Over the weekend of 12th to 14th July, the Master held his UK weekend in Cambridge, the City where he had been a post-graduate scholar at Wolfson College. In his “Back to School” weekend the Master had arranged for all of us to stay in the splendid Halls of Residence of Downing College.
The weekend was attended by some 40 Constructors and their wives/partners and started with a reception in the tranquil Betty Wu Lee garden in his old College. The pictures show the Ladies (left) and the Gentlemen (right) in the sunshine in the Betty Wu Lee Garden. The sun shone, the wine flowed and the canapés were eaten amongst the usual friendly banter of a Master’s Weekend.
We then moved on to an enjoyable informal Friday evening dinner in Downing College, where the obligatory group photograph was taken as we met in the quadrangle for pre-prandial drinks. We then progressed to the Maitland room where we were wined and dined in true fashion.
On the Saturday morning we split into two parties to enjoy a guided walking tour of Cambridge and relax in chauffeured punts on the river Cam. One party did the walk first and the punting late, whilst the others punted first and walked after.
Whilst the weather wasn’t quite as good as it was on the Friday, the rain held off and an enjoyable time was had by all, with those of a strong constitution joining up for a lunchtime drink in the Anchor pub, overlooking the river.
Saturday afternoon was spent as free time – some rested, some shopped and others went to museums, walked around Cambridge or did whatever they fancied doing until it was time to prepare for the traditional Black-Tie Dinner, which this year was held in the splendid medieval banqueting hall of Queens’ College. The early arrivals for the banquet can be seen on the left, ably assembled for a group photograph by the Clerk, on the “mathematical” bridge across the river Cam, which is the way in to the medieval part of Queens’ College from the modernist buildings on the other side of the river.
Following the champagne reception in the quadrangle and old kitchen we sat down to a magnificent three-course banquet in the splendid and historic setting of the medieval Old Hall. The Master’s Guests of Honour were Dr Brian Cox and his wife Dr Margaret Cox and he welcomed them in his speech, which went on to say:
“The Mistress and I would like to thank you all for joining us for this dinner and weekend. This without doubt is my favourite hall out of all the halls in the 31 colleges that make up the University of Cambridge. When I read Interdisciplinary Design (founded by Ove Arup) here at Cambridge, part of our studies involved coming here to Queens, where we had dinner and held a combined lecture with the cohorts from the Construction Engineering Management Master’s degree course –founded by Ray O’Rourke. There is therefore is a strong construction connection at this college and my own college of Wolfson. As soon as I set foot in this wonderful place, it left me with what I hope is the same impression you all have this evening, the wow factor! I am sure you will agree that it is truly a wonderful venue in the heart of this historic college, which dates from 1448. Jessica and I hope you enjoy the food and wines this evening.”
Following the meal we were entertained by an acapella group from the choristers of St John’s College Chapel, who, departing from their normal ecclesiastical repertoire, sang more modern close harmony settings of popular songs of yesteryear, to the great enjoyment and appreciation of all present.
Then it was time for the Master to say a few words. He started his speech by thanking the choristers for such a wonderful performance and then went on to express his grateful thanks to the President at Queens, Lord John Eatwell of Stratton St Margaret for his kind permission for the Company to dine in the College and to the wonderful catering staff from the college. He went on to say:
“This year, the University of Cambridge is 810 years old, it was founded in 1209 and therefore shares a similar timeline of history with the establishment of the Guilds in London. The Weavers Company is the oldest known Livery Company in the City of London, having received its charter in 1155, when Henry II (the first Plantagenet King) was crowned only the previous year upon the death of King Stephen. However, in 1209 the first London Bridge was completed near its present site (there having been earlier medieval bridges, and this lasted until 1831 when it was rebuilt – only to be sold to an American (who, I am told, believed that he was purchasing Tower Bridge).
King John (1199-1216), one year before he died of dysentery, thankfully signed the Bill of rights with the Barons, that not only respected the rights of Citizens, but established the Lord Mayor as only one of two guarantors charged with ensuring that the Crown kept its side of the bargain. Meanwhile, across the channel, the King of France Phillippe Augustus, Phillip II, gave another important right to its citizens, that became enshrined in French Law – a right of passage for Merchants going to Champagne Fairs, guaranteeing them safety of travel from anyone trying to impede their passage. For anyone found to harm or obstruct the merchant’s right to go to and from the champagne fairs, then they would be guilty of Lèse-Majesté (doing wrong to majesty – and therefore an offense against the dignity of the reigning Monarch.)
I am therefore pleased to inform you that our wines for this evening found safe unimpeded passage up the M11 from Le Majestic Chislehurst!
Meanwhile (and back to the plot!) – There was a wobble with the “Magna Carta Liberatum” –or as better known the “Great Charter of Liberties”, for it was annulled by John’s arch nemeses Pope Innocent III, who had excommunicated John from the Church, for being “sinfully lustful and lacking in piety”, fuelled no doubt by regularly exercising his right of passage to Champagne fairs! By so doing so he revoked the Magna Carta.
Thankfully John’s son Henry III re-issued the Great Charter immediately following his accession in 1216. If this had not taken place then I doubt we would be here celebrating a Master’s weekend from a City Livery Company or attending the election of Sheriffs or the Lord Mayor. More importantly we would not have a bill of rights to protect all of us as citizens.
Therefore we should be thankful to King John and more especially to his heir and successor, Henry III … and to all of you for being here to support this weekend and for making it a very special evening for Jessica , my family and I. We shall add this to our treasure trove of wonderful memories. May we wish you all a wonderful summer and see you in September and especially for our Charity Gala dinner on 19th September at Lords!”