The History of the Spectacle Makers' Society

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. In 1933 Roland Champness 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.

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.

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, 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. Despite relinquishing the Clerkship in 1966, Roland Champness remained Chairman until 1972.  At that point it was 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.

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.   The Society has thrived ever since, developing its independence to the point where, in 1994, the Society was established as a separate, self-financing entity with its own accounts. 

Its Committee is drawn from across the membership, with vacancies being advertised to all Freemen and Liverymen.  The Chairman and Vice-Chairman are elected from within the Committee and the Court and Company have no power to appoint officers, though the Society maintains good working relationships with the Court and, particularly with the Membership Committee. As colleagues and friends come along to enjoy Society occasions, they meet other Company members, make friends, contribute to charities and often decide that they themselves would like to join us and become Spectacle Makers.