The Ancient
Society of
Est. 1637

375th Anniversary Dinner
3rd November 2012

(Report by Simon Bond, photographs by Clare Dyer and the Webmaster)

When populating my (now electronic) calendar for a year, there are a number of events that very quickly get entered. Many of these are centred on Oxford, unsurprising given that I live there. The OUS Dinner and Tour, May Morning ringing at Magdalen College, garden parties at various colleges all make an appearance. However, for the last four years it has been my privilege to be able to add one of the true highlights of the ringing year to my own calendar.

This year the Ancient Society of College Youths celebrates its 375th Anniversary and, as with every year, the annual dinner on the first weekend in November provides members with the ideal opportunity to meet up, eat and drink with friends from around the country, and indeed around the world.

The Master accompanied by his Stewards.

Not content with spending all of the Saturday drinking, the College Youths like to start the ball rolling early with a light warm-up on the Friday night at the Duke and Duchess on Creed Lane. As ringing commitments kept me in Oxford on Friday, all I know of this is what I was told by the Secretary on Saturday: "It was very good."

As it was, I headed down to London early on the morning of Saturday 3rd November. A stop at St Paul's crypt to take on caffeine (I dubbed it thinking juice at the time) was much required en route to a peal attempt at St Sepulchre. Sadly, after two hours of good ringing, that attempt did not end as successfully as attempts elsewhere in the City and further afield. However, it's always worth looking on the bright side, and an early bath allowed for extra time to enjoy the lunchtime pub. The Chamberlain, on Minories, is a large Fullers pub that has provided the lunchtime sustenance on dinner day for a number of years. It was here that the real business of the day, refreshing both friendships and palates, could begin.

Beyond drinking — one wouldn't want to accuse the CYs of only doing that — the afternoon provided an opportunity for members to ring on the excellent new bells at St Dunstan-in-the-West and St Clement Danes. This is the second year running that dinner day has featured ringing on bells that have been recently placed in City towers demonstrating some of the hard work that has been done by London ringers over the last couple of years (if I was in government, I suspect the word "legacy" might be used here...).

Ringing out of the way (for most) it was time to head for the main event. The Society returned to the Guoman Tower Hotel after a number of years being very well looked after by the staff there. This year was no exception. The service of the excellent London Pride has now been perfected to the point that the long queues of years gone by are now a distant memory. So good, in fact, that it appears no longer necessary to buy two pints at a time (although old habits die hard).

The Grace this year was given by Rev. Bill Wilson of Brighton, currently serving as parish priest at Cornhill and, at the time, in his limbo between proposal and election to the Society. Taking our seats for dinner — mine was, for the second year, surrounded by members of the CUG — the merry ballet of waiting staff saw three courses of excellent food served to the 340 guests. One member referred to the main course of slow roast sirloin of beef as "a huge slab of meat", but it certainly lived up to the fine dining experience we've come to expect.

The top table and Society silverware.

Speeches at ringing dinners are generally approached with some trepidation, both by those speaking and listening. Fortunately for the College Youths, the Treasurer, Philip Rogers, is a very capable Master of Ceremonies and ensures that not too many of the older members end up dropping off through long and dull speeches. The Master, David Maynard, took it upon himself to give members a surprisingly engaging history lesson (having told us he has not one, but two degrees in history). His grasp of the introduction of the Gregorian calendar seemed sound, but stories of dreams involving King Charles I and pyjamas made less sense. David's principal business was to toast the church, something that has remained largely constant through the 375-year history of the Society.

The Reverend David Parrott, vicar of St Laurence Jewry, is a well-known and popular character amongst London ringers, particularly after his involvement in the wedding of Martin and Becky Cansdale earlier this year. Responding to David's toast, he happily informed us that he has never dreamt of the Master wearing his pyjamas. He also carefully avoided use of the three bellringing jokes he had found on the internet, opting instead to poke fun at another London society that makes use of Jewry's bells during the year. Clearly a man who knows his audience.

