Thronging crowds and billowing robes on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral preceded the one of the City’s most complete and colourful gathering of the Livery Companies and Guilds. The United Guilds Service, held annually since 1943, celebrates and gives thanks for the City’s growing number of such institutions, and took place this year on Friday 31st March.
Freemen Entrepreneurs, having seized on the limited tickets for the event months in advance, were in good number, filling their appointed row and over a dozen seats elsewhere in the cathedral as well. (The Guild is especially grateful to the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers for supplying a spare ticket to accommodate the guest of a Freeman.)
The hubbub of voices and the bustle of arrivals gradually dimmed to a whisper, and then, seated and silent, the assembled congregation rose at the sound of trumpets heralding the arrival of the Lord Mayor. This marked the beginning of the long procession of Masters and Prime Wardens, civic officials, the Aldermen, clergy and choristers.
There was a collective raising of eyebrows as Wesley’s words invoking a ‘Gracious Master, and my God’ (in that order) were sung. In this author’s observation, more sincerely by some Clerks than others.
The preacher, The Rt. Rev. Christopher Chessun (Lord Bishop of Southwark), was in mischievous form, drawing some uncomfortable parallels between the (mild and occasional) hypocrisy of his ecclesiastical forebears, and pomp of the City and Guilds. Reflecting on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, however, and warming to the theme of institutional munificience, his lordship moved on to strike a note of modest congratulation to the Guilds and Livery Companies spread out before him. He concluded in defiant style (having in mind the murdorous attacks in Westminster the previous week) that neighbourliness and love would not be overcome by the world’s darkness.
All too quickly, the final chords of the National Anthem echoed around the majestic columns, and, to the strains of Herbert Brewer’s ‘March Heroique’ the brightly arrayed congregation slowly dispersed.
The walk to Carpenters’ Hall, where the Guild was to be the guests of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, was a little under 3/4 mile, and the Officers, Freemen and guests, were delighted to be rewarded with chilled and delectable Damien Hugot champagne from the Carpenters’ own cellars.
The Master Carpenter spoke to welcome the guests, and the Master Tyler & Bricklayer responded – both gentlemen sensitive to the appetites of their liverymen and guests, and taking to the lectern only very briefly.
Lunch was a relaxed and convivial affair, consisting of two indulgent courses, followed by cheeses, chocolates and coffee. Second helpings of everything was encouraged and the occasion was marked by a sense of gregariousness which seemed to capture the finest spirit of the Livery. The Middle Warden of the Carpenters’ Company (His Hon. Peter Birts) joined the Entrepreneurs’ tables, and was an entertaining and generous host.
2018’s United Guilds Service and lunch will be on Friday 16th March. The Clerk will receive the Guild’s allocation of tickets at the beginning of February.
Photos @ Nicola Manning and Colin Hegner