Vintners Livery Dinner, Vintners' Hall

Thursday 1st June 2017

With our own installation dinner excepted, this was my last formal dinner as a Livery Master and what a one to go out on! The Vintners are an ancient company (Royal Charter 1363) and their Hall on the banks of the Thames was where all the wine for London was imported and stored in their capacious cellars. The original hall was lost in the Great Fire, however this 1671 rebuild is quite splendid and remains much as it was back then. The only (unseen) difference was that in the mid 1930’s the roof had a nasty attack of Death Watch beetle and the surveyors suggested replacing it with a concrete roof (something which would be impossible now) with the unexpected benefit that, come World War Two, the incendiary bombs that would have reduced it to ashes again, bounced off and the building was saved except for a few window panes – the treasures having been removed to safety anyway. It was a fine evening and a pleasant stroll from Mansion House station to Vintners Place. Met on the door by a wine porter in his uniform and silver badge of office, we were subsequently met by Swan Uppers (this is one of three Livery Companies that audit the Swans annually on the Thames) and Barge Master, all looking splendid. Met by Master Robert Rolls, his Mistress and Wardens (but sadly not their 3rd Warden, a certain Alderman Dr. Andrew Parmley...), there was a lively Bollinger reception afoot and into which I was soon swept up with the Master Wheelwright. As one might expect the Vintners members are excellent company and don’t stand on ceremony and it was all too soon before we were gavelled to dine downstairs. The dining room is quite lovely and has a plaque recording the night when no less than five Kings once dined in it together. There are some very amusing carved masks under the windows which sequentially run clockwise, the first being a beautiful young lady, by the time you reach number five she’s like Mrs Slocombe! Obviously the 17th Century carver had a keen sense of humour! I was sat in the middle of the middle branch next to the IPM Vintner Simon Leschallas (who gamely enjoyed a pinch of snuff after the Loyal Toasts) and a member who was in the trade as a producer. All the wines were introduced by a member before we started and accompanied some fine fare: Crab and Foie Gras Terrine (2015 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay Hill-Smith Estate); Rubia Gallega Beef Fillet (2002 Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron 2eme Cru Classe, Pauillac); Lancashire Rarebit; Pear, Almond & Elderflower (2003 Chateau de Fargues Lur-Saluces 1er Cru Classe, Sauternes); 1997 Graham’s port; 1976 Hine Grande Champagne Cognac, landed 1979 bottled 1993. With that all done, we sang grace and had a Loving Cup before some light operatice entertainment by The Rose Quartet who had some fun strolling up and down the branches – they were enthusiastically received. Then the toasts and speeches began; The principal guest was the Australian High Commissioner, His Excellency The Hon Alexander Downer, AC who spoke very sensibly about reinforcing our historic trade links in a post-Brexit era, and of course managed one or two well aimed sporting jibes as no Australian can speak in public without some of those – it was all taken in the spirit intended and received long applause as well it might. The Master rounded proceedings up very eloquently and finished on a good joke before the head table removed themselves to the Court room where a stirrup cup was being served. Having enjoyed a quick catch up with one or two Masters I’d not had a chance to before dinner, the splendid marquetry longcase clock in the corner (presented in 1704) indicated it was nearly 11pm and time to potter off. It was such a balmy night I chose to walk along to Embankment and enjoy a small cigar along the river front, a fine end to a fine evening and, by the grace of an Uber I was home before the witching hour.