Master’s Voice, October 2014

It seems almost incredible that an entire year has passed since I became Master of the Merchant Venturers on Charter Day last year.

On Charter Day, 10 November this year, I will in turn hand over the chain of office to the new Master, Chris Curling. I will do so in the full confidence that the Society will be in very good hands for the coming year.

It has been a truly memorable year and as I now contemplate my final month, which will include visits to St James’s Place, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Guildhall and House of Commons, together with trips to be entertained in the Merchant Halls of York and Edinburgh, I am conscious of what a great privilege it has been to serve as Master.

During my year, four new Merchant Venturers have been elected and three Merchants have applied for and been granted the new Merchant Venturer Emeritus status, which is available to those who have given distinguished service to the Society, but who feel unable to continue to give an active commitment. A perpetual body such as the Merchant Venturers owes its enduring life to an effective procedure of succession.

The process of electing new members is rigorous. A Membership Committee considers names submitted from many different quarters. In selecting new members there is an emphasis on identifying individuals who have had a successful business career, who have an entrepreneurial spirit and who have shown a commitment to philanthropy and public life.

They will have a passion for our city region and be prepared and able to commit significant time to undertaking the voluntary work of the Merchant Venturers – be it education, care of the elderly, overseeing the Downs, charity, social business or youth.

There is a membership ceiling of 80 individuals, and with members working together on many different initiatives, it is important that they enjoy being part of an organisation where friendliness and good humour are considered vital ingredients. If the Committee feels that an individual has these attributes they will submit their name for consideration by the Standing Committee and finally the full membership.

Following each Standing Committee meeting other than at Quarterly Hall, a lunch is held to which guests are invited and it has been a particular pleasure during my year to welcome so many from a large variety of different backgrounds to Merchants’ Hall. It is always an excellent opportunity for networking and has often resulted in making some key connections.

When a Quarterly Hall is held, attended by the whole membership, there is an opportunity, following the business of the day, for a presentation. In April, Francis Greenacre, a member, gave an excellent presentation on the role of the Society in the development of the Manor of Clifton. It is incredible to think that the Merchants, as the effective planning authority, caused much of the stunning architecture that makes up Clifton to be created.

The Hotwells, Dowry Square, the Polygon, Prince’s Buildings, Victoria Square and most of the land between Pembroke Road and Whiteladies Road were all part of the Manor of Clifton. It is worth emphasising that the Clifton Down is still owned by the Merchant Venturers, but managed with the city under an Act of Parliament of 1861 for the benefit of the people of Bristol.

At the July Quarterly Hall, Dame Glynis Breakwell, the Vice-Chancellor of Bath University, came to speak to the Society. I had been delighted to be invited to the University Founders’ Day and was very pleased when Dame Glynis described the critical role played by the Society in the formation of the University in 1966, through the amalgamation of the Merchant Venturers’ Technical College and Navigation School. The University of Bath is on many measures amongst the top ten in the UK. It is a tribute to Dame Glynis that Bath is now a world-class university.

In similar ways the Merchant Venturers have played key roles in the foundation of our two Bristol Universities and our members continue to be very involved today. This month I attended the opening of the Life Sciences building at Bristol University by Sir David Attenborough. We greatly value these ongoing relationships, which mean the Society continues to demonstrate its engagement with the entire spectrum of education.

As Master I have had the opportunity to experience every activity of the Society and to act as its ambassador on a great number of occasions. We have a small membership and it is a tribute to their commitment that the Society achieves so much.

I have observed at close hand the team of 10 staff at Merchants’ Hall led by the Treasurer, Richard Morris. The assured, calm and efficiency with which they conduct the business of the Society has been hugely impressive. They make it a pleasure for each Master to represent the Merchant Venturers with great pride and I take this opportunity to thank them and all the members, who have given me such valued support during my year.

Anthony Brown
Master, Society of Merchant Venturers