house, though it was never used for that purpose! The truth is that in 1846, James Bunting, an architect working for the City of London Corporation, was asked to design a new entrance at the side of the building so that the Lord Mayor could come and go without being in full view of the general public!
With such a humble entrance, to any guest coming to the Mansion House for the first time, the “wow factor” really arrives as you climb the staircase and arrive on the first floor to be received in The Salon and Parlour by the Master, Mr David Illingworth, Wardens and their “ladies” and to be served with a welcome drink. Nothing however prepares even the “hardy annuals” for the gong announcing dinner and finally the entrance into the magnificent Egyptian Hall, strangely named as it is based on designs by the classical Roman architect Vitruvius of Roman buildings in Egypt! Surrounded by magnificent Mansion House “plate”, the setting is “fit for a king”!
As sometimes happens, the Lord Mayor was unable to attend our banquet, but our “host” for the evening was his “locum tenens”, Alderman and Sherriff Dr Andrew Parmley; we were also pleased to welcome the Lay Sherriff, Fiona Adler. There were many other distinguished guests, including the Master Merchant Taylor, Mr Peter Watkins and the Master Horner, Mr Raymond Layard. What makes a banquet “special” is, of course, not the delicious food and wine – a brilliant Chateau Talaise from Bordeaux! – but the quality of the proposals and responses to the various “toasts” – or rather those who carry out that function. The toast to the Lord Mayor, the City Corporation and the Sheriffs, proposed by the Master was preceded by his presenting a cheque from our Charitable Funds – CALC – to Alderman Andrew Parmley. The response was a surprise coming in the form of a “double act” with both Sheriffs not quite doing a “two Ronnies” but certainly entertaining us in an unusual way, with some of their experiences during their term of office. The Master’s other responsibility is to hand over the Sword of Honour to the outstanding Officer of the year from the Honourable Artillery Company, which we sponsor, and Lt Stuart Bedford duly came forward to be presented with this honour. In proposing the toast of the Guests, the Senior Warden – or Master Elect - is always on his best behaviour at this stage, knowing that he might be at the top table before long! He gave a warm welcome to those mentioned above and to our principal guest, Mrs Sue Marks.
Mrs Marks has had a varied career, since reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Jesus College, Oxford – where she won Blues for rowing and athletics. She enjoyed a successful career in international finance in the City, before following in the footsteps her grandfather, two uncles and two aunts in “switching” to the teaching profession. With time spent at St George’s College, Weybridge and Tormead School, Guildford, she was appointed Headmistress at Withington Girl’s School in 2010. Looking at the school’s academic records, it was not surprising to hear her comments supporting single-sex education. “Our main aim is to provide students with the best possible preparation for adult life…..” She is a firm believer in the value of a good education and the need for continuing training even after leaving school and on into the “professional” world. We were privileged to listen to such an accomplished speaker and “clearly a lady to watch.
With The London Banqueting Ensemble “bringing the house down” with their rendering of The Post Horn Gallop – this was an evening to remember.