Watching the Master, Wardens, Clerk, Beadle, Liverymen and Freemen of the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers and their partners fall in step with similar representatives from the 109 other City of London Livery Companies, making their way from Paternoster Square to St Paul’s Cathedral, it is worth noting that many of these Livery Companies are older than Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, some by at least 300 years.
As the processions into the Cathedral begin; led by representatives of the two senior Companies, the Mercers and the Grocers, followed by Officers of the City of London, including Alderman Dr Andrew Parmley, The Right Honourable The Lord Mayor; you could be forgiven for assuming you were playing witness to a Ceremony of equal vintage. However, the “Service of the United Guilds of the City of London” is a relative youngster, now in its 75th year.
It began on the 25th March1943. The City of London was still reeling from the shock of the Blitz as World War Two continued to rage. The Twelve great Livery Companies had convened to plan an event to help lift the spirits of the City, whilst still having regard for the religious origins of the Companies. And where better to play host than this landmark edifice that had withstood the barrage of attacks to become a symbol of hope, fortitude and determination for Londoners and the Nation as a whole.
This is now an annual event and one of the few occasions where all of the Livery Companies and Guilds of the City gather together in unison. The Company Officers all look resplendent in their colourful gowns which intermix splendidly with the regalia of the City’s Officials and the vestments of the Clergy.
Whilst the ceremony feels very traditional, and many of the spoken pieces look to the past as well as to religion, the Sermon by The Right Reverend Christopher Chessun, Lord Bishop of Southwark, finished on a note which was very much still in people’s minds, the atrocity in Westminster on 22 March. Words of praise for all those who assisted brought the Service back full-circle to the earlier Second Lesson taken from Luke 10. 25-37 and the theme of the Service, the story of the Good Samaritan.
A rousing two verses of the National Anthem, given a full fanfare introduction and accompanied by the soaring crescendo of the Victorian “Willis” organ brought proceedings to a close. And while the congregation filed out to the chill of a March breeze the St Paul’s Cathedral Guild of Ringers rang Stedman Cinques; a 17th Centaury method published by the “Father of Change Ringing” Fabian Stedman, who honed his skills at another well known religious institution of the City, St Mary-le-Bow.
Afterwards the members of the WCHCD dined at the Private Members Dining Room at the Guildhall, enjoying panoramic views of Guildhall Yard. The afternoon sun glinted off the gridiron weathervane of St Laurence Jewry, the shaft of which is apparently the remains of the WW2 incendiary bomb which caused the Church to be burnt out. Another echo of those dark days of conflict to which today’s Service owes its existence.