This year’s Plough Monday Dinner, hosted by Master John Ray, was held on Monday 10th. January in the delightful setting of Armourers’ Hall.
The Master hosts this dinner, which is attended by the members of the Court, together with the Master’s personal guests, who include, again by tradition, the two Sheriffs of the City of London.
Our Master, who, as most will already know, suffered a serious accident, and has undergone two sets of surgery to pin the bones in his ankle, displayed great fortitude throughout a long and tiring evening from his wheelchair. Master, we salute you, and also Rosemary, and express the warmest hope that we shall see you processing with your guests, sans wheelchair, at our next dinner!
The ancient tradition of Plough (or Plow) Monday dates from medieval times, when the first Monday after Epiphany marked the return of most people to work (or the plough). The landowners would often thanks their workers for their efforts in the previous year and allow them to celebrate by giving them the day off work and by providing food, drink and entertainment so they could make merry. In our Company’s calendar, it marks the date on which the Master can invite liverymen who have made a contribution to the livery’s activities to thank them for their efforts and also he entertains the two Sheriff’s of the City of London Corporation, whilst the Lord Mayor, whom they would otherwise accompany, is otherwise engaged at his own Plow Monday dinner at the Mansion House. Therefore this constitutes the ‘night off’ for the Sheriffs, and we are, each year, pleased and honoured that they join us on this evening.
Members of the Court were, therefore, delighted to welcome Alderman and Sheriff Fiona Woolf, C.B.E. and Mr. Sheriff Richard Sermon, M.B.E., as the Master’s principal guests, together with Mr. Stephen Clark, TD (Master Wheelwright), and Mr. Alderman David Wootton (Master Solicitor).
The evening was, as ever, a most convivial one, with excellent food and wine, and good fellowship. The toast to the guests was fluently and eloquently proposed by Senior Assistant, Peter Simeons, who referred to the distinguished careers of the Sheriffs, and the Company’s pleasure at their presence.
In response, Alderman and Sheriff Fiona Wolf spoke firstly about aspects of the roles of the two Sheriffs, in terms of the parts they each, and jointly, play in supporting the Lord Mayor though the year. She then posed a rhetorical question about the artefacts the City might call upon to be blessed on this particular Plough Monday, in order to revive its markets, promote its competitiveness, and ensure that the blend of innovation and efficiency, allied to tradition, is maintained.
Mr. Sheriff Richard Sermon then gave us his view about the role of the Sheriffs.
He spoke, particularly, about the charitable activities that
are so much a part of the City’s activities, including the annual appeals of each Lord Mayor, and the much needed assistance given by the Sheriffs and Recorder’s Fund, as well as the part played by the Livery Companies in charitable giving. He also referred to the need for high standards of behaviour, and the part played by the City Corporation, and by the Sheriffs themselves, in promoting and maintaining the ethics, reputation and good governance of the City.
The final speaker of the evening was the Rt. Reverend Graeme Knowles, Dean of St. Paul’s, and, of course, Honorary Liveryman of the Feltmakers, proposing the health of the Company. His speech was both witty and erudite, and included references as diverse as Gilbert and Sullivan, his fondness for Edwardian ballads, and the
enthusiasm shown by the City for marking every possible event (including Plough Monday) with either a procession, a dinner, or both. He stirred us to pity by telling us how his own establishment at St. Paul’s is cast into the shade by the magnificence of the Sheriffs’ abode at the Old Bailey, and how he felt that he should be passing the collecting box around! Finally, on a slightly more serious note he commented on the tremendous value afforded to the City by its hard working Sheriffs, whose role is simultaneously a high office, and a vocation.
God speed the Feltmakers’ plough!