On Thursday 14th March the Phoenix Masters were entertained for their third annual Spring Dinner by the Mercers’ Company. No less than 106 members and Firebirds were present including our President Lord Mountevans and Lady Mountevans, our Vice-President past Sheriff Christine Rigden and her husband Stephen, and present Sheriff and Phoenix Master the Honourable Elizabeth Green.
During the reception, we again were served our own Cuvée Phoenix champagne and we then sat down for dinner in the Livery Hall chaired by Past Master Mercer Tim Haywood. At table, we were presented with a booklet summarising the history of the Mercers and their various halls. Everyone knows in general of their significant endowments and extensive philanthropy but perhaps not all of us know just how extensive it still is. The Mercers Company continues to be active in opening residences for the elderly and supporting a wide range of schools and academies.
The present Hall is their third. The first was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and the second largely destroyed by incendiary bombs in May 1941. The third was formally opened by H.R.H. The Duke of Gloucester, a liveryman, in May 1958. While it may not be as large and decorative as some other Livery Halls it remains unique as the only one with its own chapel signifying the Company’s strong record of service to the Church.
The menu comprised home smoked halibut, textures of cauliflower and caviar butter. This course received some extraordinary plaudits and was served with 16 stops Chardonnay 2018 from the Fleurieu Peninsula south of Adelaide. The entrée was roasted duck breast with a veritable cornucopia of carrot purée, Marquise potato, roast roots, broccoli, Orange Grand Marnier sauce, carrot crisp and confit leg croquette washed down with Nero d’Avola 2016, the most important red wine grape in Sicily. For dessert, we had baked lemon tart, roasted wine chocolate crème fraiche and blackberries.
Past Master Musician Andrew Morris appropriately accompanied us through the Laudi Spirituali, 1545. It is the Musicians’ Company custom to take this a semitone higher than usual and the result was a lusty singing as most of us are word perfect by now.
Tim Haywood led the toasts and told us more of the history of the Hall. He expressed the view that the Phoenix Masters were in great shape and congratulated members of the committee on their taking a lead on Outreach and Purpose. Tim expressed his concern about the image of the Livery in the public eye. He referred to a recent BBC news article that largely belittled the work of the Livery Companies giving the impression that they sat on billions of pounds in wealth and gave little of it away. We need to play our part in correcting this false impression.[i]
Past Master Plumber and 2019 Shrieval candidate Erica Stary rose to propose a toast to the Association. She said we were all very privileged people. “Though our backgrounds are varied, we are achievers who’ve worked hard, and doubtless played hard. We are 109, an amazing number of amazing people who unstintingly give back and further enrich an already fertile ground with the fruits of our experience. It’s uplifting and inspiring. Something to celebrate.
“Given that background, it was natural that those who propelled themselves onto the Phoenix committee should look to see what the group as a whole could do to further the civic City’s aims. Here we are, some 2½ years after we burst from our egg, which had lain slumbering in the ashes of the old City for some 350 years. Like all youngsters we are vigorous and kicking, finding our way and growing in stature rapidly under the brilliant leadership of our chairman Mark Chambers and his committee.
“We started well by giving huge support to our aldermanic Sheriff, Charles, in his Mayoral year. We escorted him up the Thames; our float supported the Samaritans, founded here in the City by Chad Varah. We set up our Outreach and Purpose programme, which initially focused on Charles’ year and his Business of Trust theme. And we continue by linking together in the City’s charity events such as City Giving Day. But we need to do more”
Erica also referred to the BBC article which makes horrific reading. “Such adverse publicity is manna for avaricious politicians who have an insatiable appetite for other people’s money. We must prepare our defences for the almost inevitable attack, from wherever it may come. As I see it we have to deal with the following four areas:
- Charity. Research shows that last year the Livery movement gave some £67million to charity, and donated over 75,000 hours pro bono work. Is this, when set against our real wealth, as I believe it to be, too low, or generously high? It sounds impressive but we need to prove it is not just conscience money.
- Diversity. More than a third of the Livery now has over 40% female membership. Many liveries are positively looking to finds ways of inspiring women to join, to work on committees and the court. The result is more women masters – 16 last year and probably over 20 this. Despite this, and the 36 years since the first woman master in 1983, there are still 35 companies who have never had a woman master and one with no women at all. But where are the ethnic minorities? There are a few, scattered here and there. We need more and we need both them and the women to be more visible.
- Democracy. Looking from outside much of what happens in the City appears to be pre-ordained by an inner coterie, there are clerks who do not pass on election manifestos, companies who tell their members how to vote. What was so good about last year’s elections (when our very own Liz Green was made Sheriff) was the real election. Four candidates for two posts. We must continue that trend.
- Accountability. It is not enough for our Civic Officers to say “what a jolly time we have had”, as some report to the Livery at the end of their years. They must show what they have achieved. How they have repaid our trust in voting for them. What they have done for the UK as a whole as well as for the City.”
And after giving us all much to contemplate, Erica asked us to join her in drinking a “toast to our Association coupled with the name of our Chairman, Mark Chambers.” It only remained for us to repair for a stirrup cup. In the words of our secretary Isobel Pollock-Hulf “it was another superb Phoenix evening, a great turn out and enjoyed by all.” Thanks go to Tim Haywood, Bill Mahony and John Nugée for organising the event.
[i] London’s secret billion-pound guilds by Howard Mustoe business reporter BBC news website 12 February 2019
Past Master Marketor