The Spectacle Makers' Society grew out of the WCSM Fellowship, which itself was the brainchild of Roland Champness, who was later to become both Clerk and Master of the Livery Company.
The name of the association was changed in 1972 at the direction of the Court, in order to make a clear distinction between the optically qualified Fellows (of the Company) and members of this cultural and social Fellowship.
After five years' association with the work of the Company, Roland Champness had become conscious of the lack of interest it showed in the large body of Freemen and diploma holders whose annual quarterage formed a substantial part of its then income. Apart from the yearly demand for payment of their subscription, these members of the Company rarely heard or saw any sign of interest or recognition that they were indeed part of an ancient livery company of the City of London once they had passed their examinations and received their diplomas. They were not eligible to come to the livery dinner, and were seldom, if ever invited, to any other function of the Company.
It was to remedy what he saw as a serious gap in the Company's development that, in 1933, he sought the Court's permission through his father, Sir William Champness, the then Clerk, to start a "sort of Fellowship Guild of Freemen within the Company", to "provide social and cultural refreshment and stimulus for liverymen, freemen and student associates of the Company, together with their friends and families". The Court not only approved the idea, but also gave him a preliminary grant of 100 guineas to open a Fellowship account from which to meet any immediate expenses.
The initial meeting was held in 1933 in Prince Henry's Room near the Inner Temple Gateway in Fleet Street, and was called by the insertion of a notice in several current optical journals inviting all those interested and qualified to attend. There was a good response, evident interest was aroused and, apart from the hiatus caused by the war, the Fellowship (Society) has flourished ever since. Subsequent meetings took place in the Chapter House of St Paul's Cathedral and the premises of the City Livery Club at Sion College on the Embankment, before the Fellowship (along with the Company) settled down "permanently" and happily in Apothecaries' Hall.
The Fellowship's "season" used to open with a dinner in October or November which, pre-war, was held in the old Trocadero Restaurant in Shaftesbury Avenue for the princely sum of twelve shillings and sixpence (62½ pence in today's currency), plus wine, but including a cabaret featuring that rising young star, Mr Arthur Askey. After the war, it was decided the Fellowship Dinner should not have an established "home", but that members should have the opportunity to dine in a different livery hall each year. Monthly meetings were usually held on a Wednesday or Thursday evening, with the occasional visit to a place of interest associated with the City of London.
One of the declared objects of the Fellowship has always been to interest members in, and inform them about the civic side of the City of London, and what is involved in becoming "free" of one of its livery companies and of the City itself. Then, as now, events were advertised through a special mailing list of members, but announcements of meetings and visits were also placed among the advertisements on the back page of "The Optician", a practice that continued into the 1970's. The programme also included the annual Charter Day Service followed by a soireé in Apothecaries' Hall, and closed with an outdoor excursion to some place of particular interest outside London in June or July.
To give the Fellowship its own sense of corporate identity, Champness adopted as its emblem the shield from the pseudoheraldic device which the Company had awarded itself back in the early nineteenth century without any reference to the College of Arms, and which bore testament to the early spectacle makers' work as scientific instrument makers by displaying two pairs of nose spectacles, compasses to denote mathematics, a globe to represent Astronomy and Geography and prisms for demonstrating the theory of light and colour. Originally, the Fellowship also displayed the motto which used to be placed under the shield, "A Blessing to the Aged", but in 1967 the Court decided that that practice should cease.
Initially, there was a small subscription of ten shillings for separate membership of the Fellowship, but this was discontinued after the war, when all Freemen of the Company were automatically regarded as members. For many years, the finances of the Fellowship rested on the annual grant of £100 from the Company, but in 1962 it was agreed that, as the Fellowship had become so integral and important a part of the WCSM's life, it would be logical and sensible to incorporate its finances with those of the Company, and therefore to discontinue the grant. That arrangement lasted until 1994, when the Society was established as a separate, self-financing entity with its own accounts.
The keynote of the Fellowship when it was first founded was informality. There was no "constitution". The Master of the Company was invited to become the ex officio president, but there was no committee. As self-appointed honorary secretary, Roland Champness did all the work of arranging meetings, lecture programmes, dinners and visits until in 1963, thinking that he would soon be retiring from the Clerkship of the Company, he decided that in the interests of continuity he should no longer operate as a "one-man band". A Committee was therefore formed from volunteers from within both the Freedom and the Livery although, despite relinquishing the Clerkship in 1966, Roland Champness remained Chairman until 1972. It was then agreed that the Chairmanship should devolve to a current or former member of the Committee, who would hold office for three years. The Clerk of the Company remained ex officio Honorary Secretary to the Society.
