“Es isch soo unglaublich schön!” – Those were the first and only words that came to mind as we entered the double doors of the Egyptian Hall at Mansion House. Translated it means: “It is so incredibly beautiful!” And yes, it really was stunning: the white marble walls and columns with their golden Corinthian capitals, the coloured windows through which the evening sun flooded the room with warm light, the neatly layed table, the arched sculptured ceiling. All of it left us fascinated and nearly speechless.
It was an eventful 24 hours in London. Back in Switzerland the alarm rang at 4.30am to manage catching our flight at 7am. We arrived at London City Airport before 8am and had a whole day to go. Tired but excited we dropped off our baggage at Vintners’ Hall at Southwark Bridge, where we even got a little tour of the hall and its treasuries. Although not as splendid as the Mansion House, the Vintners Hall, with its history, its art and its incredible collection of wine labels, was a beautiful sight.
The rest of the day was composed of getting coffee, a haircut, a beer, lunch, new shirts and another beer before going back and getting ready for the Banquet. By request of our friends of London (and because we unfortunately do not have white tie) we all brought our traditional costumes. Peter, the Guildmaster of the Stadtzunft, wore his blue tails, Renato and our Father their Biedermeier vest and top-hat and Gian-Carlo and us wore the traditional working uniform of the weaver-apprentices of the 18. century in Zurich. We definitely did attract a lot of interested gazes on our way to the Ned, a bar in close proximity to the Mansion House, where we were supposed to meet up with some British friends for an apéritif and to make our way to the hall together. In fact, we were deliberately early to suck in the atmosphere and grab a quiet drink before the storm.
After everyone had arrived we went over the crossing to the Mansion House, made a photostop and were guided through the security check (!?!). We all went up the stairs with their beautiful and most certainly unaffordable paintings, through the hallway to the toastmaster, who shouted each of our names with a fierce and reverent voice, to the master and his wardens who welcomed us warmly. We were a little bit in a hurry because Robert was to be sworn in and given the Freedom of the Company before the official start of the night. In a quiet side chamber everything was laid out for the ceremony. Robert was quite nervous but stuck to his well learnt words: “So help me God”.
After a glass of champagne, we took our seats at the table. Next to us our friends from Zurich, plus Rebecca Nelson and Estelle Wilkinson who was our self-proclaimed guide through the evening and beyond. The band played the most beautiful compositions for brass and slowly but surely, we grew hungry.
After a splendid meal, good conversation and seemingly self-filling glasses we waited for the speeches to start.
The sentence Decus et Tutamen inscribed in the code of arms of our dear livery carried through the speech of the Upper Warden, which was addressed to the Lord Mayor on the one hand but on the other hand and, most importantly, to the Lord Mayor’s hat, which is gifted by the Feltmakers every year at the Lord Mayor’s installation.
It went on with the speeches of the guests of honour, the Bishop of London and the Lord Mayor, who delighted us with their beautiful choice of words. The Master spoke at last, presenting his gift, a replica of a coin of King James I Crown of 1604, and talking vigorously about the conflicts and difficulties of our time and enforced especially the opportunity and responsibility we all have to contribute to a solution, to unite instead of drifting apart and to make a difference helping those less fortunate. To conclude, the toasts were proposed. In Zurich one would expect that the whole community would lift their glasses and break out into a “drüüfach tunnernds Hoch” (a threefold thundering high) to celebrate the guests, the friendship and the city of Zurich. Here, in this marvellous hall, the toasts were more formal, but with the same heart and sincerity. To the Queen, to the Royal Family, the Livery and the guests of the evening. After, your national anthem, “God save the Queen”, sounded. If anyone was surprised that some of the Swiss guests knew the melody by heart, this exact melody, with different German lyrics, was also the melody of the Swiss national anthem between 1950 and 1961.
The evening drew to a close, as everybody stood up to go for a last stirrup-cup back in the hallway. Although nobody really had to stirrup his horse after, we all took a last glass at the Mansion House before making our way back to the Ned where the evening started. There our merry group of friends whiled for the remainder of the night, although we had to call it quits at some point because we were definitely not ready for the slightly hungover journey back home.
“Es isch soo unglaublich schön gsi.” – those were the first and only words that came to mind as we entered through the sliding doors of Zurich airport the next morning. It had been so incredibly beautiful. All the time we are in London we are greeted by friends as friends and we are really looking forward to the next possibility, where we can be with you again. The Feltmakers, the friendship of our two liveries and our beautiful cities: “Si läbed Hoch, Hoch, Hoch”.