Foundations Of Fellowship

Remarks to: Worshipful Company of Mason’s Livery & The Associate Companies

Toast from the Guests by Alderman Professor Michael Mainelli, 1 November 2017, Mercers’ Hall

Master, Wardens, Aldermen, My Lord, Masters, Fellow Liverymen, Ladies & Gentlemen.  May I start by thanking the Renter Warden for his generous remarks. Peter Clark kindly honoured the World Traders at our Installation Banquet last week, and in turn I am honoured to sing for his supper tonight.

For a modern livery master at number 101, it can be daunting to address a venerable Company at number 30 that dates back to at least 1356, but certainly earlier.  Your deep history makes your future seem more certain, to the point that we modern companies can feel a bit expendable.  I happen to know a story about expendability.

A man once reproached the Canadian actor William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in Star Trek: “On your show, you had Russians, Chinese, Africans, and many others – why did you never have a character of my nationality?”  Shatner supposedly comforted the man, replying, “My dear fellow, you must understand that Star Trek is set in the future.”

Amongst Masons, Ironmongers, Fishmongers, Costermongers, Cheesemongers, and even Fearmongers, should we be called WorldMongers or GlobeMongers?  My catchphrase this year is “Psssst.  Hey Buddy, want to buy a planet?”

The great gag writer Barry Cryer tells a marvellous story about the comedian Tommy Cooper.   When Tommy Cooper was on military service with the Horse Guards he was assigned palace sentry duty but fell asleep standing inside his sentry box.  While in the middle of this court martial-able offence, he half opened one eye to see that his Commanding Officer and the Regimental Sergeant Major were fast approaching to discipline him.  Closing his eye again he looked for a single, killing word that might free him from this predicament.  He shook himself, drew to his full height, opened both eyes and then said the one word that could save him –  “AMEN.”

If I had to describe the Masons with one word, what might it be?  Actually that word might well be ‘fellowship’.

There is no better name for a Master Mason than ‘Peter’, “on this rock…”  Your Master has a challenging year, some of which has required personal forebearance, and our thoughts are with him and his family.  He has focused on ‘fellowship’ to great success from what I’ve heard from his fellow Masons.  Success has led to a few nice remarks along the lines that “that fellow who knows it all is especially annoying to those of us who think we do.”

I should like to spend a moment on the wider fellowship amongst all our livery companies.

The livery represents simultaneously both Continuity & Change.  Our traditions date back at least some 1,500 years to the Saxon guilds, yet we would be close to unrecognisable to our forebears.  We constantly change, striving to make ourselves relevant to the City of London, to our nation, and to the world.

They say there’s a lot to be said for the fellow who doesn’t say it himself.  Again, your Master is an expert on Continuity & Change.  He is an Old Mercer, that is one of the last of the students at the Mercers’ School that was at Barnard’s Inn by Holborn.  For those who don’t know, the Mercers’ School was an independent school in the City of London with a history going back at least to 1542, and perhaps much further. It was operated by the generous owners of this glorious hall, the Worshipful Company of Mercers and was closed in 1959.  The Old Mercers Club itself intends to wind down gracefully in 2020 due to old age.  I had the honour, as a former Mercers’ School Memorial Professor of Commerce at Gresham College of being made an honorary Old Mercer some dozen years ago.  The Old Mercers received, and they gave.  Continuity & Change.

In a Brexit world, with an isolationist America First, inequality, climate change, a planet almost three times as crowded as when the Master was born, our liveries have to change, we have to remain relevant.  We have been here before.  There were enormous questions in the Victorian era about the seemingly privileged role of the livery.  But privileges should be tools for good.  I might point to an enduring benefit of those questions.  In response in 1878, the City of London Corporation and 16 Livery Companies created the national system of technical education and established The City and Guilds of London Institute, where I happen to sit on Council.

A Mason by name, the US quipster Mason Cooley once said, “The question you’re not supposed to ask is the important one.”   Today, questions about the livery, our traditions, our charitable status, and our governance are rising.  There are good answers to these questions, but we need to articulate them.  There are also better answers to these questions, and we need to create them. 

The Mercers, led by their Master and Clerk, have helped to incubate a new Pan-Livery initiative mimicking that of 140 years ago.  There are a number of work strands looking at the three traditional livery roles, commerce, community, and charity with particular attention to jobs, diversity, and education.  All the more necessary with social, technical, economic, and political change accelerating all around us.  In a working City of London of 450,000 people, with 18,000 businesses, 16,000 of them SMEs dear to the Master’s heart, we nearly 45,000 liverymen are the cogs that keep things functioning well together.  It’s not just the nearly hundred million pounds of charity giving each year, rather it’s the deep volunteer commitment to community and civic duty.  An example to a nation that needs to energise its local communities to face global challenges, not leaving everything to central government.

I commend the Pan-Livery initiative to you with a stick and a carrot.  The stick is that we will face increasing questions.  The carrot is that by working in fellowship together we, our City, and our nation are stronger, more resilient, and more effective.  Continuity & Change.

You Masons know better than any of us how to strengthen foundations and fellowship.  And thus it is, Master, from all your guests tonight – we celebrate your theme this year, “fellowship”.

Guests and Masons, it gives me great pleasure to ask you to rise and drink a toast of fellowship coupled with the name of the Master, Peter Clark, “to the Worshipful Company of Masons, root and branch, may it flourish forever … and to Peter Clark.”