On 16th March 2011, members of the Spectacle Makers' Society had the privilege of dining in the House of Commons. The visit was arranged through the good offices of Liveryman Sir Anthony Garrett, and sponsored by Roger Gale MP, the Member for Thanet North.
Any disappointment that members may have felt with the poor performance of the official guides who had been contracted to show us around the Palace of Westminster was soon overcome by an unexpected post-prandial tour conducted by Mr Gale himself.
This not only encompassed the Commons Chamber (after the House had risen), the Lobby and Westminster Hall, but also the very beautiful Chapel of St Mary Undercroft. Prior to dinner, members had been able to sit in the Strangers' Gallery, and listen to MPs debating the ill-starred Bill to reform the National Health Service.
Morgan Motor Company
In May, a party of 75 Spectacle Makers and Apothecaries visited the Morgan Motor Company which, established in 1912, has been occupying the same site on the outskirts of Malvern since1918.
The morning was spent in the museum, complete with a cinema showing newsreels depicting "Moggies" competing over the years in celebrity races at Silverstone, Goodwood and Le Mans. A good lunch was then followed by a tour of the factory, where a small but dedicated workforce of 163 assembles some 640 cars a year, all entirely by hand. Many aspects of the manufacturing process have never changed. The bodywork is still hand-crafted out of seasoned ash, before being attached to an aluminium chassis. Panels are beaten and riveted in place. We were able to watch every step of a car's journey, from the carpentry shop through to the paint shop, which offers the discerning purchaser the choice of some 40,000 colour schemes.
For those who still hanker for the days when the roads were full of the smell of horse manure as opposed to petrol fumes, the day at Brighton Races in August provide the perfect antidote to the visit to the Morgan Motor Company. Bright sunshine and warmth added to the pleasure although the torrential rain of the previous day had rendered the going "soft". Occupying a private suite, the party was entertained over lunch by Charlie, an "on course" bookmaker who, as well as talking us through the race card, tried to teach us "tick tack". The sight of over twenty other spectacle makers waving their arms all over the place and touching their nose with various combinations of fingers was well worth the price of admission alone.
A pre-racing tour of the Weighing Room only served to confirm what we had already suspected. None of us would have needed to carry extra weight had we been entered for a handicap! But then it was down to the serious business of the day. Sadly, only Simon Adlam, that devotee of "The Racing Times" and other similar publications, was able to make real sense of Charlie's advice, and the grin on his face grew wider as the day wore on. No one else came close to threatening the bookies' livelihood, and indeed Past Master Mo Jalie was lucky to return home with his shirt still on his back. Like the rest of the party, however, he was able to take advantage of Hoya Lens UK's very generous sponsorship of the visit (arranged by Liveryman Gaynor Williams, shown right with the Chairman at the winning post) to drown his sorrows and, despite their losses, all present became sufficiently cheerful to raise £200 for the Spectacle Makers' Charity through an impromptu raffle of racing memorabilia.
At last, a photograph of the fourth member of the victorious 2010 Prince Arthur Cup team, Liveryman Brian Collison (right).
Sadly, it proved impossible to keep the winning team together to defend the trophy this year, but accompanied by the Master, David Kirk, Brian Bowles and Paul Ursell finished sufficiently high up the field to ensure that the Spectacle Makers will receive the invitation to enter the 2012 competition. We can only hope that the Society's Chairman, David Kirk, has now introduced a vigorous training programme for his squad of potential team members, so that there is no slip up next time!
There was minor consolation for the disappointment of Walton Heath at the end of June, when our team emerged victorious from the Marketors' third Livery Fellowship Golf Day at Verulam, St Albans, the home of Samuel Ryder – yes, he of the Cup.
Unfortunately, however, we were also unable to defend the Ray Jeffs (LOGVEC) Charity Cup at the end of July, with our team finishing 8th= in a field of 27. On the other hand, we can draw some comfort from the fact that, by participating in this event for every one of its 12 years' existence, we have helped to raise £42,000 with which 28 schools in the Greater London area have been able to start or fund their Duke of Edinburgh's Award schemes.
The Society's own domestic competition was played on 8th June at the Master's famous home course of The Royal Liverpool Golf Club at Hoylake. Windy conditions made play challenging. Our champion was Tony Round who achieved 37 points, closely followed by Brian Collison and David Cartwright. The ladies' winner was Annabel Barton and first prize for guests was taken by Paul Cassidy – Past Captain of the Club. The Society Trophy this year was competed for in the form of a hidden pairs putting competition, and was won by Gwyn Evans and David Kirk. We are always looking for new members so please join us for the 2012 competition, which will be staged at Saffron Walden on 14 June 2012; to ensure your entry, please tick the appropriate line on the Expression of Interest form for the Spectacle Makers' Society which is enclosed with this edition of the newsletter, and return the form to the office at Apothecaries' Hall.