Jollyon Coombs, who has died aged 75, was Clerk to the Worshipful Company of Feltmakers for the last 20 years and had only sworn in his successor on April 28th 2021, 10 days before his untimely death, his final duty to the Feltmakers completed.
With his military bearing and larger than life personality, Jollyon was a true presence in the Livery world, winning the respect and affection not only of his own Livery but that of his fellow Clerks, as well as staff at the Mansion House, who got to know him well through the many dinners and Hat Presentations he organised.
Jollyon Trevor Hardy Coombs was born on the 25th of January 1946 and attended Hawtreys Prep School before going on to Pangbourne College. On leaving school he was uncertain of the direction he wanted to take but his artistic ability drew him to a course in photography at Bournemouth School of Art in 1965. However, a year later, he was passing an Army Recruiting office, went in, and signed up for the Welsh Guards and went to Mons Officer Cadet School. By 1976 he had risen to the rank of Major having completed a number of tours of duty in Germany, Northern Ireland, Dubai and Cyprus. A chance meeting with the Commanding Officer of the 16th/5th Lancers, Nick Vivian, was ultimately to lure him away from the Welsh Guards to a “racier” stretch with the Lancers from 1979-1986. Having been assessed for flying at Biggin Hill, he trained to fly helicopters (Gazelles) and thoroughly enjoyed his time with the Lancers.
However, in 1986, he left the Army and embarked on the second phase of his career, in the property world. Having completed a re-settlement course at London Polytechnic, David McLean-Watt, a partner at Cluttons, invited him to join the firm, which he did, before being head-hunted by Chesterfields run by Brian d’Arcy Clark & David Forbes in 1989, and then Jackson-Stops & Staffs in 1990. By 1992, Jackson-Stops was in difficulty and Jollyon participated in a management buy-out, and took charge of the offices in Chelsea and Fulham. Unfortunately, in 1994 he was extremely ill with pneumonia and decided to sell out his share and take up a less stressful role, in a property search business.
It was in 1999, that Jollyon first heard about the possibility of a job as Clerk to the Feltmakers which was to become the final phase of his career. An old Army chum, Colonel Michael Barneby, was Clerk to the Salters, and knew that the Feltmakers would be looking for a new Clerk to take over from Colonel John Holroyd. After a lengthy interview process, in which Jollyon was the only candidate, he joined the Feltmakers as an “understudy” to John Holroyd in July 2001, taking over in October on the understanding that if the Company didn’t like him, they could sack him after 6 months! Of course, they did like him and the rest is history!
Bill Horsman was his first Master and was very kind and considerate to his new and extremely green Clerk and Jollyon found that, having served in the Army, he soon “fell in” with the City and its traditions.
Court members who were present at his first Court meeting will remember Jollyon’s impressive memory for all the names of both Court members and their partners. His skills did not stop there: he was meticulous in his planning for banquets, revealing a perceptive grasp of the most companionable seating partners and unflappable in the face of “no-shows” or, even more challenging, extra guests to fit in! Nor was he phased by the sight of lady guests in backless dresses, although he drew the line at one Liveryman who arrived in a lounge suit for a banquet! But, as Past Master Burgess noted in his tribute to Jollyon, there was a percipient, pastoral side to his nature which revealed itself particularly during the lockdown when he acted almost as an Almoner to those who were bereaved or ailing, and this at a time when his own health was failing.
Jollyon spent his final months compiling his memoirs, chiefly intended for his family, but with Ruthie’s permission, here are his own comments on his time as Clerk.
“My time as Clerk has been blessed, largely because I have enjoyed the whole atmosphere of the Livery, it really is a friendly Company and I like to think that all of you are my friends. As Clerk to the Company and Clerk to the Trustees of the Charity, I have been involved in three Lord Mayors Shows, one quatercentenary celebration at the Middle Temple, looked after twenty Masters, organised dinners and lunches for over 10,000 people, attended over 200 meetings, raised £113,000 for Charity, which included rowing down the Thames, rowing across Scotland, walking from Mount Nero to Petra in Jordan, walking across Iceland, walking from Cadiz to Gibraltar and finally rowing an Olympic course (2000 meters) for every year of my age at the age of 72: all this was largely done to try to encourage other Liverymen to partake in some form of fundraising for the Livery.”
In addition to encouraging fund-raising, it was also Jollyon’s earnest wish that the Livery should focus on encouraging younger people to join and his final initiative was to launch Freedom by Patrimony, open to young relations of all existing members of the Livery.
Jollyon married Sarah Dawnay in 1970 and they had 3 children, Arabella, Daisy and Charlie but later got divorced. In 1990 he met a certain Ruth Owen-Thomas and they married 4 months later on his birthday! Ruthie, as we all know her, has a warm relationship with Jollyon’s children and all the grandchildren too – Rosie, Tilly, Edward, Lily and Kitty. They are supporting her as she faces up to life without Jollyon: at the moment she says it feels almost as though he has just gone on one of the shooting or fishing trips that he so loved. She should take comfort from the knowledge that, not only are the family there to support her, so too are the extended family and friends she can count on in the Feltmakers Livery.