01308 898538


Modern Liveries’ Dinner, Worshipful Company of Solicitors, Armourers’ Hall

The Modern Liveries’ Dinner is the opportunity for existing Masters to introduce their senior Wardens to other Masters and Wardens.  It is a relatively informal evening with a lot of fun and enthusiasm as befits the modern Livery Companies.   The evening is hosted in turn by each of the 33 Companies and we also welcome the Companies without Livery and the Guilds.  This time there was no seating plan and we ended up in a completely random arrangement that worked.

The response to the toasts was given by Joanna Hughes, Founder and Director of Joanna Hughes Solicitor Apprenticeships who spoke about, you guessed it, solicitor apprenticeships.  It was a fascinating example of how the Livery and the major legal companies have worked together to support young people joining the profession.

The response on behalf of the Worshipful Company of Solicitors was given by the Master.  I was going to precis it but the Master was good enough to share it with me so it is attached below.  I was very interested to hear how a Livery Company has tackled some of the important issues facing the Livery today namely equality, diversity and inclusion.  I note that 6% of our Company honourees and 12% of our court are women.

It was a most enjoyable evening especially hearing the different perspectives on current issues from the different Masters.  I learnt much about the implications of the bridge collision in Baltimore from the Master Mariner and about engineering failures from the Master Engineer.  We also had some discussions about the activities of the different Companies.  We may be different but we share many values.  Congratulations to the Solicitors’ Company for a superb evening.

Sarah de Gay’s MLD speech, 27 March 2024

Masters, Wardens, Ladies & Gentlemen,

My Company, the City of London Solicitors’ Company, is delighted to have had the opportunity to organise tonight’s dinner, and to be able to enjoy this wonderful hall with you all.

I would like to start by thanking Joanna Hughes for her excellent speech.  It’s wonderful to hear what some of the large City law firms are doing together –it is all about the power of connecting and convening which compliments the Lord Mayor’s Coffee House theme for his year so well.  And these firms’ collective commitment to apprenticeships is of course an ED&I success story too – because the Solicitor Apprenticeship route is a route to qualification which carries no debt and is therefore genuinely open to all with talent.

I will say more about ED&I and collaboration in a moment.  First, I wanted to ponder on what it means to be modern.

City Solicitors was almost (but not quite) the first of the modern livery companies – we were pipped to the post by the Master Mariners who received their livery company status in 1932.  Our livery status was not granted until 1944, although we were in fact formed as a company earlier than that, in 1908.  This makes us (very comfortably) the oldest of the modern livery companies as the Mariners was not formed as an entity until some eighteen years later, in 1926.

I do not say this in a competitive “we were first actually” kind of a way, but simply to illustrate how being a modern livery company is a fairly arbitrary matter.

It’s all about dates – if a company was formed during or after 1932, it is designated as modern.  This is so even if it supports a trade or profession which has been around for 100s of years, or indeed one which is no longer practised at all.  And, perhaps most confusingly for anyone unfamiliar with the livery movement, a company formed after 1932 is modern even if its approach to modern life is not.  And just to confuse matters further, some companies formed well before 1932 have certainly reinvented themselves and display signs of modernity in the very ordinary sense of the word.

It occurs to me that Armourers, whose hall we are privileged to be dining in this evening, may be one such company.  It was formed in 1322 and gained livery status in 1453 so it is far from being a modern company (by which I mean “one of us”), and yet it is a company which has changed with the times.

At the time of its formation, a full suit of armour was essential for a knight going to war and making armour was a lucrative business.  This in turn enabled the Armourers to flourish as a company.  How does this translate to modern life – in a world where the making of armour is no longer quite the trade it used to be?  One need look no further than the company’s own website for a clue.

“The main purpose of the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers” it says “is to promote Materials Science in the United Kingdom.”  And a deeper dive demonstrates just how embedded this purpose is in the company’s activities, and how impactful it must be.  It supports, for example, science education in schools and materials science research at universities. 

