The weather in early September may not have been kind - rain unfortunately prevented us from enjoying the full extent of the Downing College gardens - but the warmth of feeling among Spectacle Makers gathered in Cambridge certainly made up for it.
Our weekend began on the evening of Friday 2 June. Any images of student lodgings were firmly put aside as we were allocated to beautiful ensuite double rooms, with bathrooms big enough for a family, cosy bathrobes and slippers and, for many, views over the neo-classical buildings and pristine lawns which make up the Downing College estate. An exhibition of art work by celebrated Chinese artist Al Weiwei proved to be an added bonus.
Supper at D’Arry’s restaurant found the Clerk handing over responsibility to the Master and Mistress to make sure that each guest received the menu they had actually ordered. Both fulfilled their duties admirably.
The Master continued to display his organisational abilities the following day, marshalling everyone firstly for a guided walking tour of Cambridge and then, after a suitable refreshment break in one of Cambridge’s finest hostelries, to the embarkation point for chauffeured punting.
Messing about on the river
The highlight of the weekend was the Gregorie Dinner, held in style in the Downing College Hall. The Gregorie Dinner provides an opportunity for us to enjoy some of the traditions of a Livery Dinner outside the City of London. For some Freemen, in particular, it was their first experience of the Loving Cup, the recipe for which, it has to be said, was interpreted very favourably by the Downing College kitchens. Everyone acquitted themselves admirably and there was much good humour and appropriately extravagant lifting of lids.
We were pleased to be joined for this special occasion by Andrew Morris, the Master Musician, and his Lady, who live in Cambridge.
However, the choice of guest speaker took full account of the fact that, back in London, the City was commemorating the anniversary of the Great Fire of London. Rebecca Rideal’s book “1666: Plague, War and Hellfire” had been published only a week or two before the Gregorie Dinner. Only 24 hours after the Dinner, she could be seen on live TV suggesting how our 17th Century predecessors might have felt as they fled the City, as a model of that City burned on the River Thames.
Despite her extensive access to 17th century records, though, Rebecca was unable to better the work of previous Clerks and could throw no more light on the life or career of Edward Gregorie, the first Master of the Company, after whom the Dinner is named. Not to worry - members of the Company still felt that his achievements deserved to be celebrated properly - with a few drinks in the bar after Dinner. It was perhaps fortunate that most of the guests’ rooms were only two floors above, and easily accessible by lift!
The weekend was rounded off perfectly by an informal lunch at the home of the Master and the Mistress, raising over £500 for the Spectacle Makers’ Charity. Thank you Edward and Rosemary for a wonderful trip to Cambridge.