To celebrate the 90th Anniversary of IWFS, London Branch decided that it needed a very special venue. We were delighted when one of our members offered to use his personal connections to enable us to use the Vicars’ Hall at Windsor Castle. With the opportunity to use such an iconic venue it seemed appropriate to bring the event forward to September when we would have enough daylight to appreciate it. Although it was a London Branch event, we invited members from other branches to join us. In all we had 72 participants, as many as the hall could hold.
We gathered first for evensong in St, George’s Chapel. – a quite unforgettable experience. Seated in the Quire of the Tudor chapel, in the stalls normally reserved for the Knights of the Order of the Garter surrounded by evidence of their heraldic achievements, their individual banners mounted overhead, one was very conscious of the hundreds of years of history of which one was a temporary part.
The College of St George at Windsor was one of two founded by Edward III, the other being St Stephen’s College at Westminster which is no longer in existence. St George’s was founded in 1348 at the same time as the Most Noble Order of the Garter – the oldest chivalric order in the world still in existence today. The famous chapel was originally simply the chapel of Windsor Castle. Edward IV commissioned a new chapel as a suitable home for the Order in 1475. It was finally completed in 1528.
Evensong over we moved down the hill to the Lookout, an open area on the ramparts, for a Reception with Champagne and Canapes. The Esterlin Brut NV Champagne was not one most of us were familiar with but it proved a nicely balanced wine well worth considering for future events. The canapés were delicious and came in generous – perhaps too generous – quantities. We were blessed with a warm sunny evening in which to enjoy the views over the town and out to the surrounding countryside with Eton College Chapel a distinctive landmark in the distance. Conversation flowed easily and no one was in any particular hurry to go inside. The sunset offered just as we went into dinner was an extra flourish to an already special evening.
Dinner was served in the Vicars’ Hall itself. Built in 1415 the hall originally served as a refectory. It has a spectacular vaulted ceiling. Gary McKeone, Programme Director at St George’s House, gave us a brief introduction to the history of the hall. He recounted a conversation with a very eminent Shakespeare Scholar who, asked whether it was possible that the first performance of the Merrie Wives of Windsor had indeed taken place in the hall in front of Elizabeth I would only say that ‘it was not im-possible’. So much for tradition!
Our first course was a beetroot and goat’s cheese terrine, with baby shoots and balsamic syrup: an unusual dish and very tasty. This was accompanied by a Petit Chablis Vieilles Vignes 2022, from Domaine Dampt.
For dessert we had a baked vanilla cheesecake, with blackberry compote and ginger crumble. This was accompanied by Domaine Tariquet Premières Grives, Côtes de Gascogne: deliberately not too sweet so as to avoid overpowering the delicate flavour of the cheesecake. An earlier vintage was a favourite at the 2018 London International Festival.
Following a vote of thanks from EAZ Chairman John Nicholas, we returned to St George’s Chapel for a guided tour with one of the military knights.
All in all a memorable experience, worthy of the Society’s 90th birthday. The opening of some special branch events to the wider membership is a growing trend, and one to be encouraged, so as to enable more members to appreciate directly the benefits of their association with the wider IWFS.
Chairman, London Branch