A Guide for the Guests of Liverymen at Formal Dinners

Guests Guide To Formal DinnersThese notes have been put together so that Liverymen can brief their guests about what they can expect to happen at a Livery Dinner in the City.  Although they are intended to be light-hearted, they are the basis on which the smooth-running of all our events take place.

The Woolmen pride themselves on their hospitality: whilst dining with the Woolmen is most definitely a formal occasion, and formal procedures are followed, the Woolmen like to feel that there is nothing formal about the atmosphere, the friendship and the conversation.  In other words, they do not want the formalities to interfere with anyone’s enjoyment of the evening.


The Woolmen dine in Evening Dress with Decorations.  This is interpreted as white tie and evening tails for men and long dresses for Ladies (i.e. below mid-calf).  Miniature decorations are usually worn except when there is no miniature equivalent (e.g. stars, neck decorations and brooches).  Decorations and medals are restricted to those awarded by the State in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List and the New Year’s Honours List.  Foreign decorations of equivalent status may also be worn (advice can be taken from the Clerk).  When the Woolmen dine outside the City of London (e.g The Master’s Weekend) the Master will select the Dress most appropriate for the venue.


On arrival at the Hall where the Dinner is taking place there is usually a table where Liverymen and their guests can sign their names in the attendance book and collect a copy of the seating plan with their name on it.  They will then be encouraged to join the formal reception by giving their name to the Beadle, who will announce them as they approach the Receiving Line.  Guests will need to announce their name clearly to the Beadle, or show him the name on their copy of the seating plan.  The receiving line consists of the Master and the Wardens (and, at the Installation Dinner, their consorts).

Moving in to dinner

At the end of the Reception the Beadle will announce that dinner is served.  All Liverymen and their guests are asked to move into the dining room promptly, so that dinner can be served without delay.  When all are at their places, the Beadle will announce the entrance of the Master, Wardens, the Principal Guest(s), the (Honourable, Gallant and Learned*) Clerk and the Honorary Chaplain.  They will process into the dining room to the accompaniment of ‘Shepherds Hey’.  It is customary for the Company to clap in time to the music until they reach their seats.  The Master will ask the Chaplain to say Grace.

During Dinner

It is customary for there to be some form of musical entertainment if time allows, whilst the port and coffee is served (tea is available on request).  Port is always passed to the left.  Mobile phones should not be used for any purpose in the dining room.

The Rose Water

By ancient custom a silver bowl containing rose water is circulated after dinner and before the speeches.  By dipping the corner of your table napkin into the rose water and patting it behind your ears you stimulate the nerves in this region which through their connections soothe the digestive organs.

Sung Grace

Traditionally the Company sing the Grace after eating.  The words are provided in the menu.

The Loving Cup Ceremony

The cup is traditionally filled with spiced wine, immemorially termed “Sack”.  The custom is said to have originated following the murder of King Edward the Martyr, who was stabbed while drinking by his step-mother Elfrida at Corfe Castle on 18th March 978 AD.  Upon rising to drink from the cup, the person to the right and to the left of the drinker also stands.  The drinker then bows to the neighbour to whom the cup will pass, who removes the cover with his right hand.  This ensures that the “dagger arm” is employed and eliminates the risk of treachery.  Meanwhile, the neighbour on the drinker’s other side turns his back on him ostensibly to protect him from attack from behind whilst in the act of drinking.  Having drunk, the drinker applies the napkin to the lip of the cup, the lid is replaced and the drinker and his neighbour bow to one another before passing the cup.  The first drinker then turns about to protect the second drinker from attack; thus there are always three people on their feet, the drinker being in the middle.  If you do not wish to drink from the cup, it is sufficient gesture of loyalty to receive and pass the cup on to the next guest with a slight bow.

Taking wine with new Liverymen

If new Liverymen have been clothed and welcomed into the Company before the dinner, the Master may stand with a glass of wine in his hand and ask them by name to take wine with him.  The new Liverymen then stand in their turn with a glass of wine in their hand and silently toast the Master, who returns the toast.

Toasts and Speeches

There are usually five toasts and three speeches.  The procedure is as follows.  The Master announces the toast to The Queen, by striking the gavel, three times, waiting for silence, standing and proclaiming: Ladies and Gentlemen, The Queen.  The music for the first verse of the National Anthem will be played whilst the Company sings, and then the Company will reply in unison: The Queen.

The second toast is to The Royal Family.  The procedure is the same, but the Master reads out the following lists: The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall; The Princess Royal, Citizen and Woolman**; and other Members of the Royal Family.  The music plays, but on this occasion the Company does not sing; and the response by the Company is: the Royal Family.

The third toast is to The Lord Mayor and City of London Corporation.

There may then be presentations, for example Presentations to Award Winners (Civic Dinner) and Presentation of the Woolsack by the Immediate Past Master (Installation Dinner).

The first speech is the Welcome to the Guests, followed by the Toast to the Guests.  Guest should remain seated whilst the members of the Livery toast them.

The second speech is the Response by the Principal Guest, ending with the fifth Toast: The Worshipful Company of Woolmen Root and Branch Coupled with the name of the Master.

The third speech is the Response by the Master.

Leaving the Dining Room

At the end of the dinner – usually after the Master has finished his speech – the Beadle will announce that the Master and Wardens invite the Company and their guests to join them in a stirrup cup, and please to make way for the Master, wardens and their Principal Guest(s).  This is the cue for all to stand and clap in time as the Master, Wardens and Principal Guest(s) leave the dining room.  When they have left the dining room, the Company and their Guests are encouraged to join them for a stirrup cup promptly so the staff can clear the room.

Miscellaneous (extracted from various books of Etiquette)

  • Senior Military officers entitled to wear ceremonial swords in military parade dress do not need to wear them for formal dinners.
  • Spurs may be worn by those serving in regiments entitled to wear them, provided they do not damage furniture, frighten dogs or injure people.
  • Diners should make every attempt to find more imaginative topics of conversation to discuss that their everyday work – unless they professionally fly space-craft, drive on Top Gear, sail an aircraft carrier, mine gold or work for the Security Services.
  • Religion, women and politics are not suitable subjects for the dinner table.  Presumably the updated version would replace ‘women’ with ‘personal relationships’.
  • Diners will not swear or use abusive language, whatever the provocation.
  • All wagers and bets are to be authorised by the Clerk. There will be no betting for cash. No bet is to exceed the financial equivalent of £10 (in 1936).  The Clerk is to ensure that all bets are honoured.  If both parties are absent when the bet is due, the Clerk may authorize the stake to be consumed by the Diners and charged to the loser.
  • The Navy drink the loyal toast sitting down; the Army and RAF drink the loyal toast standing to attention.

* Clerks, like Members of Parliament, are described as Honourable if they are or have been a Barrister; Gallant if they are serving or have served in HM Forces; and Learned if they have studied for a degree (although the result of their studies is immaterial)..

* HRH Princess Ann became a Liverymen of the Worshipful Company of Woolmen in 1988, served as Master 1994-1995 and became Master Emeritus in 2010.


At formal functions an official photographer is present. If you have been in attendance at an event the photographs can be viewed via the website for Gerald Sharp Photography