A Year of Change and Opportunity: Reflections on 2020 banner

27 May 2021

A Year of Change and Opportunity: Reflections on 2020

The past year will go down in our history books, not only because the world all but stopped due to Covid-19, but also because of its significance as one of the first moments in global history when such catastrophe has been so casually and minutely recorded around the world. Rarely, has the thoughts, behaviours and feelings of the masses been so thoroughly captured and stored for posterity. The way we each adapted, learnt new skills, took up new interests or hobbies, or supported ourselves, our loved ones, and even complete strangers who needed our help will be remembered.

At Merchant Taylors', we understand the importance of records and documenting history for those many years into the future, and so in this extraordinary year, we asked our Under Renter Warden and Liverymen of 2020 to share their reflections and experiences on it.

It has been a fascinating year as Under Renter Warden. The depth and breadth of Company activity is substantial, with something for everyone in terms of areas of potential contribution.

Under Renter Warden Martin Robb

Well, what a year. Historic for all the right reasons with our first lady Master, and of course all the wrong reasons due to Covid-19. However, entities like Merchant Taylors' do not survive for the best part of 700 years without being resilient, and when it comes to plagues, our forebears had their fair share to deal with.

The work of the Company has to carry on, and the team at the Hall worked wonders in the seamless transition to, predominantly online meetings and virtual ceremonies such as Bindings and Admissions.

The role of Under Renter Warden (URW), as the most junior member of the Master’s group of Wardens, is to support the Master with their agenda for the year. Interactions with the Master and Wardens group are regular, at least once a month in addition to other meetings of Court, committees and so on. These meetings ensure that necessary matters of policy, governance and so on are considered and agreed. Suitable direction then has to be given to the Clerk and other officers where appropriate to ensure the practical application of matters arising. In this particular year, dealing with the impact of Covid-19 on the Company affairs required a wide range of issues to be managed in ways that few of us would have expected or chosen.

That being said, there have been lighter moments. The URW is required to assist with the audit of the Company treasures. This involves admiring the contents of the company vault (yes, there is one!) and making sure that all of the (approximately) 180 silver mustard spoons are accounted for correctly. (All treasures used for dinners etc have to be signed out and signed back into the vault). Counting the magnificent rose water bowls, or candelabra, is rather easier!

One consequence of lockdown, though, has been that I have (so far) entirely failed to cover off another traditional responsibility of the URW – counting the petty cash before Court meetings. Doing that by Teams is a little tricky.

Overall, it has been a fascinating year as Under Renter Warden. The depth and breadth of Company activity is substantial, with something for everyone in terms of areas of potential contribution. To next year’s, or aspiring, URW I would simply say this – whilst the work load is not insignificant, it is thoroughly rewarding. And apologies in advance if the petty cash records are a mess...

I very much look forward to continuing to get to know my fellow Merchant Taylors and to becoming involved with the Charity Visits Scheme.

Liveryman Emma Pooley

Ever since I became an Apprentice Merchant Taylor in 2000 I have been struck by how welcoming all Company members I have met are. As an Apprentice and then a Freeman, that sense of fraternity has always been keenly felt at annual Church services as well as at other Company events which I have been able to attend.

Once both of my young children were in full-time education, I realised that I was in a position to contribute more of my time to the Company. I was therefore thrilled when I discovered that my Livery application had been successful in April 2020. I feel particularly honoured to have joined the Livery in the year when Jane Hall is the first lady Master Merchant Taylor. The two other new female Liverymen and I were extremely fortunate to be able to attend the Hall in person for our Livery ceremony on 15 October 2020. It was certainly a day which I will never forget.

I have been impressed by how the team at the Hall have continued to gather members together virtually during this last extraordinary year. The Taylors’ Talks have been fascinating; I have learned history about notable female Merchant Taylors, about English Heritage’s blue plaques and about finding treasure! The Coffee Break Bingo has also allowed me to meet several other Merchant Taylors’ ladies at a time when we have not been able to meet up in person. It was also great fun taking part in the latest Virtual Active Challenge in order to help raise funds for this year’s Master’s Charity, The Feast. Everything from my children and I climbing as many flights of stairs as possible during lockdown school breaks to brisk family walks in Ashridge Forest and online ballroom and Latin dance classes contributed to getting ‘The Dashing Bolts’ over the finish line.

I very much look forward to continuing to get to know my fellow Merchant Taylors and to becoming involved with the Charity Visits Scheme in due course.

On my first visits to the Hall I was always a little intimidated by the history, the traditions and status around it all, but over time I have realised what a great deal of good members do, and now I am looking forward to making my own contribution.

Liveryman John Coleman

I became a Liveryman last year having been invited to be a Freeman by Redemption. I had taught at Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood for 37 years, and, before that, taught at Merchant Taylors’ School, Crosby for four years making my service to the Company in some form or other 41 years!

