On Ascension Day, 26 May 2022, I was elected Master of the Turners’ Company for the ‘Master’s Year’ of 2022-23 and shared the Election Court Dinner at Apothecaries’ Hall with the Court and, for the first time, other members of the Company and their guests
This wider participation was a great success. In the spirit of communication with the rest of the Company, this blog post is an edited version of my speech – highlighting the two years that Melissa Scott was Master, and the contribution that many others have also made to the Turners’ Company in that time.
It went something like this:
“I am very honoured to have been elected Master of the Turners’ Company in its 418th year. And it is a great pleasure to be sharing this Election Court Dinner with some of the most recent Masters; including Ilan Krieger, our newly appointed Master Emeritus, and Master Emeritus John Slater – who was my sponsor at the Election Court.
We have also just completed two extraordinary Masters’ years – in which so much has happened to the world, in the City of London, and to the activities of the Turners’ Company.
Although the early months of Covid in 2020 are fast becoming events of the past, we also remember that the onset of the pandemic abruptly shortened the year of our newest Past Master, Andrew Sindall.
I would like to thank Andrew for the support he has given to Deputy Master Melissa Scott over the last two years, and the support he will be giving during my year in his role as Chairman of the Finance Committee.
I would particularly like to reflect on the extraordinary contribution that Melissa made to the Company during her two years of office as Master of the Turners’ Company.
Melissa’s “Double Year” appointment is notable, but what makes it truly exceptional in the Company’s history is that she is our second Lady Master and the only one to serve two years.
Two-year Masters were the norm in the first hundred years of the Company. Illustrious “Double Masters” include, in the 17th century, William Shaw and William Whitehill and, in the 18th century, Thomas Stanesby Junior; all renowned makers of woodwind instruments.
They are known to us through the research of Past Master John Bridgeman and the research for the Turners’ Consort and Pepys Recorder projects led by the Deputy Master over the last four years.
The last “Double Master” was more than 100 years ago, when Felix Fighiera was appointed at the two Election Courts – 1912 and 1913 – just before the First Word War.
In the 2019 issue of The Turner, the Company’s magazine, Liveryman Jerome Farell describes how Fighiera energetically raised funds to start the Company’s scheme of providing lathes to schools. This programme continues to this day, more than 100 years after it was founded by Fighiera.
One of the original Fighiera lathes, a plain Hotzapffel, I have come to own and plan to refurbish with the help of Master Emeritus Richard Levy. Richard introduced me to the Company in 2006. I am honoured that he was able to attend the Election Court today, and, as my Court Mentor, I greatly value his counsel and advice.
Before Felix Fighiera, the previous “Double Master” was William Burdett Coutts, husband of Community, City and Company benefactor Angela Burdett Coutts. One of her notable donations, in 1878, was the funding of four of the St Paul’s bells in the name of the Turners’ Company. We also made a significant contribution to their refurbishment in 2018.
So, we can see how the three last “Double Masters”: Melissa Scott, Felix Fighiera and William Burdett Coutts, have all played pivotal roles in setting the direction and ambition of the Company.
Navigating two Master’s Years
Melissa’s first year of office started in the depths of Covid, when we were very uncertain about how long the pandemic would last. In fact, at least several years, as we now know.
This meant that for Melissa Scott’s first year as Master (2020-21), much of the life of the Company and City was conducted on Zoom. Instead of meeting in person, we were reduced to little squares of flickering pixels and time delays reminiscent of the moon landings 50 years ago.
Fortunately, that very strange world started to drop away last summer, and it was a great pleasure when we were able to meet in person at Melissa’s Master’s Weekend at the Stour Music Festival, and also at the Company’s Summer Dinner in July.
Last September, the Deputy Master, with friends and other members of the Company, was able to take part in the reinstated Woolmens’ Sheep Drive over London Bridge. The afternoon was a great success, enormous fun and most welcome after 18 months of lockdowns and restrictions.