I generally attend two dinners a year where handbells are rung. At one of these, I am quick to dismiss it as "flummery" (not my word, but seemingly ideal for the situation). The handbell touch at the CY dinner is a very different beast. This year's touch, rung by Paul Mounsey, Jennie Earis, John Hughes-D'Aeth, Tom Hinks, Philip Earis and Paul Carless, consisted of Orion and Ariel Surprise and Crayford Little Bob Maximus, the former two being regular focus methods at Tuesday practice. Introduced by Phil Rogers as being "awesome", the touch didn't fail to impress and its conclusion was met with much-deserved applause.

Peter Sanderson of York was next to speak. Proposing the toast to the Society, Peter reflected on the recent country meeting (which he insisted he wasn't entirely responsible for) drawing similarities between the Society and the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. In a more serious vein, Peter told us of the three feature of the Society high particularly admires — expectation of high standards, companionship, and leadership.

The Master with speaker Peter Sanderson.

That left only what is arguably the highlight of the speeches. The Secretary, David House, was taking on this task for the first time this year. Having promised before his election that he would not be singing at the dinner, members were looking forward to a less cringeworthy performance than last year. The opening gambit, an anecdote about Caroline likening the top table at a CY business meeting with 50 Shades of Grey, set the tone and led nicely into discussion of John Barrowman creeping up behind those ringing on the jubilee barge.

David reminded the room of the expected standard expected of new members — the ability to strike well, stick to a blue line, and to command the respect of their peers. Members particularly capable of demonstrating these abilities were those receiving their certificates for fifty years membership. David seemed particularly pleased to announce his own entry to this select club (being an "extremely junior member of that group"). The Secretary concluded his duties by reminding those present of members that have been lost this year, always a poignant moment in the evening, and thanking the Master for his hard work over the last year.

With the formalities of the evening over, the gathered throng was free to mingle and continue to enjoy the hospitality of the Tower. As ever, this part of the evening is not the clearest the morning after, but I'm sure the most was made of the opportunity to chat and catch up with guests from other tables. Paying £5.10 for a pint of Stella Artois Black perhaps highlights the delirium that can set in as the evening draws to a close. Many were fortunate enough to have a short walk up the stairs to the hotel's accommodation. Those less fortunate had a couple of hours travelling on the coach back to Oxford before finally reaching home. Maybe next year I'll come up with a more sensible plan.

A further drawback of leaving London immediately after the dinner is missing out on yet another chance to enjoy the best of the capital's hospitality. Lunch in the Blackfriar followed ringing at various City towers and I imagine the first couple of pints might have been hard going for some revellers with sore heads.

By the end of the weekend, all those who attended will have seen the very best that ringing can offer — excellent ringing, excellent food and drink, and excellent friends from around the world. In summary, and if I haven't made it clear enough already, another great dinner enjoyed by all and I'm sure everyone will look forward to more of the same next year.

  • Members inspect the Society peal books.

  • Alan Flood and George Pipe.

  • Helen Herriott, Katie and Jenny Lane, and Henry Coggill.

  • Alan Flood, Swaz Aper and Steve Coaker.

  • RW Directors Nigel Herriott and Jennie Earis.

  • Rick Shallcross and Phil Rogers.

  • Peter Bennett, Tudor Edwards and David Llewellyn, three Welsh members of fifty or more years standing, with the Master.

  • James Marchbank and David House.

  • Paul Carless and Steve Coaker.

  • Stef Warboys and John Thurman.

  • Ben, Sue and Simon Meyer.

  • Brian Meads and Jonathan Slack.

  • Gavin Bennett and William Dawson.

  • Jenny and Andrew Dyer and Michele Winter.

  • Michael Williams, Colin Parker and Jill Galloway.

  • Paul Carless and Eleanor Linford.

  • Rick Shallcross and Andrew Wilby.

  • Your Correspondent, Simon Bond.

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