The Society of Merchant Venturers Spring Banquet, Merchants' Hall, Bristol

Friday 12th May 2017

Several Livery Companies have forged links with this excellent regional Livery – our Tobacco connection with Bristol ensures that we keenly endorse our fraternal bonds at reciprocating banquets. Whilst similar in many respects, the essential differences are that the Merchant Venturers number around eighty in total, membership is by invitation only and you have to be a local with a strong track record of good works – but this small group educates some 3000 children which is quite remarkable! Their original Hall was, like so many of London’s, lost in the War but not before they’d preserved their art and chandeliers so, when they bought a couple of large Victorian villas in Clifton and knocked them together, they were able to reinstate their superb set of 1790’s English chandeliers and some very fine art, much of it maritime… All the guests were lodged at the Avon Gorge Hotel in Clifton and the MVs had laid on taxi buses to ferry us to and from the Hall. As mentioned previously, we had left London around 3.30pm and arrived at the hotel at 6.50pm giving us about half an hour to get into white tie which was accomplished with about 5mins to spare! The Hall is charming – hard to tell that it’s a conversion from the inside, but we were warmly greeted by their Master, Cullum McAlpine, and his Mistress Amanda. Our host was Stephen Parsons who ensured our champagne glasses never ran dry and who was very interesting about the Company and various artefacts he saw me admiring. We were gavelled in all too soon (perils of being on the second bus!) and found ourselves in an elegant dining room with one long ‘top’ table and three circular ‘branches’ behind in window bays. After Grace, we were treated to poached turbot; loin of lamb and peach Melba panna cotta, washed down with an exceptional 2002 St Julien – we were deeply spoilt and I made good friends with the sommelier very quickly! My companions were Sir David Wills and last year’s Master, Sir Tim Ross, and I recall we had a very jolly time of it indeed! The Principal Guest was the ‘Brexiteer’ economist Roger Bootle whose wise words were largely endorsed by the room with perhaps the unofficial opposition of the Lord Lt, Mrs Peaches Golding OBE, who in a Sir Francis Urquart type of way said ‘I can’t possibly comment..’ thereby saying it all! After dinner there was a lengthy stirrup cup where I was able to meet Mr Bootle and endorse his view that there’s pain to come, but ok in the long run. I was also able to offer my snuff box and was pleased that several sportingly tried a pinch, including the High Sheriff of Bristol, Anthony Brown, who was in full civil fig and looked like he should be a natural – which he was, nearly. Sadly the evening had to come to an end at some point and so at about 11.30pm we went to find the taxi bus back to the hotel and here I caught up with the London Masters and Clerks for a very lively nightcap – Master Draper William Charnley stood me a pint and I offered cigars on the terrace. Finally it was time to call it a day and so at around 12.30 it was up the wooden hill and so to bed.. thank you Merchant Venturers for an exceptional evening of fine company and hospitality.