Please pass the Port

Anyone who has attended a City of London civic or Livery Company banquet will be familiar with the numerous toasts that follow after the meal and before the speeches. These toasts are usually taken with Port wine, or occasionally Madeira.

Quite when port became the wine of choice for toasts is unclear, but the custom is as well entrenched in the City as it is in the ward rooms and messes of HM Armed Forces, at Oxbridge Colleges, Masonic dinners and elsewhere.

First a little history

The history of Port wine is inextricably linked with Britain's connection to Portugal and the numerous British families who developed the Douro wine region inland from Porto. Today names such as Croft, Churchill, Dow, Graham, Taylor, Sandeman, Symington and Warre are well known brands of port. While much consolidation has occurred in the wine trade, the British representation in the City of Porto and along the Douro Valley is still strong.

The British Association, a trade body of British Port producing c…

Social Media Engagement: The case for Livery Companies to embrace root and branch change in communication

The topic of improved communications within and about the Livery has recently been one of much discussion among the Livery Companies, especially through the Pan-Livery initiative. The Lord Mayor raised the issue in his Address to the Masters and Clerks at Mansion House on 22nd November 2017.

In his speech the Lord Mayor said that the view of the Livery is: 'at best unknown, at worse unfair'. In my view the Livery does far too little to communicate its purpose, values and impact. What is does is defuse, lacking coordination and often inward looking.

This desire for better, or as the Lord Mayor put it in his address 'radical' communication, of the work of the Livery Companies is nothing new, but radical? Let's see...

Where My Lord Mayor was the live Periscope broadcast of the Address, or the Tweet stream, or the Facebook posting? Can I watch it on YouTube or follow up the discussion in a blog?

To be fair, radical is not a word that sits naturally or comfortably with …

The City of London and Livery Company links with Education

The City of London and its Livery Companies have been involved in education and occupational training for many centuries, certainly long before the government took on the responsibility of providing free universal education in the United Kingdom with the advent of the first government funded schools in 1870.

Outwith the City, the Livery Companies, and other privately funded schools, only the Church of England has a longer history of involvement in education from elementary schooling through to university. Indeed where longevity is concerned it would be difficult to better the Church of England's record of involvement with education, the King's School in Canterbury is held to be England's oldest founded in 597AD and still going strong.

The Livery Companies and the City of London Corporation continue to support education in the broadest sense, from schooling to apprenticeships, from professional development to academic bursaries and postgraduate research. The array of ways i…

A triptych of radio interviews on the City of London for QuayFM

One of the consequences of public speaking on City of London and Livery Company topics is that once you've started the requests keep coming in, often from new and unexpected angles. The first talk I gave on the government of the City of London was at Cambridge University in 2012, since then I've spoken at long series of events in the City and elsewhere.

In June of this year I received an out of the blue request to be co-interviewed with David Barrett, Clerk to the Makers of Playing Cards, by QuayFM which broadcasts from the island of Alderney in the Channel Islands. QuayFm run a regular series of specialist subject interviews that are broadcast across the Channel Islands and later made available online. The audience for QuayFM spans the Channels Islands and their online recordings are available world-wide.

In the end David Barrett and I recorded separate interviews, exploring the City and its Livery Companies from different angles. It was only after my interview was completed …

The traditions of the City of London and its Livery Companies

The traditions of the City of London and its Livery Companies rival those of the Royal Household for their displays of pageantry and public spectacle, blending of the past with the present and sense of majesty that no other city can rival. The fact that more troops of the Crown participate in the annual Lord Mayor's Show than parade in the Sovereign's annual birthday parade (Trooping the Colour) illustrates the scale of the City's ability to put on a show. In fact the very word show when taken to mean a public spectacle derives from the requirement that the City's elected chief magistrate 'show himself' to the Monarch or his justices and swear allegiance, hence the Lord Mayor's Show.

The early 20th century antiquarian and author Dr George Williamson captured the panoply of City ceremonial in Curious Survivals, a book presented to Queen Mary and now in the Royal Collection. The opening chapter of his comprehensive work on British customs and traditions reads…

Why Liverymen should petition the Crown for Arms

Petitioning for a grant of arms is, without a doubt, among the most unusual things I have done and yet it has been one of the most fascinating experiences, triggering a study of the subject that has proven immensely rewarding. The result of the petitioning process will also outlast me because arms are hereditary in English law and have already passed to my children.

I believe that every Liveryman should, if they have the qualification, means and motivation, petition the Crown for a grant of arms to continue the City's centuries old custom of burgesses acquiring armorial bearings.

When the Heralds last conducted a systematic survey of armigerous persons in the City of London the late 1700s almost 1 in 3 of the residents of some of the City's wards were armigerous (had a lawful right to armorial bearings). That is a vast concentration of gentry in a tiny area and reflects the nature of the mercantile elite that lived cheek by jowl in the commercial heart of the United Kingdom a…