Ward Clubs

I recently attended the AGM and Annual Lunch at the Guildhall of Cripplegate Ward Club of which I am a member. It was also the occasion of the Installation of the Club’s 139th Master, Mrs Christine Nevard, MBE.

The governance of the City of London is unique in that many of its ancient traditions, removed by central government legislation elsewhere in the kingdom, have been preserved. Unlike other modern-day English local authorities, the City of London Corporation has two council bodies: the Court of Aldermen and the Court of Common Council.  The City constitutes 25 wards which are survivors of the mediaeval governmental system that allowed very small areas to exist as self-governing units within the wider city. They are both electoral/ political sub-divisions and permanent ceremonial, geographic and administrative entities within the City. Their boundaries have been changed frequently, most recently in 2013, but for hundreds of years their number has been maintained at 25 and their names have remained constant.

Each ward, or aldermanry, has its own alderman, who is the most senior official or representative in the ward. The aldermen traditionally held office for life but in the modern era put themselves up for re-election at least every six years. They also now customarily retire at 70, the same retirement age as a justice of the peace. Each ward, irrespective of its size, returns one alderman to the Court of aldermen. One of the aldermen is elected by the liverymen as Lord Mayor of London for a period of one year.

All wards in the City have a ward club. The City used to be densely populated but with the advent of the railways in the middle of the 19th Century most residents moved out to become commuters and only four of the wards are now regarded as residential: Portsoken, Queenhithe, Aldersgate and Cripplegate. These four to some extent remain similar to residents’ associations found elsewhere in the country but are still open to non-residents and so have become more like social clubs in fact. Members of the ward clubs are Liverymen, Freemen, Common Councilmen, City professionals and residents.

They offer support to the Alderman of the Ward, the Deputy and Common Councilmen in carrying out their duties on behalf of the City of London and, in particular the ward itself. Most clubs hold annual banquets, meetings and dinners for members, as well as make charitable contributions.

In the Marketors’ Four Year Plan as part of our Aim to support the City of London Corporation and the Mayoralty we have expressed the intention to:

Ward Clubs: At present a number of Marketors are members of various ward clubs but this is entirely on an individual basis. Proposal:

  1. To aim for the Marketors to be represented in a wide range of ward clubs.
  2. To encourage all Court Assistants to join a ward club.”

In following this intention myself I considered the scene. Not resident in London I looked for specific connections. I have two ancestors who have been Lord Mayor of London, both on my mother’s side of the family.

Sir James Esdaile was descended from a French noble family, his grandfather, Baron d’Esdaile having fled France to avoid persecution by Louis XIV. His father, Peter, had become rich in trade and James also managed to make his fortune in commerce. By 1748, James was one of the successful merchants of the day looking for a seat in the country.  When James arrived at Upminster, he brought a wife and a young family. After his wife died, he married Mary, the daughter of John Mayor of New Place, Upminster. The marriage increased his property interests in the area, and in 1770 he became Lord of the Manor of Gaynes, Upminster. James Esdaile was knighted by George III in 1766, and became Alderman of Cripplegate the following year. In 1776 he was sworn in as Sheriff of London and Middlesex, and the following year became Lord Mayor. In their book on the history of the Ward, Caroline Gordon and Wilfrid Dewhirst wrote “Sir James Esdaile was first to be Lord Mayor while remaining a Cooper rather than switching to one of the Great Twelve.”[i] It is not clear if this was first in the Ward or in the whole City but it was still a remarkable achievement as the tradition of joining one of the Great Twelve before seeking office as Lord Mayor, or even as Alderman, was long-established.

Sir John Bell Bt (1843-1924) was Lord Mayor in 1907, having been Master of the Fan Makers in 1897. A Brewer, and Chairman and Managing Director of Wenlock Brewery Company, he was born in London and educated at Brompton Grammar School. In 1882 he joined the Court of Common Council representing Coleman St Ward and in 1894 joined the Court of Aldermen, being elected Sheriff in 1902. He revived interest in the Lord Mayor’s Show making it a spectacular pageant.

So Cripplegate or Coleman St? I chose Cripplegate partly because it is residential so the mix of its membership is more varied, and partly because it contains the Barbican and my wife and I frequently attend the Barbican Centre.  We have seen heard dozens of excellent concerts by the London Symphony Orchestra there as well as seen about half of Shakespeare’s plays when the Royal Shakespeare Company used to take up residence there for the winter.

Membership of the Club is considered from any person who:

  • resides within the Ward,  or
  • has a professional or business connection within the Ward, or
  • is involved personally in the civic or cultural life of the Ward, or
  • has a research or vocational interest in Cripplegate Ward.

Given my family connection and my strong cultural interest I was accepted and have enjoyed much of the activities of the club. These tend to be monthly and for example the first three events of Christine’s year are visits to the Assay Office at Goldsmiths’ Hall followed by lunch at the Slug & Lettuce nearby; the City of London Police Headquarters in Wood Street.; and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry where after our tour of the foundry the family owners will host “a convivial supper”.

The Club follows the City tradition of being non-political, undenominational and non-sectarian. The current membership is around 200 of whom about one third live in and around the Ward.  The Club is administered by a Committee consisting of the Master, the Upper and Under Wardens and six Assistants along with the Honorary Secretaries (Office & Social), the Honorary Treasurer, all Past Masters and various co-opted members.

The cost of membership is currently £25 per annum (£20 per annum if over 65). The Club year begins January 1st; anyone joining after July 1st will receive a £10 discount on their first year’s fees. There is also a once-off joining fee of £20; this includes a copy of the book “The History of Cripplegate Ward” written by Dr Caroline Gordon (past Common Councilman) and Wilfrid Dewhirst (a Past Master of the Club and a past Deputy of the Ward) in 1985. Both authors are deceased. This book provides the new member with a fascinating insight into the story of Cripplegate.

I enjoy my membership as it complements my experience in the Worshipful Company. In the Marketors one meets people of like mind and experience. But in the Ward Club one meets people from other parts of the City and that’s nice too. It broadens my understanding of the remarkable institutions of the City and I would encourage others to do the same.

And I may seek application to Coleman St as well, but not this year which is pretty full up.

[i] The Ward of Cripplegate in the City of London Caroline Gordon & Wilfrid Dewhirst Cripplegate Ward Club 1985

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