The Ancient
Society of
Est. 1637

382nd Anniversary Dinner
2nd November 2019

(Report by David Maynard, pictures by Mark Esbester.)

The Master accompanied by his Stewards.

As is traditional, the weekend of the first Saturday of November saw ringers gather in London to participate in the annual bacchanal of food, drink, fellowship, and the odd bit of ringing, which is the Anniversary Dinner of the College Youths. Despite the travel disruption caused by high winds, festivities commenced with a number of successful peals in and around the capital on both the Friday evening and Saturday morning. Unfortunately, the Master's attempt with a band of members with a Cambridge connection was a casualty of these destructive gusts, but with plenty of members in the vicinity, a quarter peal was rung nonetheless.

England's unexpected place in the Rugby World Cup Final provided the incentive for some of those not ringing peals to make an early start on Saturday morning. A very early start in some cases. Despite the result, this other event of international significance contributed to a most convivial atmosphere in the lunchtime pub, The Rising Sun on Carter Lane. However, this early impetus did mean that there was no beer left for those members who had rung for the afternoon All Soul's Requiem Eucharist at St Paul's Cathedral, who had hoped for a swift pre-dinner pint. Fortunately, the City of London contains more pubs with Society connections than Nancy Mitford's edition of the Good Beer Guide, and the thirsty contingent reached The Cock Pit to find it already sporting a full complement of members.

It's always astonishing how well a sweaty peal band can scrub up given the incentive of food and this evening proved no exception. 259 members and guests gathered at the Leonardo Royal for the Anniversary Dinner itself. Perhaps it's just me, but this frankly odd new nomenclature for what was formally the Grange St Paul's, conjured the image of a new cyclic principle, ingenious but with a melancholic twist. Inspiration perhaps for a future handbell touch? This was the fifth dinner at the current venue, but the first in its present incarnation. Fortunately, the high culinary standard established in previous years remained in happy ignorance of the change of ownership. Furthermore, the lessons on the level of military efficiency required to meet the demand for beer, which had taken so much time to learn over previous dinners, did not seem to have been entirely forgotten.

The handbell touch: 1-2 Jennie Earis, 3-4 Henry Pipe, 5-6 Jonathan Agg, 7-8 David Pipe, 9-10 Phillip Earis, 11-12 Alfie Pipe.

To the synchronous percussion of five hundred hands, the Top Table processed into the dining room. Once again, the food was up to the usual high standard in both quality and quantity. Artisan bread rolls paved the way and served to whet the appetite before the meal itself. Tian of smoked chicken with roasted peppers, rocket leaves and mango salsa; braised lamb shank with root vegetables, scallion mash and rosemary jus; crème brûlée tart with pistachio crisps. And very nice it was too. Punctuated by the usual rounds of magisterial wine-taking, the assembled company tackled the three courses with élan. Notable among this year's toasts, were the number of members celebrating fifty and sixty years of membership.

This year's handbell touch was performed by Cambridge members, reflecting the Master's close connections to that great University City. A touch of Spliced Maximus, in methods selected from the Particles and Moons peals, was executed with flawless accuracy and aplomb. Of particular note was the participation of Alfie and Henry Pipe, who, at 14 and 16, must surely rank as the youngest and second youngest members to perform in the handbell touch. (Click here to view the performance.)

The Master, Leigh Simpson, stood to propose a toast to the Church. He spoke of his close connection to the Church, forged through his time as an organist and ringer. He contrasted the friendly reception with which his tower grabbing efforts had always been met, to the frosty reserve which had greeted his polite request to demonstrate his skill on a certain prestigious organ. On behalf of the Society, he thanked the assembled clergy for the privilege of ringing on London's fine and challenging bells, and expressed the hope that the current close and friendly relations would long continue.

The Master proposes the toast to the Church.

