Master’s Weekend 2021

A weekend filled with law, carts, walking, cyphers and much more

The Old Bailey

As is traditional our serving Master Lars Andersen organised his weekend of fellowship for our Freemen. So it was therefore that we gathered at the Lord Mayor’s entrance at the Old Bailey at 9am on Saturday 18th September. Lars and his wife Jenifer aka the Master’s Consort were there to greet us and our assembled group were passed through the security checks and greeted by the current Aldermanic Sheriff Michael Mainelli. We were particularly grateful as Michael and his wife Elisabeth had been up to the wee small hours the previous night hosting the Sheriff’s Ball. 

The Old Bailey is possibly the City’s most important symbol of the rule of law that in its various forms has attracted commerce to the London for hundreds of years. Aside from housing our most famous criminal courts, the Old Bailey is in fact the Sheriff’s official residence and amongst the plethora of responsibilities he has, Michael is responsible for the building’s upkeep. This is a duty that has fallen to the serving sheriffs from time immemorial, possibly as early as 900 AD.

In all that time, only once had the Sheriffs served more than a single term and that was in the 13th century. Well that was until COVID dealt it’s hand and the second term history has repeated. Each Sheriff has their coat of arms with the year served on the wall of the Judges Dining Room where our tour started. And sure enough Michael’s was amongst them showing the second term. It felt wonderful to think that amongst the vast historical facts in the City’s rich tapestry we could see this first hand and be in the company of someone whose name in time will perhaps itself become a matter of historical lore.

Michael explained how his duty, along with the other sheriff, is to lunch every day with the judges when they are sitting. This may sound archaic but as Michael explained, for the judges, with the awful things they have to witness every day this lunch is actually an opportunity for them to download the stress, share it and give them a chance to reflect one with the other to maintain perspective. It was really interesting to hear this and realise the huge weight of responsibility they carry every day. As we moved on the tour Michael shared his clearly encyclopaedic knowledge of the Old Bailey and we inevitably progressed towards the hugely iconic Number One Court. A room that we all know from many films, but has never actually been filmed. Intimidating is just one word to describe the gravitas of the space and its history was shared. Built in the Edwardian era it really is a building from another era and to compare and contrast Michael took us to a court five. Renovated in the 1970s it is by comparison hugely modern and very much defined by a more modern feel and with the technology now much used feeling much more part of the decor than them being plonked in court one. Our final destination was the holding cells, where those on trial are brought every day. Suffice to say it had an oppressive atmosphere and definitely not a place anyone would ever want to visit for the wrong reasons!

Cart Marking

Michael had to bid us a quick farewell as he was set to play a key role in our second adventure, the annual Cart Marking event in Guildhall Yard. Where courtesy of the Worshipful Company of Carmen we were provided with possibly the best seats in the house. Hearty thanks go to them for their generosity.

As it says on the websites of its organisers The Worshipful Company of Carmen:

This is a free spectator event and is the second largest event in the city of London after The Lord Mayor’s Show. The ceremony dates back over 500 years with vehicles ranging from handcarts, horse and carts, steam engines, steam powered vehicles, Military, multicycles, historic and vintage, specialist, new and old, and even the latest electric and fusion powered vehicles. 

The vehicles set off from Smithfield Market and make their way to the Guildhall Yard. As they pass through the Guildhall Arch, commentators tell the history of each vehicle.  Once the vehicle is in position at the far end of the yard, the Sheriffs, assisted by the Master of the Worshipful Company of Carmen, will brand the vehicle with a hot branding iron, known as “Cart Marking”.

Each vehicle is marked with a letter or symbol which depicts that it is fit to ply for trade or hire for the forthcoming year. Just as it was in 1835, the fee for having your vehicle marked is “five shillings”.

The Sheriffs and the Master Carmen, with the Court of Assistants, are dressed in their robes for the ceremony. With reserved front row seats we were in prime place to see the procession of vehicles of all shapes and sizes. From the first, a hand pulled cart, then a bicycle, we were  with a vast array of commercial vehicles throughout the ages, as the pictures hopefully show. Much a childhood memory was shared of long forgotten vehicles; delivery vans, larger trucks, ambulances and buses amongst them.

Marylebone

With lunch arranged at Home Grown, our home in the West End, the morning’s efforts were rewarded with a lunch of Norwegian themed food and fully replenished, we prepared for our next adventure, a guided walk around the Marylebone area accompanied by our good friends at Look up London. Our guide was Muriel and her knowledge and ability to tell her stories was truly infectious. 

Circling back to the start of our day at the Old Bailey, our tour started with the short walk up to Marble Arch and the infamous gallows area of Tyburn. So named after the Tyburn Brook, a tributary of the River Westbourne that flowed in the area and the site of public hangings for hundreds of years up until around 1783 when the last hanging took place. We then entered Marylebone proper walking back towards Portman Square and the building that Home House now occupies. This was originally the home of the Home (pronounced Hume) family. With stories of scandal shared we moved further in the area heading east towards Baker Street and then Marylebone High Street. Many of the now famous squares and streets reflect the families that acquired the land built upon them. These including De Walden, Portman, Cavendish and Portland as well as Wigmore. It was difficult to take in the eye-watering amount of fine architecture with Muriel sharing many stories, but one that stood out was the classically designed Robert Adam’s houses in Portland Place. 

With a gentle meander back to Home Grown our tour was over and we looked ahead to refuelling with dinner at Pantechnicon in Knightsbridge. A favourite of the Master, we were treated to a Norwegian inspired fusion tapas style shared plate meal in its Nordic themed Eldr restaurant. Eldr comes from Old Norse and means “fire”. Perhaps a nod to the somewhat acquired tipple of Akevitt. With its, shall we say, distinctive flavour! It is fair to say that we worked our way across the entire menu and were suitably hydrated. Stephen Wheatley was heard to say that he wondered if his glass and the bottles had sprung leaks as they all seemed to be empty very quickly!

Day one over, we bade farewell to each other and looked forward to assembling at a truly historic location on day two.

Bletchley Park

With an expanded group of Freemen in attendance this was clearly the must not miss highlight of the weekend. As we gathered at the Chauffeur’s Hut by the Manor House the anticipation of what we were to learn was clear. On the dot of 11am we were greeted by Michael, our tour guide for the day. He proceeded to tell us the history of the original Manor House built in 1883 by Victorian financier and politician Sir Herbert Leon. 

After the death of Sir Herbert and his wife the site was sold in 1938. Originally destined to be demolished to make way for a housing estate it was bought by Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, head of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6), bought the mansion and 58 acres (23 ha) of land for £6,000 (£386,000 today) for use by GC&CS and SIS in the event of war. He used his own money as the Government said they did not have the budget to do so. 

And so the iconic place in history that it was to take began. The ensuing story has become the stuff of World War 2 legend and Michael walked us around the site and brought the story to life, sharing many stories. Which clearly showed how human ingenuity and the ability to think outside the box brought those brilliant people to a place where the code was broken. Ingenuity that really felt like the whole thing was made from paper and string, glued together. To say the story was inspiring can never do justice to them and how what they did foreshortened the war, saving so many lives. 

After a bit of free time to take in some of the sights, including Alan Turin’s desk and his tin mug still chained to a radiator we regathered to round our trip off with a delicious lunch.

Formalities over, we said our goodbyes and made our various ways back home. Huge thanks are due to the Master for conceiving such a lovely weekend and to all those involved in its organisation. Thanks too for the Freemen who came along, many bringing guests to enjoy our usual fellowship and friendship.

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