The Ancient
Society of
Est. 1637

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371st Anniversary Dinner
Saturday 1st November, 2008
(Report by Chris Kippin.  Click on pictures to enlarge.)

Remember, remember the fifth of November
With gunpowder, treason and plot

The College Youths may perhaps have experienced both treason and plot in the past, though not, so far as I know, gunpowder. However, members have a better reason to remember the fifth of November as by tradition the annual dinner is held on the Saturday nearest that date, though for convenience this is usually interpreted as the first Saturday in November to avoid any possible clash with a lesser event which takes place in the City of London on the following Saturday.*

These days many members, particularly those from further afield, take the opportunity of coming to London for the weekend and this year was no exception, with members from Edinburgh, Liverpool, Cornwall and other far-flung places mingling with London members in the City Tavern on Friday night. Understandably, given the relatively recent visit of overseas members for the UK08 tour in August, and the lack of US-based speakers at the dinner, there were fewer overseas members present this year, but it was good to see regulars John and Ina Owen from the USA, and less-frequent visitors David and Ann Hawkins from Canada amongst the Friday night crowd. As is usual on these occasions, old friendships were renewed, new ones made, peals rung that evening discussed and liquid refreshment consumed, thus enabling the Society to fulfil its obligation by far exceeding the minimum spend for the use of the private room, and drinking the pub dry in the process.

On Saturday morning many were up bright and early to attempt more peals in and around London, most of which were scored. Some of the less frenetic opted to join Jim Phillips on another walk around the City looking at places associated with the Society. This year, topically, these included St Magnus-the-Martyr where the Society has committed £30,000 from its bell restoration fund to help finance the provision of a new ring of twelve, to be installed next year. More conviviality followed in the bar of the Chamberlain Hotel whilst the more intrepid went to ring on the challenging bells at St Katharine Cree, until recently one of the City’s two unringable sixes, and shortly to be the subject of a full restoration.

The dinner itself took place in the Guoman Tower Hotel. This is the fifth year we have been to this venue which, after a few teething troubles in the first year or two, has proved to be an excellent venue, both in terms of facilities and food. Certainly its location alongside Tower Bridge and next to the St Katherine’s Dock complex is impressive: for those staying in the hotel the views of the river from the bedrooms equally so. The Society’s dinner cannot quite be described as a glittering occasion, but these days it is certainly a colourful one, particularly when compared with dinners years ago when the company present was usually exclusively male. Some may say that the dinner is not like it used to be, which is true, but the changed situation has made the dinner ever more popular. This year’s attendance of 314 was a little down on last year’s record attendance, but in general the dinner continues to be a highly popular event in the Society’s calendar.

The formal proceedings began with the traditional procession of the guests to the top table. This year the guests were Rt Rev Graeme Knowles, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, and Mrs Sue Knowles; Dr Peter Mullen, Rector of St Michael’s Cornhill and Mrs Lynne Mullen, Parish Administrator of St Sepulchre; Fr Philip Warner, Priest in Charge of St Magnus-the Martyr; and Mr John Loveless, (the new) Master of the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths. This was followed by the procession of the Master and Stewards, accompanied by the inevitable synchronised clapping. I have never been able to work out exactly what this signifies, nor how ordinary applause can suddenly synchronise without any apparent orchestration, but the dinner nowadays would not seem complete without it.

After an amusing and topical grace by Father David Gibbons the company sat down to a splendid meal, punctuated as usual by the Master taking wine with members for various specific reasons or accidents of geography. Our Master has not been a member of every university society in the country (quite), but his list of Sheffield, Liverpool, Oxford and London was certainly impressive and rather longer than anyone else’s in recent years.

The meal over we were entertained to four excellent speeches, two down on previous years. First up was the Master who proposed the toast to the Church in his own inimitable fashion. Clerics, of course, are professionals at public speaking but Graeme Knowles exceeded our expectations by responding in a forthright and highly amusing manner. Following a touch of Stedman Cinques on handbells the Society was proposed by Peter Furniss from Liverpool who spoke of his debt to members of the Society in his early stages of ringing, particularly Geoff Dodd of Highclere. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, there were no impersonations. Finally the Secretary responded by giving an account of the Society’s doings over the past year – a successful one in all respects. The formal business being concluded the Master and guests processed out, this time to traditional applause.

What with the reduction in the number of speeches and extremely speedy service by the hotel staff the informal part of the evening resumed at 9pm. Since the bar was not scheduled to close until 1am this presented a serious challenge to members, most of whom rose to the occasion with their usual tenacity. Late in the evening the company was entertained by the arrival from a Halloween party elsewhere in the hotel of a number of young ladies clad in outfits considerably more exotic than substantial. The Master, as is his wont, welcomed these visitors if not with open arms then certainly with his usual degree of enthusiasm.

A good night out is usually followed by a morning after and there were probably a few thick heads on Sunday morning. Nevertheless quite a number of those staying in the hotel were out and about for service ringing and the weekend was rounded off for many at the lunchtime gathering at The Paternoster.

No dinner organises itself and this one was no exception. We are all grateful to the Secretary, John Hughes-D’Aeth (and one assumes that Cathy was probably beavering away in the background too), to the Treasurer and Toastmaster, Phil Rogers, who kept us all in order both procedurally and financially, and to Janet Hill whose professional expertise in events management has helped the Society enormously in its dealings with the dinner venue. All that remains to be said is “Roll on next year”.

* The Lord Mayor’s Show

The Junior Steward (Martin Cansdale), Master (Mark Humphreys) and Senior Steward (Peter Valuks) prepare to process in for the start of the dinner. The Master proposes the toast to the Church.

The R't Rev'd Graham Knowles, Dean of St Paul's, responds to the Master's toast.

The handbell ringers.

Peter Furniss proposes the toast to the Society.

Philip Rogers was Master of Ceremonies.

The Secretary tells us about the last year in the Society.

The Master presenting 50 year certificates.

Fr David Gibbons, who gave the grace, with Steve Mitchell and Tony Kench.

Cathy and John Hughes-D'Aeth with David Hilling.

Clare Stagg, Fergus Stracey, Judith and Robin Rogers, and Robert Perry. William Dawson, Lizzie Frye and Jonathan Frye.
Helen and Peter Valuks. Paul Carless, Louise Palmer, Jenny Lane, Katie Lane, Ed Hughes-D'Aeth and Rachel Mitchell. Ed Hughes-D'Aeth and Rachel Mitchell.
Dickon Love, John White and John Owen.

Teacher and pupil:  David Kingston and Przemek Benoński.

Eleanor Linford and Martin Cansdale. Ian Hill, Nigel Newton and Linda Garton.
John Hyden and David Jones. Mike Birkbeck and Fr David Gibbons.
Andrew Graham and Jo Ainsworth. Anthea Edwards, Mark Eccleston and Martin Cansdale.
Margaret Edwards. Stef Warboys and Paul Hunter. Stephen Penney and Przemek Benoński.
Robert Lewis, John Camp and John Fielden. Chris Kippin, Rev'd Darren Moore and Richard Burton.

Rick Shallcross catching up with some old friends.

Stuart Hutchieson and Heather Kippin. The table from Hampshire!

Emj Rouse and Jill Galloway.

Colin Parker, Claire Routh, Mark Humphreys, Emj Rouse and Jill Galloway.

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