Adopting a distinctive “social purpose” is a very forward-looking and, dare I say, modern idea – and for some companies it is also existential. Is there scope I wonder for us post-1932 companies to share ideas on what becoming more purposeful involves, as well as on other fronts – for example, we all face common challenges on corporate governance issues, relevance, resilience, and the recruitment of younger and more diverse members – ED&I initiatives being key to the latter. 

As Jo’s speech has demonstrated, great things can happen when different but like-minded organisations come together to collaborate.

My own Company has recently considered what its social purpose might be – beyond doing the things that all livery companies do: connecting their members with each other, the Civic City and charitable giving, with an emphasis on education, charity and of course fellowship.  All of our members are/have been solicitors and must be practising/have practised in the City.  But they come in many different flavours – some working at large international firms, others at smaller boutiques; some advising on derivatives, others on divorces.  But what unifies all of our members is an interest in the continued health of the Rule of Law – a vital concept in any democracy, and one which is increasingly under threat.  

Against this backdrop, City Solicitors has adopted a social purpose of – “promoting understanding of, and respect for, the Rule of Law”.  We see this as iterative – it describes much of what we have been doing for some years, but it also challenges us to do more.  Our ROL WG is currently mapping our existing activities against our purpose and will be taking some recommended stretch activities to our Court.  It’s an exciting development, and one we are getting on with quietly for the moment.  But that doesn’t mean we could not share what we are learning through this process with others.  And indeed it would be great to hear from other companies who have already embedded a social purpose, so that we can benefit from their learnings.

Like many of the companies represented here this evening, we have much we could share with and learn from others on ED&I initiatives too. To take one example, we have had a formal code of conduct for several years, which describes how we expect our members and guests to behave at our events.  We have now underpinned this by giving, only last week, “Bystander training” to our Court.  As far as I know, we are the first livery company to do this – and I am in touch with the Livery Committee to see how together we might encourage other companies to do something similar.  Training of this kind equips us to deal with inappropriate behaviour in the moment, or shortly afterwards, by giving people a range of tools to tackle it.

ED&I initiatives are something especially dear to me, perhaps for obvious reasons – as a Woman Master – born in one of the least socially mobile towns in England – I am very conscious that I am in a minority, a growing minority but nevertheless often visibly outnumbered in the livery world.

Which is a segue for me to explain why I am so fond of this particular hall, and chose it for our dinner.  Its Gold Drawing Room – splendid in its own right – happens to house a very important Tudor portrait – of a woman.  If you have not yet seen it, I encourage you to take a look at the magnificent portrait there of Anne Vavasour, one of Queen Elizabeth I’s Ladies in Waiting.

Who was Anne?  Well historians focus on her colourful love life, but to me it’s her resilience which is fascinating.  Ann joined Queen Elizabeth’s court as a Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber at the age of just 17.  It was in the Royal Court that she met and embarked on a love affair with a married man, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, by whom she had an illegitimate son.  It was quite the scandal of the day, with Anne being treated like the Monica Lewinsky of her age.  Anne and de Vere were both sent to the Tower. On leaving, Anne led a reduced life until she met the much older Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley, one of the richest men in England, by whom she had another illegitimate son.  They lived together very happily for over 20 years and, after his death, she married a John Richardson.  However, she must have overlooked that she had married a sea captain by the name of John Finch before she met Sir Henry and that John was still alive.  As a result, she was charged with bigamy and required to pay a £2,000 fine. 

Anne’s constant search for love and stability all sounds pretty exhausting to me, but she lived into her 90s – a remarkable achievement for anyone living in Tudor times.  I admire her staying power immensely.

To sum up, in an attempt to draw together everything I have said tonight, I end with a challenge for us all – to ponder what Lord Mayor Michael Mainelli’s coffee house theme can empower us modern livery companies to achieve, not just in Michael’s year but in years to come – if we harness the collective power which connecting, convening and collaborating can bring.

And finally, thank you for your presence and support this evening, I hope you have had a fabulous time and I wish you a safe journey home.


Post a comment

Discover more from The Worshipful Company of Water Conservators

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Skip to content