On Friday 1st November 25 Phoenix Masters and Firebirds gathered in the ancient Tuckers’ Hall in Exeter for a black tie dinner. Tuckers’ Hall belongs to the Incorporation of Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen which is the historic guild of Exeter’s ancient cloth trade. The Guilds and Incorporation have existed in Exeter for nearly 600 years and have occupied Tuckers’ Hall since 1471. Both the Incorporation and the Hall have a remarkable story with a glorious and continuous history. The Guild received its Royal Charter from King James I in 1620 and importantly this gave them more control over their own business. The wealth of Exeter in the mid-17th and 18th centuries was created as a direct result of the woollen cloth trade in the city. On the back of this prosperity, many became Merchant Venturers and later Bankers including the founders of Barings.
By 1700 Exeter was responsible for a quarter of England’s woollen cloth trade. But with mechanisation and loss of overseas trade, Exeter’s affluence waned along with the Incorporation’s membership; declining significantly from a peak of over 400 craftsmen to losing its last qualified member by the end of the 19th century. Fortunately, they had the foresight to open membership to outsiders in 1858. From the 1960s it has enjoyed a revival drawing its membership from prominent local businessmen, actively supporting the civic life of the city, education and many other charities. The current membership numbers 66 with a waiting list for membership and balloting taking place annually.
The Hall is charming with dining capacity restricted to just 28. It is oak lined with curved beams. It has survived many crises in its history not least when it was confiscated by Queen Elizabeth I in 1574. She gave it to a nobleman but after four years the Guild managed to wrestle back the freehold for the not inconsiderable sum of £20 in 1578. It has also survived fire in a neighbouring building, a nearly collapsing front wall and the Baedeker Blitz, part of the Luftwaffe’s retribution on England’s medieval towns for Lűbeck. The nearby cathedral was not so fortunate.
- Stuffed Vine Tomato with Oak Smoked Salmon Mousse, served with Marinated Beetroot
- Breast of Chicken stuffed with Woodland Mushrooms and Confit Garlic encased in Smoky Streaky Bacon, served with Root Vegetable Wrap and Thyme Scented Dauphinoise
- Chocolate Fondant’ Rich Chocolate Sponge with Liquid Centre served with Orange Curd and Devon Clotted Cream.
- Champagne Heidsieck & Co Monopole 2010
- Petit Chablis 2016 Domaine Louis Moreau
- Châteauneuf du Pape Prestige des Princes 2017
- Taylors Quinta de Vargellas 2004
Past Master Joiner & Ceiler Mark Snelling, who has strong local family links, took the chair and gave a short and witty speech. We were delighted that our Vice President Sir Charles Bowman and Firebird Lady Samantha Bowman were with us but it must be the first time in years that Sir Charles was allowed to relax and did not have to make a speech.
On the Saturday morning most of the party skulked in their rooms watching the Rugby Union World Cup Final but enough words have been published about that. Afterwards some of us saw the sights in our own way while Past Master Tallow Chandler Nicholas Bull took a select party to see the University where he serves on the governing body.
The University of Exeter was named the Sunday Times University of the Year in 2013 and was the Times Higher Education University of the Year in 2007. It has maintained a top ten position in the National Student Survey since the survey was launched in 2005. It was founded and received its royal charter in 1955, although its predecessor institutions, St Luke’s College, Exeter School of Science, Exeter School of Art, and the Camborne School of Mines were established in 1838, 1855, 1863, and 1888 respectively.
Gifts from the Gulf States made it possible to build a new university library in 1983 which holds more than 1.2 million physical library resources, including historical journals and special collections. More recently donations have allowed for the creation of a new Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies. A further major donation enabled the completion of the Xfi Centre for Finance and Investment. Since 2009, significant further investment has been made into new student accommodation, new buildings in The Exeter Business School, and the Forum: a new development for the centre of Streatham Campus.
On arrival, we were met by a current student and together, she and Nicholas guided us around the Streatham campus starting with the Forum, past Queens, to the main Reed House, past the Arabic & Islamic studies to Holland Halls famed for their spectacular views, past Physics back to the theatre. We were all amazed at the mix of facilities enjoyed by the students ranging from a theatre and performing arts spaces, sports facilities, eateries, shops, study spaces and lecture theatres all set in a large campus of green spaces and mature trees. During the tour, Nicholas highlighted the Alumni lecture theatre in the Forum, so named to remind all present students of what might be expected of them in the future!!!
Afterwards, we enjoyed a satisfying tasty lunch at The Beer Engine washed down with very local zero mileage beers from its own micro-brewery.
The other principal sight in this delightful city is the outstanding cathedral with its myriad of special features. The cathedral was founded in 1050, has a copy of the Exon Doomsday Book and Shakespeare’s Second Folio. We learnt that its West Front Image Screen was initially painted in vivid colours which have faded to a grey. Then there is the Astronomical Clock, St James’s Chapel featuring a portion of the bomb that fell through its roof, the lady with the two left feet, and many other treasures. For the author a special feature is the Chapel where lies Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter from 1504 until his death in 1519. Bishop Oldham was a member of the Oldham family after whom Oldham, Lancashire is called. In 1515 he founded Manchester Grammar School, the author’s Alma Mater. He also co-founded Corpus Christi College.
The menu at our dinner was inscribed “First West Country Dinner” so perhaps there are plans for more Wild West adventures. But it was also suggested that we might want to explore the other Guild and Livery Halls around the country in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Sheffield and York and beyond. Perhaps a Phoenix might like to organise a Special Interest Group to that end.
David Pearson Past Master Marketor and Isobel Pollock-Hulf, Secretary and Past Master Engineer.