The Master’s Voice – October 2012


David Marsh at Charter Day 2011











It is October, and my year as Master of the Society is drawing to a close. Charter Day and all of its great celebration is set to take place on Monday 12 November and will see the passing of the torch to incoming Master Peter Rilett.

Charter Day marks an important milestone in the history of the society, as it celebrates the Royal Charter granted to the Society by Edward VI in 1552.

It takes place each November, and involves a ceremonial procession at Bristol Cathedral – with all Merchants in morning dress. The service is attended by pupils from the three Merchant sponsored schools, Colston’s School, Colston’s Girls’ School and Merchants’ Academy. The two Wardens – Peter Rilett and Anthony Brown – will certainly be kept busy after the service, handing out Colston’s buns and coins to each pupil, a longstanding Charter Day tradition.

Many Bristol citizens participate in Doors Open Day in early September, and the opportunity to have a look inside Merchants’ Hall is very popular. We take about 24 parties of 25-30 viewers round the building, which of course forms a useful framework for giving the history of the Merchants. The Merchant volunteer guides work hard, but seem universally to enjoy the work, and to make the most of the need to learn all the facts before becoming guides.

Having attended a graduation ceremony at the University of Bristol in July, I was fairly startled by the amount of formality involved in the University of Bristol degree conferring ceremony. However, it makes good sense to celebrate such an important event, following so much hard work, in a manner which the graduates and their parents will remember. The Great Hall, under the Wills building, is certainly a magnificent setting.

As Master I am invited to attend some of the trustee meetings of St Monica’s Trust, although of course it is a separate and independent body. I much admire the energy and imagination which they put into new initiatives for care of the elderly. Recently they have started to build a new service providing care in your own home, enabling older people to stay at home longer.

This must be a good thing – in my experience most would much rather stay in their own home for as long as possible, provided they can receive the right sort of help, and of course it can be rather more economical for the client.

My year as Master has seen real progress towards a number of the Society’s long term goals. The Society’s great work in the city’s education sector over the past few years has started to pay dividends.

This summer’s exam results for the three Merchants’ schools were exemplary. Colston’s School remains one of the very top independent schools in Bristol, while Colston’s Girls’ School has maintained its exceptionally high standards since achieving academy status.

Merchants’ Academy put in a stellar performance, with the percentage of A*-C grades at GCSE climbing to 40 per cent. An astonishing feat considering the figure was languishing at 17 per cent just three years ago. The Society has every confidence that Merchants’ Academy will continue on its remarkable upward trajectory, continuing to strive for improvement and academic excellence. A number of pupils at all three schools gained straight A*s in their GCSE exams, a truly fantastic achievement.

Looking to the primary sector, 2013 looks set to be a fascinating year for the Society’s educational interests.

The Dolphin School, part of the Colston’s Girls’ School Trust, opened its doors in September and took on its first reception class. The Dolphin School was established in a bid to provide relief to East Bristol’s real shortage of primary school places.

A successful merger between Gay Elms Primary School and Merchants’ Academy in Withywood also began in September. Providing an excellent opportunity for the pupils of both schools, it is hoped the merger will help to ease the often difficult transitional period between primary and secondary education. As touched upon in August’s blog, this tricky transitional phase presents a real issue to education in the city.

Finally, Colston’s Lower School welcomed Stuart Smart as Head in September. Stuart Smart has 12 years experience teaching, most recently as Deputy Head at Gillingstool Primary School in Thornbury. We are certain Stuart will make an excellent addition to both the Colston’s and Merchants’ family.

David Marsh, Master of the Society of Merchant Venturers