Towards the end of my time at MTS Northwood I became more and more involved in school music and regularly sung with the boys at both the Vernon's Anniversary Service and Doctors’ Dinner but also helped the then-Master, Michael Skinner, produce a float for the Lord Mayor’s Show (which was awarded ‘Best in Show’). Before Covid-19, I had hoped to become involved in the educational side of the Company but lockdowns have restricted that so far. However, I was involved in the MT Virtual Active Challenge in team ‘A Stitch in Time’ where we came in a glorious twelfth! My contribution was to clock up miles walking the Chilterns with my wife, Nancy, and cycling local loops when the weather permitted!

I have always thoroughly enjoyed my visits to the Hall, especially as time has passed and I have got to know more and more people associated with the Company. On my first visits to the Hall I was always a little intimidated by the history, the traditions and status around it all, but over time I have realised what a great deal of good members do, and now I am looking forward to making my own contribution, humble though it may be.

More recently, I have returned to teaching for a while working at one of the Company’s associated schools, St Helen’s School Northwood. I am covering lessons in their brand new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) department and the rather rusty educational side of my brain has been shocked back into action – I’m just about surviving!

The pandemic has proved [...] that whilst the Hall is a focal point, being a Merchant Taylor is really all about the people.

Liveryman Lucinda Orr

My interview for the Livery was in early March 2020, in the slow motion slide into the first lockdown – the hint of what was to come being the panel’s profuse apologies for not being able to shake hands at the start of the interview…

I came to Merchant Taylors’ through the Rev. Christopher Woolley, who had kindly invited me to events such as the summer BBQ and Wylford's Anniversary Service, and then, in October 2016, I joined the Company by Redemption, (rather memorably on my birthday!). In the years as a Freeman, I enjoyed representing the Company in various Inter-Livery quizzes and skiing – always delighting in meeting my fantastic MT teammates.

I was honoured (and absolutely thrilled) to join the Livery and in the window between the lockdowns in the autumn, I relished my first Livery & Freemen Committee meeting and my Livery Ceremony and lunch – all super excitingly in person at the Hall!

I have enjoyed the two MT Virtual Active challenges (though it would be really lovely to meet my team in real life!) and was very pleased we selected the 'Nimble Thimbles' as our team name, as it meant coming up with sewing puns for the write-up, considering easier. The Taylors’ Talks series have also been fascinating and informative. I gave the February talk on Treasure Trove, as I am a member of the Treasure Valuation Committee for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was good revision for me to prepare the talk!

In early October, I also participated in a Saturday of gardening at St Saviour & St Olave’s School, which was good fun, even if it was back breaking work clearing rocks all day from part of the garden… As a Liveryman I have also become a Governor at Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood. I am extremely excited to finally be visiting the school this coming June for an in person governors’ meeting, as obviously it will better enable me to fulfil the role if I can see and experience the premises and meet the pupils and staff. I have already learned a great deal though and hope to be able to contribute much more in the coming years.

My first year as a Liveryman has meant I have not been to the Hall as much as I would like, but what the pandemic has proved is that whilst the Hall is a focal point, being a Merchant Taylor is really all about the people.

Learning more about the Company’s property portfolio and strategy has been very interesting – as has seeing how well these meetings can work over Zoom!

Liveryman Poppy Langdon-Down

I was made free of the Company in 2009 by Patrimony. My father Dominic, is a Liveryman and my grandfather, Tony, was Master in 1979 and Clerk between 1980 and 1985. I became a Liveryman in 2020. I was fortunate that a small, delayed, in-person ceremony was able to take place on 15 October at the Hall.

While we have not been able to regularly attend the Hall since joining the Livery, I received a warm welcome with a telephone call and several emails from members of the Court as well as existing Liverymen, which was very much appreciated while not having the opportunity to see fellow members in person.

Since joining the Livery, I now sit on the Property Committee. Learning more about the Company’s property portfolio and strategy has been very interesting – as has seeing how well these meetings can work over Zoom!

I have enjoyed listening to some of the extremely interesting virtual Taylors' Talks, in particular the one on London’s blue plaques given by Anna Eavis of English Heritage.

I was honoured to be asked to give a reading at the Wylford’s Anniversary Service this year which I recorded from the grounds of Salisbury Cathedral, the City where I live.

Over the past year I have kept up running (between 40-50 miles a week) despite all the races I had entered being postponed. However, it was fun to have recently run the Goodwood half marathon and attend a race event again after more than a year!

I am very much looking forward to attending the Hall regularly again and for a small dinner which has been arranged at the end of May. 

Merchant Taylors' Foundation: Preventing Youth Homelessness

15 June 2021

Merchant Taylors' Foundation: Preventing Youth Homelessness

Mark Robinson, Head of Prevention and Programmes at Depaul, which tackles youth homelessness, shares an update on their new under-16s programme which received a grant from MTF at the beginning of this year.

Read more

The Man in the Tower: How the Tower of London is tied to Merchant Taylors'

24 May 2021

The Man in the Tower: How the Tower of London is tied to Merchant Taylors'

Read how this Company is linked to one of London's most famous attractions with a very dark past

Read more