From that point on, we looked to be pulling clear of the Covid crisis, particularly with the enormous success of Wizardry in Wood in October 2021.
But with the rise of Omicron a few weeks later, everything went into reverse, and it was a great disappointment that the December 2021 Livery Dinner was cancelled.
But thankfully, in February, we were able to celebrate the legacy, birthday and munificance of Richard Gardner Williams in pre-Covid style – and had the pleasure of Past Master David Batchelor’s speech to remind us why we were all there.
The Pepys Recorder
I also had the great pleasure of working with Melissa on the Pepys Recorder project, which was launched at an amazing concert at the Old Bailey on 3 May and showcased on 5 May to our Company and guests at our delayed ‘2021’ Livery Dinner.
Organised by the Consorts of Sheriffs Nicholas Lyons and Alison Gowman, the Old Bailey concert combined our Company’s interests in turning and music, with a fund-raising event for the Sheriffs and Recorder’s Fund.
The City-wide audience of over 150 was completely wowed by the programme created by Professor Ian Wilson of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, the quality of the seven musicians, and the singers Soprano Anna Dennis and Bass Frederick Long.
To further increase the reputation of the Turners’ Company in the City, Livery and more widely, we hope that this music can be recorded and reach a much wider audience.
For the booklet about the Pepys Recorder, I researched Samuel Drumbleby – from whom Pepys purchased his recorder in the Strand, providing the 1668 reference date for the instruments made by Jack Darach. Significantly, Drumbleby was also a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Turners, making the links between Drumbleby, Pepys and the Company very specific.
As Samuel Pepys knew ‘everyone who was anyone’ in late 17th century London, it is perhaps no surprise that, in early 1671, he was introduced to Grinling Gibbons by that other great London diarist, John Evelyn.
Making another connection, Gibbon’s incredibly detailed limewood modelling of a 17th century flute in the Carved Room at Petworth House in the South Downs provided input to Jack Darach for his re-creation of the Pepys Recorder.
In 2021, the Turners’ Company sponsored exhibitions by the Master Carvers Association and the Grinling Gibbons Society, celebrating the 300th anniversary of his death in 1721, held at St Mary Abchurch and the Dutch Church in the City, and Compton Verney in Warwickshire
In January The Deputy Master organised a group of Company members to visit Compton Verney, and the craftsmanship on view was simply extraordinary. It included in the ‘Legacy section’ work by our Liveryman Paul Ferguson This special exhibition runs to the end of August 2022 and is well worth a long detour.
The final link between the Turners’ Company, the City, Pepys and Gibbons, is the fourth concert celebrating Gibbons’ life and era. This will be held on Thursday 23 June at St Mary Abchurch. Played by Guildhall School of Music students, the concert will include the Turners’ Consort and the Company’s Pepys Recorders.
Two other events were also highlights of the Deputy Master’s second year: the Spring Dinner – at which she sung the cautionary ballad of Anne Warren – a warning to all turners, everywhere, that sharp tools and angry wives are not a good combination; and the Livery Dinner in the wonderful Trinity House, where – making another connection – Pepys was elected Master in 1676 and 1685.
Beyond these events and the tribulations of Covid and stop-start lockdowns, the Deputy Master worked tirelessly over her two years as Master to promote the Turners’ Company – building both personal and Company relationships, which will serve us well in the future.
Melissa, I was delighted to have been your Upper Warden for those two years, and I know that I will benefit from your support and good counsel in the year ahead. During which, we will launch the Yeoman Programme, and I will endeavour to continue your work of building the company’s reputation in the City, amongst the Livery and Craft, and indeed amongst our own members.
Melissa, thank you for your fortitude over two complicated years; your energy, and your commitment to the long-term interests of the Company. These are deeply appreciated by the Court.
We will now have two toasts, with the first toast to the health of the Deputy Master.
“To the Deputy Master”
And our second toast is, of course, to:
“The Turners Company, may it prosper root and branch.”