372nd Anniversary Dinner
Saturday 7th November, 2009
(Report by Nigel Herriott. Pictures by the Webmaster. Click on pictures to enlarge.)
The fifth of November is a date that immediately brings a variety of thoughts and images to our minds. Whilst the average citizen of this country may think of bonfires and fireworks, there are some whose minds turn to an event that took place on the same day just thirty-two years after Guy Fawkes' ill-fated plot. And so nearly three hundred members and guests of the Ancient Society of College Youths met on the nearest Saturday, the 7th November, for the Society’s annual dinner which commemorates the founding of the society on 5th November 1637.
Celebrations had started the previous evening at the Red Herring, followed by late drinking elsewhere. Your correspondent was not able to attend the Friday celebrations but was impressed that the conductor of his peal on the Saturday morning was able to take charge of Bristol Maximus so ably having had such little sleep! Whatever activities members had undertaken during the day, they were arriving at the Guoman Tower Hotel for pre-dinner drinks by five o'clock. We mostly see our ringing friends in the tower looking a little on the scruffy side and it is always a bit of a surprise to see a large group of ringers looking so well turned out in their suits and party frocks, even the Master of the St. Paul’s Cathedral Guild had eschewed his kagoule for the evening!
The dinner has been held at the same hotel for a number of years and they have come to understand the requirements of the Society, managing to serve excellent London Pride with a reasonable bar service despite the heavy demand. A pleasant hour was spent by all: meeting old friends, recalling past ringing glories aided by the display of the Society’s splendid peal books and making plans for future ringing exploits. All too soon dinner was announced and, after hurried checks of the seating plan and wine orders, everyone moved to the dining room.
The “Ancient” nature of the Society warrants a little ceremony and so after the “rank and file” have taken their places, they are asked to welcome the Society’s official guests who are led around the room to their place by the Senior Steward bearing the mace and accompanied by applause from the members. Martin Cansdale looked uncharacteristically solemn as he performed his stewardship task leading The Right Revd Dr Thomas Butler, Bishop of Southwark; The Revd George Bush, Rector of St Mary-le-Bow; The Revd Katharine Rumens, Rector of St Giles, Cripplegate; Father Philip Warner, Priest in Charge of St Magnus the Martyr; and Miss Mary Holden, Master of the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths to their places on high table. Unfortunately Revd Oliver Ross, Rector of St Katharine Cree and St Olave Hart Street who had joined us for pre-dinner drinks was unable to stay for the dinner.
The Society then welcomed its master, applauding Peter Valuks as he walked around the room to his place at the centre of high table to preside over the dinner, one of his final tasks at the end of his year of mastership. David Baverstock said grace which ended the ceremonial and signalled the start of dinner. An excellent meal was enjoyed by all: plum tomato and parmesan tartlet; chargrilled salmon with a herb and parmesan crust followed by triple chocolate mousse. A short break followed to allow digestive systems to recover before the start of the speeches during which coffee and petits fours were served.
It is traditional at this point for the Master to “take wine” with selected groups of members, often recognising long service to the Society or a personal ringing connection. Peter Valuks asked for a number of these toasts, the most notable being a request to take wine with all members present who were celebrating their ninety-third birthday that day. Surely there couldn't be many who matched such a specific toast and there was thunderous applause as Harold Rogers stood up. The Master finally brought the carousing to an end with the Loyal Toast before beginning his speech, proposing “The Church and the Church guests”.
Peter gave a moving and personal speech in which he described how he had been brought up in a churchgoing family which had led him to ringing. He explained that bells are an advertisement for the church and that they are a reminder to everyone of the presence of God and he gave a reminder to us that our ringing should be for the glory of God. Peter spoke of the new bells at St. Magnus the Martyr as the highlight of his year as master and said what a great credit they were to all the people who had been involved in the project. He then called on the Bishop of Southwark to reply.
Tom Butler gave a witty speech albeit with a few rather old ringing jokes. He began by telling us of the time of his appointment as Bishop when he had received a letter from his old geography master at school expressing astonishment and asking for forty years back “subs” to the old boys association. Bishop Tom talked about ringing both with characteristic humour when he spoke of the partnership between clergy and ringers “you wake them up and we put them to sleep again” and also with some seriousness, particularly when he mentioned his pleasure that Taylors had been rescued, expressing his hope that it would prosper for another one hundred and fifty years.
Following the Bishop, there was a short break in the speeches for handbells. The members reacted with admiration when it was announced that Jenny Butler, Philip Earis, John Hughes-D’Aeth, Tom Hinks and Paul Mounsey would ring three leads of Orion, which was followed by a flutter of concern as to whether there might be any impairment of their capability by this time in the evening. However, there was no need to be worried as the touch was rung in fine style.
The toast to the Society was given by Prebendary Chris Marshall, who taught the Master to ring. He started by referring to Michael Uphill’s “Tales from a London Crypt” articles in the Ringing World, suggesting that his speech might be entitled “Tales from a Somerset Parsonage”. Chris regaled us with a number of amusing stories including one about a peal at St. John the Baptist in Yeovil (10 bells, 40cwt) with Chris Kippin on the tenor. They had failed to switch the lights on before the start of a peal of Cambridge Royal and it became darker and darker as it progressed. It seemed as if they were destined to finish the peal in complete darkness when Chris leapt from the tenor box, switched on the lights, and sprang back without missing a blow.
The response by the Secretary, John Hughes D’Aeth, followed the usual pattern of a review of the year. John started by suggesting that he had given the same speech for five years but, by that time in the proceedings, no-one would remember. He noted that it had been a particularly successful year with highlights including a very successful Country Meeting in Edinburgh and the installation of the new ring of twelve at St. Magnus the Martyr.
The formal proceedings ended, as usual, with a toast proposed by the master, which is drunk in silence, to “The Fragrant Memory of the Masters of 300, 200 and 100 years ago”. Unfortunately the names of the earlier two have been lost, but we were able to drink to the memory of the master of 1908-1909, John W Rowbotham. The dinner starts quite early and allowing a considerable time to socialise which was used to the full, with some continuing into the early hours. For those that were staying in the hotel, the lifts to the bedrooms were conveniently close, making a pleasant end to the evening.
There are certain perils in agreeing to write a report of the dinner, not the least being the difficulties in recalling full details of the proceedings the next day after a long evening of enjoying the Society’s hospitality. Your correspondent took precautions against this eventuality by taking detailed notes throughout the speeches, however despite taking great care, he found his notes the next day were not quite as clear or as legible as he had expected. He therefore hopes that he will be forgiven for any small errors that he may have made.
David Kingston talks to Chris Kippin (who is continuing his 2009 tradition now of being photographed with a glass of orange juice). Past Master, Paul Williams, giving tips to Martin Cansdale (Senior Steward) on Martin's forthcoming year as Master. Michael Royalton-Kisch, Dickon Love and Przemek Benoński.
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