One hundred and fifty Feltmakers, friends and guests came together on Friday 1st October 2021 to enjoy a splendid dinner at Haberdashers’ Hall. The Master, Nigel Macdonald, reminded everyone that it was first time the Company had come together since the Plough Monday Dinner on 13th January 2020; a period of 627 days.
The October dinner is normally the occasion of the Installation of the Master but because of COVID, the installation was brought forward to July 2021. Nevertheless, we were all able to welcome the new Master to his first formal Company dinner.
Our Chaplain, the Reverend Andrew Pritchard-Keens, gave thanks in an elegant Grace praying that we are protected from disaster over the coming years. Following the Loyal Toast, the presentation of the Feltmaker Design Award was introduced by Rachel Trevor-Morgan. After congratulating last year’s winner, Nora De La Quintana, her successor, Sarah Blackmore, was presented with a cheque for £1,500 and a Winner’s certificate by the Master.
In his Toast to the Guests, Third Warden, Jeremy Bedford, noted that our Principal Guest, James Naughtie, FRSE, had the “best voice to wake up to “ after Farming Today on BBC Radio 4. In a distinguished career, Mr. Naughtie has covered every UK General Election since 1997 and every US Presidential Election since 1988. In addition, he has presented the Proms and Radio 4 Bookshop as well as the New Elizabethans. His programmes have been characterised throughout by their substance rather than mere form.
We were also joined by three current Livery Masters, including Daniel Hochberg, Master Haberdasher, who managed to combine a career at the Chancery Bar in Lincoln’s Inn, where he is now a Bencher, with a keen musical interest in the harpsicord. Mr. William Makower, who had managed to follow his university studies of Chinese and Japanese with a career in digital transformation, innovation and growth before becoming the Upper Bailiff of the Weavers’ Company and Sir David Wootton, a former Lord Mayor, now Master Woolman, an appropriate position for someone connected to Bradford. Sir David sits on 25 Trusts, is a Governor of three schools as well as having been Master of five Livery Companies; he can best be described as living a busy life.
In responding on behalf of the Guests, James Naughtie said that both he and the Master were Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He commented that in this Age of Disruption, when a lot of trust had been broken, the charitable work of the Livery Companies was never more urgently needed. The increase in anger and divisiveness had led to a rise of Absolutism in politics, leading President Putin to observe that “Western Democracy is obsolete”. The onset of the recent global pandemic, however, had brought out a resilience and community spirit in the UK from which we should learn. The Livery Companies could have a vital role to play in bringing people together and leading political and cultural change, which he felt was embodied in this dinner in the Haberdashers’ Hall and was worthy of celebrating in the words sung by Elaine Stritch “Does anyone still wear a hat? I’ll drink to that”.
The Master thanked Mr. Naughtie, the Third Warden and Mrs. Rachel Trevor-Morgan for addressing the Livery. He paid tribute to Past Master Lady Yarrow for her leadership of the Company through what could be considered the most challenging time since the 17th Century. Members of the Livery found at their place-settings a silver spoon with a Feltmaker Hat motif, a gift from immediate PM Lady Yarrow. During her tenure, our former Clerk of over 20 years, Major Jollyon Coombs, had sadly passed away but not before swearing in his successor Brigadier Aidan Smyth. The Master paid tribute to three members of the Livery who had also passed since we last met, Simon Curtis, Ian Thomas and Christopher Reeves.
The outpouring of care and comfort to neighbours during the Pandemic had reminded the Master of the words of John Donne that “No man is an island.”
He had recently established an Events committee which would work alongside the Livery Society and Charity Committee to broaden the social activities of the Company. He announced his Charity event in 2022 would be a Charity Dinner on 8th July at the Cutty Sark in aid of Helen Arkell. Before then we could look forward to the Carol Service due on 1st December 2021.
The Master concluded by thanking the Livery and their guests for their presence, and it was agreed by all that we had had a most welcome reintroduction to what we hope will be more normal times over a splendid and memorable Autumn dinner in the familiar surroundings of the Haberdashers’ Hall.