400th Anniversary Celebrations

Our Company celebrated the 400th birthday of the first tobacco pipe company in tremendous style in June, with a packed choral evensong in one of London’s most ancient churches, followed by a big party. Andrew Golding, our current Master, who for a year led the team planning the celebration, offers his thoughts on this historic event.

First, Andrew, the choral evensong - how do you think that went?

It was truly special. In keeping with the historic nature of the occasion, we held our evensong service in the 12th century Temple Church, which is absolutely beautiful and steeped in history. Huge thanks to the Master of the Temple, the Revd Robin Griffith-Jones, our Honorary Chaplain, Canon David Parrott, and Past Master Mark Gower-Smith, who worked together to arrange a magnificent service. It was both a special service of thanksgiving, and a magical occasion.

There’s a unique historical ambience in Temple Church, so our gowns, badges and insiginia, and those of our many guests from other Livery Companies and the City, blended in rather seamlessly. Temple Church has ancient stone effigies of reclining Knights Templar that lend an awesome sense of the past.

As David wrote in our Order of Service, the form of Evensong chosen for the service was created in the early 16th century, so would have been in use at the time we were celebrating, 400 years ago.

And of course, one of the special attributes of the church is its music, which was absolutely outstanding. After a resounding trumpet fanfare to open the service, we were treated throughout to the professional Temple Church choir, conducted by Roger Sayer, Director of Music. They were superb and included music from the 17th century when our Company originated. At least one visiting Master said that after a particularly beautiful anthem half-way through, he had to sit on his hands to prevent himself from clapping! The atmosphere was magical.

And then the party – how did that go?

The feel for history continued!

We held our reception in the 16th century Middle Temple Hall, where Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ was first performed in 1602. Our guests were able to see some of our Company treasures, laid out on a huge oak table gifted to the Hall by Queen Elizabeth I (yet more history!) Members will be pleased to know that amongst our antique snuff mulls and tobacco jars on display, our biggest snuff mull, Cedric, had pride of place. It was Cedric’s first outing after a superb renovation arranged by Past Master Charles Miller and paid for by Immediate Past Master Roger Brookes - as Charles put it, Cedric has now had ‘a shampoo and set’ (his fur is now clean, white and fluffy) and the missing silver tip on his right-hand horn has been beautifully replaced. Thank you, Charles!

While everyone enjoyed wine and canapés, musicians played in the minstrels’ gallery, and the historian, Professor Jonathan Phillips gave a lively talk about the colourful era of the Temple Church through to the Company’s birth in 1619.

Each departing guest was given a gift of Master’s snuff and a handkerchief decorated with our original Coat of Arms.

We had many compliments from our guests, and while the evening was steeped in our 400-year history, it was also fun. I think we achieved a good balance between celebrating our history and showing that we are a vibrant Company full of vigour for the future.

What did you like most about the event?

I don’t think I can choose any one aspect, as I enjoyed every minute of it! But it’s worth adding that one of the most encouraging things was the huge turnout from other Livery Companies and from the City Corporation. It was an honour to welcome no fewer than 100 guests from other Companies and the City Corporation and the two Sheriffs, Alderman Vincent Keaveny and Liz Green, while the Lord Mayor was represented by Sir Andrew Parmley, (Lord Mayor 2016/17) as ‘Lord Mayor Locum Tenens’.

We were also lucky with the weather! It was a beautiful summer evening, which put a smile on many faces!

And of course, I’m enormously grateful to all the Liverymen who helped with planning our celebration and making it run smoothly, and who attended in strong numbers on the day. The spirit of co-operation and enthusiasm says much about the vibrancy of our Company and I’m hugely grateful to everyone who lent their support.

How did the Company’s good causes benefit from the event?

We punch well above our weight in contributing to the millions of pounds the Livery collectively donates to charity each year, and the 400th celebration was another opportunity to for us to do our bit. The retiring collection at the service was in aid of our Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Trade Benevolent Fund, which is a healthy fund that we manage actively. We and our guests raised a splendid £1,550 for the Fund, and to thank Temple Church for their support and cooperation, we will also be making a donation to the Church as an appreciation of our gratitude.

Members will know that as well as supporting several pan-City causes, our charitable work includes providing scholarships at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, funding projects to help disadvantaged London youth, disabled children and people facing homelessness, and helping members of the trade or their dependents who have fallen on hard times. It’s good to know that our 400th celebration contributed to this!

How do you think the event has helped to position us for the future?

I feel it showed we are in great shape, proud of our 400-year tradition, and playing a positive role in the Livery as a whole. As our Honorary Archivist, Assistant Jacqueline Burrows, wrote in our Order of Service, over the centuries our history has at times been challenging and fragmented.

This year we are celebrating the founding of our predecessor Company of Tobacco-pipe makers of Westminster with a Royal Charter by King James I in 1619. Over the centuries since then our fortunes fluctuated, with our Charter being revoked around the time of the Civil War in the 17th century, a new Charter being granted by King Charles II in 1663, our apparent disappearance from the Livery by 1869, but then our re-birth in 1954 in our current form, as the Tobacco Pipe Makers and Tobacco Blenders of the City of London.

Our history has allowed us more than one anniversary to celebrate – we also enjoyed a tremendous party in 2014 to celebrate 60 years since our modern rebirth.

But our 400th celebrations have left me in no doubt that today we are stronger than ever and looking forward with real optimism to the next 400 years!