On 10th March at the Masters Emeriti’s lunch in the intimate surroundings of Skinners’ Hall I was invited to share my vision for the year ahead.
On that day none of us could have imagined how radically the world was going to change.
The themes I shared were based on the building blocks of the Company – the three Cs: City, Craft and Charity built on the foundation of a fourth C – Camaraderie. And we now have a fifth C – Coronavirus, in response to which we have established a number of initiatives, including a Resource Hub for the turning community.
I was planning to explore the impact of the Turners’ craft in the fabric of our daily, artistic and cultural lives and, if anything, Coronavirus has highlighted the good we want to do and our opportunity to play a wider role in improving people’s lives.
Our first pillar is the City…
We know the impact of Coronavirus on life in the City and the Lord Mayor has been fast and brave in sharing his priority to maintain confidence in the City and hasten the relaunch of a strong economy. Confidence…that is another ‘C’!
The Lord Mayor also believes the resilience and agility of the financial and professional services industry will be central to our long-term economic recovery. He has called on the Livery movement to play its part as custodians of a tradition of fellowship, entrepreneurial spirit and support for the vulnerable.
The current circumstances, the Lord Mayor says, present us with an opportunity – indeed the obligation – to demonstrate the social value of the Livery in a new way.
He finishes with saying that ‘We continue to work hard to create A Better City For All – one that is inclusive, healthy, skilled and fair’. Values we appreciate and share.
The Culture Mile
Before coronavirus, one of the Lord Mayor’s key initiatives was the development of the City’s ‘Culture Mile’ – a celebration of creativity within the City. His recent Gresham Lecture also focussed on the need for creativity alongside technical skills. No longer do academic achievements alone guarantee successful employees.
Rather, those who have ‘fusion skills’ – creativity and communication, presentation and problem solving – promise to deliver better business growth.
I am passionate about the arts and as a trustee of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (a key partner in the Culture Mile) I am keen to support.
We already have links with the school through the Turners’ Consort and I want to build partnerships with the other core organisations, the Barbican and Museum of London to raise the profile of turning as an artistic and meaningful venture.
Talking about creativity leads us to our second pillar – Craft.
What has become evident in these strange times is the importance of Craft – to help us live well – whether that is reconnecting with the art of sourdough baking, potting tomatoes or dusting off the lathe.
Coronavirus has highlighted the importance of creativity to our well-being. One idea that resonates for me is bringing the Craft to life through music – with its proven impact on our spirit and emotions to enhance well-being. The Pepys’ recorder project is one of the ways we will help achieve this objective.
Our final pillar is Charity
Following training days run by Les Thorne and in meeting various professional and amateur turners, I was struck by the impact turning has on well-being and mental health. People shared with me about how turning helped their PTSD, Asperger’s and mental health challenges.
I want to re-visit what we are already doing in this area and review how we can reach more people with turning as a wellness opportunity.
Examples of our current support include Road Farm Countryways in the Chilterns, which helps children and adults to gain confidence while learning new skills; and community ventures at the London Greenwood site at Abney Park, Stoke Newington.
The Charity Committee is reviewing its regular grant payments and our Turning Things Around initiative will be addressing the opportunity to support turners and our past award winners.
Of course we are feeling sad that we cannot meet in person at our many events and dinners – and if you add the potential 2,000 visitors to Wizardry in Wood, which is postponed to October 2021, we get an idea of the scale of loss of interaction to share our Camaraderie and Craft.
But let me assure you our Events and Communications committees are working hard to see what we can do to develop interesting, fun and creative ways to mitigate this loss. I have already attended a number of City on-line Livery events, so things are looking up!
Turners and Music
The association between music and Turners has a long and illustrious history illuminated for us by Past Master John Bridgeman’s research.
We know that London Turners pioneered instrument making in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Thomas Stanesby became Master in 1739 and was commissioned by Handel to make the first Contrabassoon. Richard Potter, Master in 1782 was the most famous flute maker in London.
You were all part of commissioning the Turners’ Consort – the first set of medieval-style recorders on loan to any conservatoire in Europe.
Still on recorders, but moving swiftly from the Medieval to the 17th century, we know the very fabric of the City of London underwent major changes thanks in part to the 1666 Great Fire – and we all know how change in the City feels at the moment.
Samuel Pepys’ recorder
We have a fantastic snapshot of City life in the 1660s from Samuel Pepys’ diary, including a tantalising reference on 8 April 1668 to playing the recorder he bought from Drumbleby’s music shop: “the sound of it being, of all sounds in the world, most pleasing to me”.
And that is where this next project I want to share with you comes in – and asks the question – what did Pepys actually play on?
There are no remaining examples of Pepys’ or any other 17th century recorders. Only hints in paintings – and sculptures by Grinling Gibbons. I would like to rescue this recorder, otherwise lost from our craft’s landscape, by recreating it.
The Turners’ Consort allows for authenticity in the playing of Medieval music. But modern day players do not have access to instruments of the style used in the 17th century to play music, for example, by Purcell (1659-1695). The current choice is to use a recorder design from the 16th or the 18th century, for example by Stanesby.
In partnership with Ian Wilson, Professor of Woodwind at the Guildhall School, who brought the idea to me, I am proposing we commission our own Turners’ QEST Scholar, Jack Darach, to research and develop this instrument. Jack is apprenticed to Tim Cranmore (who made the Turners’ Consort) and considered one of the finest young British turners in the genre.
Why is it important? Well, it is continuity in Turners leading the way in recorder making – and with an international platform.
It also supports the Grinling Gibbons 300th anniversary driven by the Master Carvers’ Association and will produce something that will live on for hundreds of years, carrying the name of the Turners’ Company with it.
What is more, this is not something that has to be postponed by the coronavirus pandemic, as research and development can start right now and be ready to support the Lord Mayor and the City of London’s Culture Mile when it re-emerges.
In my journey to becoming Master, there are so many people to thank for their guidance, inspiration and kindness – but there are two people I must single out. Master Emeritus Andrew Mayer my mentor on the Court. His considered wisdom and support is beyond measure. Thank you Andrew.
Where should I begin to express my thanks to Master Emerita Penrose Halson? It was only after joining the Court that I learnt my normally modest father broke all the rules of etiquette by asking Penrose how I might join the Court.
I am however, so grateful to him – as the privilege to share in the phenomenal work of the Turners’ Company and meet such inspirational people has been a highlight in my life.
It was only as recently as 1983 that the Livery movement had its first female Master. With Penrose (2006-7) as a role model, I am hugely proud to serve this ancient company as your second female Master in 400 years.
With Assistants Jo Baddeley and Joey Richardson on the Court, I am sure that gender will no longer be a thing – and in the way that the Court and the Company have enabled women, I hope we can continue to look at diversity and inclusion in what we do.
In this year’s issue of The Turner we also celebrate the work of two leading female turners, separated by a century. Both have produced work of outstanding quality: ornamental turner Lady Gertrude Eleanor Crawford in the 20th century and Eleanor Lakelin, who is one the world’s leading contemporary turners. They are inspiring role models.
Finally, thank you for your confidence in me and I am very excited to serve this great Company.
May it flourish Root and Branch.
Master 2020 – 2021
Ditty for Melissa Scott on her election as Master of the Worshipful Company of Turners at a Zoomed Election Court, May 21st 2020
Curse the dastar-
We can phone a
Friend though cannot
Be on same spot;
But, through Zooming,
See you blooming,
Us to steady.
When Covid’s gone,
And from its bon-
dage we’re set free,
With most keen glee
We’ll all kiss ya,
My words now fail
Save “Master, all hail”!
by Master Emerita Penrose Halson