Freedom Admission – virtual ceremonies

On Tuesday 12 May the inspirational Captain Tom Moore was granted the Freedom of the City of London by Special Nomination. As a result of the coronavirus crisis it was the first ever ceremony to be held virtually in the 783 year history of the ancient custom. The Lord Mayor, William Russell, was full of admiration for Captain Tom’s extraordinary fund raising walk and along with Catherine McGuinness, the Chair of the City of London’s Policy and Resources Committee nominated him and it was agreed under urgency procedure of the Court of Common Council.

It was also opened to the general public to view as it was streamed live on You Tube. It was watched by 1,300 people and subsequently has had 17,000 (and rising) views. The ceremonies are usually private for the recipient and their guests so it was a first for it be open to the public who were able to get to see what goes on.

The ceremony was conducted by Dr Peter Kane, the Chamberlain of London assisted by me. Also in attendance was the Lord Mayor accompanied by the Lady Mayoress. Making up the quartet on the screen is captain Tom and his daughter Hannah. The ceremony is usually held in the Chamberlain’s Court Room in Guildhall but instead people were given a glimpse of St. Albans, Alexandra Palace, the Hertfordshire/Cambridgeshire border and Captain Tom up in Bedfordshire.

It was rather a strange experience, I greatly missed all my props in the Court Room and also the face to face contact but in the circumstances it went very smoothly and seems to have been well received. I was particularly pleased that I could tailor it to Captain Tom and finished with a flourish with references to Wellington (his regiment in the war), how he and Churchill exhibited the same bulldog spirit and the two Thomas Moore’s! My Wisden’s and Rothman’s have been getting a lot of likes, not so controversial as Michael Gove’s bookshelves with his biographies of various dictators and despots!

Since then Laura, the deputy clerk and I have conducted another 302 virtual ceremonies, , not yet a flood but rather a trickle compared to what we normally do. None have been so well attended as Captain Tom’s ceremony but some Masters have put in an appearance. Our only hitch so far has been the Horner who was in his garden on a very warm sunny day but the reception was not very good so he had to go back indoors to his hub. I have taken a booking from an elderly Stationer who was a bit baffled by the technology, in fact I discovered that he lives round the corner from me in St. Albans and I offered to pop round and conduct the ceremony in his garden to maintain social distancing! However, his grandson aged ten came to his assistance.

We are also processing applications via email, 443 so far. The application form has been refined to take account for the lack of a personal interview. These figures sound impressive but we are 75% down on ceremonies and 66% down on applications during a normal year so I fear quite a backlog is building up.

As I mentioned earlier I am missing all the artefacts in the Court Room which play a key role in my ceremonies at Guildhall. These include a splendid sword from the Cutlers to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo donated by liveryman Robert Pooley. Also Florence Nightingale’s oak casket and a marble bust of the Duke of Wellington, both commemorating their Honorary Freedoms. Seasoned visitors to the Court Room know my modus operendi is to test the new Freemen by pointing out the fan from the Fan Makers, the bow from the Bowyers, the stained glass from the Glaziers and then ask the unwary new freeman what I have from their Company!

However, I am finding my bookshelves to be of considerable help, as you gather from the splash of yellow I love cricket so talk about cricketing freedoms I have conducted – Alistair Cook, Andrew Strauss and Michael Vaughan. I also have a couple of shelves devoted to the Archers which brings back memories of admitting Ted Kelsey aka Joe Grundy, June Spencer aka Peggy Wooley and the Countess of Portland (Mrs David Archer) who is a talented milliner in the Company of Feltmakers. One recipient was from Inverness so I found a biography of the Duke of Cumberland (the Butcher or Stinking Billy or Sweet William depending on your political persuasion) Interestingly he was offered the Honorary freedom of the City of London not for his victory on Culloden Moor but for the fact that he stopped the Jacobite descent upon London at Derby. This most ungracious man never appeared at Guildhall to receive his freedom.

The Livery Companies have also embraced the virtual world. I was due to speak at the Chartered Accountants Dinner at Salters’ Hall but instead about 80 of us had a virtual dinner and I had to deliver my speech to a screen on my dining room table to a lap top. Everyone was dressed in black tie and there were toasts to the Queen and the Lord Mayor. Sadly no delicious four course meal washed down with fine wine but shepherds pie from Mrs Craig and some plonk from M & S. It was all rather surreal! I have subsequently spoken at events for the Woolmen, Horners and Pattenmakers.

Frankly I would not have believed that any of this would have been possible prior to March 18 but we have all had to adapt as best we can to these extraordinary circumstances.

Murray Craig, the Clerk to the Chamberlain’s Court