The Ancient
Society of
Est. 1637

Early Society Dinner Tickets

by Christopher J. Ridley, August 2003

A glimpse along the tables at the close of each College Youths Anniversary Dinner shows relatively few menu cards left behind. Members and guests often taking their copy, sometimes signed by fellow guests, home as a reminder of the event. The production of a dinner ticket is a tradition that goes back over 200 years. A recent discovery has provided a further example of one of these early tickets, as well as helping to fill a gap in the Society's history.

The 1763 dinner ticket

When the College Youths were founded in 1637 the majority of members were drawn from the upper echelons of society. Many of these early ringers joined for social purposes, with ringing being a secondary interest. The advancement of ringing in the early 1700s saw a broader spectrum of society taking up ringing. This led to the establishment of a number of other London based ringing societies. The College Youths however, appear to have acted as the premier ringing society from the outset. As a consequence many of the better ringers subsequently migrated to the College Youths leading to the demise of many of the other early societies. By 1756 however, tensions had arisen within the College Youths between the older members, and more recent recruits who on the whole tended to be the better ringers. This led to a split in the Society. The older members went off to form the Ancient Society of College Youths, whilst the remainder kept the original College Youths name (though are often referred to as the Junior Society). Although both societies came back together by 1788 and adopted the ASCY title, limited records other than membership details and peal performances exist for this period. Hence the absence of the Master's name of 200 years ago when a toast is drunk to the their fragrant memory at the close of each Annual Dinner.

Both Societies appear to have continued to hold separate Annual Dinners throughout this period. The Junior Society was the first however, to use a specially engraved ticket for the event. The original design, reproduced on current Annual Dinner menu cards, was the work of Thomas Kitchin, a well known cartographer whose offices where situated at 59 Holborn Hill. The earliest known example is from 1763 and represents the oldest original document, apart from peal boards, known to exist for the Society. This copy is currently in the Osborn Collection of papers in the British Library (Add 19368 page 184). The ticket provides details of the Master and six Stewards and invites the member to attend the event at the Half Moon Tavern in Cheapside. It is thought that the first two names represent the elected Stewards, with the other four names being members who were responsible for organising the Dinner.

The blank dinner ticket

Ticket used for the 1772 Feast

A blank copy of this design together with a further copy used for the 1772 Feast is held in the Guildhall Library (C11/62, T1772). The 1772 ticket shows the venue as having moved to the Globe Tavern in Fleet Street, with a manuscript note at the foot of the invitation inviting the member to attend ringing beforehand at St Mary-le-Bow church. Unlike the other copies it has not been pasted on to card, allowing the name of the invited member to be seen. The ticket is addressed to Mr William Croft via Mr Evans, Attorney in Nottingham. This suggests that members of the Junior Society still tended to be drawn from the professional classes.

The copy recently found is for 1775 and represents only the third used example known to exist. The Globe Tavern is the venue again, and like the 1772 copy contains a postscript inviting the member to attend St Mary Le Bow at one o’clock precisely, prior to the dinner at 2pm. Of greater interest are the names of the Master (John Tidd) and six other Stewards (Tame, Sherwood, Holdsworth, Palmer, Chapman and Ramsbottom) shown on the ticket. These names were not previously known. It is interesting that John Tidd who came from Isleworth, had only joined the Society in 1772. This ticket is currently held in a private collection. The Osborn Collection written in the first half of the 19th Century, provides an interesting glimpse of the event in those days. It includes an account by William Eversfield of Gravesend, who recalled that members walked in procession from the Barley Mow (Salisbury Court, Fleet Street) to the church appointed for Divine Service. The procession being led by the Beadle, who wore a black silk gown and gold laced hat, and carried the silver mace acquired by the Society in 1762. The latter is still used today, but unfortunately the Secretary now dresses more conventionally.

Ticket from 1775

The Bartolozzi design

This Collection also contains a copy of the oldest known rules for the Society (1776). Rule 12 states that ‘Master and Stewards were to cause tickets to be printed and directed to the several members to be delivered by the Warner.’ For this service all members had to contribute 1s (i.e. 5p). When the two societies got back together again in 1788, a new Annual Feast ticket was commissioned from the eminent designer Francesco Bartolozzi (see left). The Society still holds the original copper plate for printing these tickets (restored in 1923), the design now being used for the membership certificate. This cost 15 guineas at the time (i.e. £15.75 – a considerable sum in those days) and 300 copies were printed at a further cost of £1-19s-0d (i.e. £1.95). The cost and use of such an eminent engraver may reflect the influence of the former ASCY members who had now returned. Two blank copies of these invitations are known to exist. One is in the Osborn Collection in the British Library (Add 19368, opposite page 110). The other is in the Guildhall Library (C11/62).

The Kitchin design measures 1.9cm by 2.5cm and appears to have been printed on paper measuring 2.15cm by 3.25cm. The later Bartolozzi design is the same size as the current membership certificate measuring 2.4cm by 3.3cm.

It is interesting that some of the most impressive Society artistry started life as dinner tickets in the latter half of the 18th Century. The purpose of this article has been to record some of the early examples known, as well as to ascertain whether other copies exist to help complete the historical record.