January Court & Dinner, Drapers' Hall

Tuesday 24th January 2017

With Christmas feasting and New Year but a distant memory, before we knew ourselves it was time for our next Big Do. This year I'd selected Drapers' Hall for this Court and Dinner and, as regulars to this Blog will know, it's an impressive venue and one of my favourites -- not least for its sheer splendour, but because it has the lovely garden for those activities now frowned on by so many.. However, before the dinner we had a Court Meeting in our dinner dress and at which the Company's affairs were put in order. I'm pleased to say we admitted two new Freemen to our Company, and also a new Liveryman in Sean Gavin. With Court concluded by 6.15, we had a short hiatus before our dining members and guests arrived and it didn't take long before the elegant salons were humming to the throng of animated conversations. At this dinner it's just the Master and Senior Warden who greet the guests and, luckily the drinks tray was close to hand.. All our invited Masters know this can be one of the most convivial parts of the evening and all arrived in good time and got stuck in. At 7.15 the Beadle called order and through they all went to the dining room - I thought the room was greatly enhanced with our Livery Crest behind my chair, but the whole ensemble was lovely. The company officers processed in with the principal guests to Handel's march from Scipio, played by our Guildhall scholars of which more later. We were very pleased to welcome the Master Draper, William Charnley to this dinner, but having suffered a painful accident to his leg, he met us already seated. Our Chaplain, the Rev Canon David Parrott read Grace:

Put away your tired court papers

It’s time for dinner now at Drapers'

The Master calls us all to dine

Give thanks to God for food and wine

And, as your Chaplain, may I say

That top of things for which I pray

Is that the speech may be a killer

Lord, loose the tongue of Master Miller


And so we dined. Like Merchant Taylors', the Drapers' have "in house" catering and they're really very good indeed. A delicious warm fish and shrimp starter was followed by the House specialty, Drapers' Beef Wellington, and then warm strudel wrap with house-made pistachio ice cream. William sits on the Hall's wine committee which was evident from the quality of wines consumed - and which were much commented on. Dinner done, we had the usual sung Grace and toasts and then the Smoking Cap ceremony where I don said cap and take a pinch of snuff from a ram's horn mull and send it down the branches - always fun. Shortly after this we had a ten minute comfort break and half the room decanted into the garden for a puff! On our return, the Principal Guest was ably introduced by Assistant Paul Taberer. Martyn Downer (said guest) an antiques chum of mine spoke most interestingly on the relationship between Admiral Lord Nelson (also a Draper) and tobacco and snuff - it was gripping stuff. Drapers' Hall has one of the two full-length studio portraits of Nelson by Beechey.. I kept my response as short as possible as there are better things to be doing, but had to point out that Her Majesty the Queen is also a Draper - and chose to use the hall for her personal 90th birthday celebrations; and that I'd at last identified a cigar that could be legally consumed within the building - a bit of a ruse as I'd had a chocolate cigar (complete with Livery crest) placed above each place setting! Ah well, we can but dream... I finished with an additional toast to 'absent friends' as we seem to have had a run of unusually bad luck on that score of late. Next, our Guildhall Scholars gave a short concert - Micheal Vickers (Baritone) and Diana Sheach (French Horn) were accompanied by their colleage Erika Gundesen on the piano and proved to all they had chosen the right vocation. At my request Michael sang J. C. Bach's rarely heard (and not recorded) song to tobacco; Diana played beautiful peices by Strauss and Mozart and to finish off, Haydn's Sailor Song which Diana had transposed to include horn to great effect - they were terrific. With the formalities of the evening now well and truly ticked, we had about 40 minutes to enjoy a good stirrup cup.. I had ensured we had a supply of good brandy in addition to the wine and port etc, and a box of cigars very kindly donated by Hunter & Frankau was put in the garden and enthusiastically partaken of. We were fortunate in having a clear and not too chill evening and I believe more of us were outside than in.. true to form, I was the last to leave and was relieved to find a cab close to hand for the Mistress and me to collapse into! As IPM Chris Allen put it, it's a gentle canter down hill from now..