Society Treasurer and MC for the evening, Graham Firman introduced the guest speaker, the Right Reverend Dame Sarah Mullally, 133rd Lord Bishop of London. Bishop Sarah spoke fondly of the warm reception and friendliness she had always received from ringers, both during her time in Devon as Bishop of Crediton, and since moving to London. As the closest resident to the bells of St Paul's Cathedral, Bishop Sarah spoke of her joy on hearing these bells resume regular ringing after the recent overhaul. Ringing and the fellowship of ringers represented a symbol and microcosm of the Christian mission; living thread, continuity and faith. She went on to reflect on the power and constancy of bells as witness to church and state occasions, the annual cycle of civic and spiritual life, and a reminder of our common human mortality. Quoting from John Donne's meditative poem; 'No Man is an Island', she gathered these themes and ideas together in conclusion.

Next up was guest speaker, Cecilia Pipe. Cecilia talked about the influence that the Society had had on her life and entertained the company with a variety of humorous anecdotes and reflections on growing up in Birmingham and on the quirks and serendipities of being part of a well-known ringing family. These included her unenthusiastic reaction on being the first person to hear about her husband David's now iconic and established composition of cyclic Spliced Maximus; mere minutes after its devising in the wee small hours. Cecilia spoke with real warmth of the lifelong friendships and happiness she had found through the Society, and of her pride in her membership. Judging by the enthusiastic applause, I think she spoke for us all.

The Secretary, Simon Meyer, gave the traditional report on the Society's recent activity and progress. The past year had seen a continuation of strong attendance and high standards at practices and a number of popular events. The Country Meeting in Bristol and a successful peal weekend had been particular highlights. One note of caution was sounded; once again the Society had lost more members through death than it had gained through election. That said, it was encouraging that so many members elected during the year were present for their first dinner. All stood to remember those who had passed away during the year. Members who had attained 50 and 60 years membership were presented with certificates by the Master.

After drinking the traditional toasts to the fragrant memories of the Masters of 300, 200 and 100 years ago, the Master announced the formal part of the evening complete. This was the signal for members to head to the bar and recommence the serious business of catching up with old friends and making some new ones.

Overall, another well-attended and enjoyable dinner weekend in spite of the adverse weather. This forms a fitting and memorable (in most cases) conclusion to Leigh Simpson's successful year as Master. November 12 will see Swaz Apter being installed as the new Master. I'm sure Swaz's bubbly personality, excellent organisation and people skills and discerning ear for good ringing will guarantee 2020 as another fine vintage for the Society. Bring it on.

Rev David Ingall, Rev George Bush and the Treasurer, Graham Firman. The Right Reverend Dame Sarah Mullally, 133rd Lord Bishop of London, with the Master. Members queue for their pre-dinner drink(s).

Colin and Jill Parker. Jane and Steve Waters. The Right Reverend Dame Sarah Mullally responds to the Master.

Cecilia Pipe proposes the toast to the Society. The Master congratulates Roy Webb on 70 year's membership. The Herriott family: Rachael, Charles, Jenny & Nigel Herriott, Helen & David Maynard.

The Immediate Past Master, Henry Coggill, with the Junior Steward. Cambridge members past and present: David, Alfie, Cecilia & Henry Pipe with Philip & Jennie Earis Michael Uphill and Chris Kippin.

Andy Bradford and Harm Jan de Kok... ... and turning the tables. Jon Waters, Paul Williams, Colin Newman and Alban Forster.

The Senior Steward with Mark Esbester. Drivel List contingent: Clive Smith, Stephen Penney, Jill and Colin Parker, with the Junior Steward The Secretary with Becca and Andrew Meyer.

Graham Bradshaw, Mike Birkbeck, Phil Barnes, Simon Bond and Liz Barnes. Andy Bradford measuring himself up against Becky Sugden. Brad seems quite pleased with the result.

Tessa Simpson with the Master. Stuart Hutchieson with Central Council President, Simon Linford. Michael Williams, Henry Coggill and James Watkins.
Tessa Simpson, Andy Bradford, Harm Jan de Kok, Becky Sugden, the Junior & Senior Stewards and Rob Lee. The Society's Peal Book writer, Claire Griffiths. An example of Claire's handiwork: the Society's record peal at Tulloch.