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The United Guilds Service

Its beginnings were in 1943 - to lift the spirits of the City following the Blitz

On Friday 4th April, the 72nd Service of the United Guilds of the City of London was conducted at St Paul's Cathedral.

The first United Guilds Service was held on 25th March 1943, having been conceived as a means of lifting the spirits of the City following the Blitz during the Second World War.  As far as records show, this was the first occasion on which all the Livery Companies and Guilds of the City combined to hold a religious service.  Since then, it has become an annual event and remains one of the few occasions in the calendar at which the Livery Companies and Guilds of the City can gather together as a whole.

At 10:45am, the buzz at the foot of the steps of St Paul's was palpable.  Masters in all their finery in conference with their Wardens, conclaves of richly dressed Beadles couching their maces while they exchange brotherly confidences, ticketless Liverymen and Freemen fretting to find their Clerk and the all-important entry ticket, hapless tourists being denied entry and told to come back at 1:15...and the hats! - big hats, little hats, cloche hats, upside-down hats, clapped-on-the-side-of-the-head hats like so many coy saucers, the occasional fascinator signalling its cheeky greeting in the breeze – how would we all cram into the Cathedral and still find room for the Lord Mayor and her party?

Yet up the steps we crawled and cram in we did, to find that the huge space  absorbed all of us without effort, drawing us into the companionable hum of the conversation of a 2,000-strong congregation.  There was a team meeting of some three-dozen dignitaries taking place in the south-west aisle, unnoticed by all except your correspondent.  If JS Bach's Trio sonata No 1 in E Flat (BVW 525) was being played, it was certainly inaudible.  Some of our Company and guests were seated in the south transept, near to the action; ten of us, led by our Master, were seated in our designated Company Row, Row 53, way back down the nave and about on a level with the tomb of Lord Leighton PRA..  It is always a mournful thought that, even though we wait till the crack of doom, we will have progressed no nearer towards the altar.

Came the time, and the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Band of the Parachute Regiment brought us all to our feet.  The procession (to Vaughan Williams' setting of He who would valiant be) is one of the sights that every Liveryman and Freeman should see at least once in his or her lifetime.  Cope and chasuble and crozier, the ermine and the vair, the satin, the maces, the great chains of office, the man with the enormous fur hat, the City Marshal resplendent in scarlet and gold, sword-girded and accompanied by thrilling clink of spur  - and, at the end of this gorgeous train, our Lord Mayor, Alderman Fiona Woolf CBE.

There were three more mighty hymns and two anthems: God the only Founder, newly commissioned by the Worshipful Company of Founders to mark the 400th Anniversary of the granting of its Royal Charter in 1614; and Sir Hubert Parry's I was glad.  The Deans' sermon was constructed on two biblical readings chosen to point up his theme that, while mortals look on the outward appearance, the Lord looks on the heart.  Delivering this message to one of the world's richest and most richly-arrayed congregations, he tactfully included the clergy in the company of those who should be judged by their deeds rather than their outward show.

After the Blessing came another Fanfare and then the National Anthem – the verse we all know and then the one that has the congregation scrabbling for its Order of Service.  Gustav Holst's Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity played out the Procession.  And so another United Guilds Service was over, and the congregation departed.

A dozen members of our Company and their guests then made their way to Founders' Hall at No.1 Cloth Fair, where we enjoyed a pre-lunch drink and an excellent three-course lunch.  During our meal, the Master Founder passed by and courteously welcomed us; we in turn were able to thank him for his Company's hospitality and to compliment him on the Founders' commission of the anthem we had heard in St Paul's an hour earlier.  Lunch on its own would have been an enjoyable get-together, nothing more.  But lunch after such a magnificent affirmation of City spirit left us with that warm feeling of satisfaction brought on by Doing Something Worth Doing.

Liveryman Adrian Williams 

Past Almoner