Stephen Bernhard (L) and His Royal Highness the Earl of Wessexi
Stephen Bernhard (L) and His Royal Highness the Earl of Wessexi

Stephen Bernhard takes over the reins of The Worshipful Company of Gardeners from HRH The Earl of Wessex at Installation Ceremony

Posted on July 16, 2014 at 11:00 AM

During the Installation Court meeting held at Stationer’s Hall in the City of London on 3rd July, HRH The Earl of Wessex KG GCVO installed Stephen Bernhard as Master of The Worshipful Company of Gardeners, one of the 110 Livery Companies of the City dating back to 1345.

During the celebration dinner, as the new Master, he presented HRH The Earl of Wessex, with his Past Master badge after making a speech to the Company where he outlined the achievements of the Royal Master during his year in office.

Stephen has been involved with The Worshipful Company of Gardeners since 1983 and follows in the footsteps of his father, Jeffrey.


A bit of history about The Worshipful Company of Gardeners

Trade and craft associations known as guilds or livery companies flourished all over Europe for centuries, but the City of London companies, now collectively known as the Livery, are unique in their survival, number and diversity.

Today’s livery companies are living institutions whose activities have been commended by successive Royal Commissions and whose liverymen assemble in Common Hall to carry out important functions in the elections of the City’s government and some of the officers.

Livery companies have proud history and traditions. Their survival has been achieved by doing what they have always done: fostering their professions, crafts and trades in a wide context, serving the community, supporting the City of London and promoting modern skills and professional development.

Asked about his progression to become Master, he replied, “Essentially you are asked if you are willing to serve on The Court and there follows a series of interviews during the selection process, after which one is voted for by the rest of the court members. There then follows a period of between eight and twelve years of progression and then one may be elected to serve as a warden and ultimately as the Master.

It is a huge honour to be Master of one of the City liveries. It’s an amazing privilege and one that I hold very dear.” Stephen said. “The 780 Lord Mayors of the City of London have all progressed in this way – the only way to become Lord Mayor, serving the City.”

The Learned Clerk, Major Jeremy Herrtage explained, “The Court of the Worshipful Gardeners has 35 members and these are Officers of Court, Renter Wardens, Upper Wardens, a Spade Bearer and 24 members – 15 below chair and 8 above (those who have been masters). The whole Court, led by the Master, runs the company.

After a short ceremony, which has been the same since we re-formed in the 1890’s, there is a celebration dinner for 206 guests at the Stationers Hall in the shadows of St Paul’s Cathedral. After prayers and the welcome speeches the Master lays out his plans for the year ahead.”

The commitments of the Master are demanding. As well as ceremonial duties, supporting the Mayoralty and formal connections with the Royal family, Government and City authorities, the Master focuses on the horticultural trade in the widest sense.

Stephen’s two children, Alex and James and his son-in-law Robbie Lawson, are all Liveryman. “Having three generations of the Bernhard family in the Livery is a rare occurrence and a great personal joy which I share with my father.”


Medieval trading standards set guidelines for trust and fairness

The early companies protected customers, employers and employees by checking standards of work, quality of goods, weights and measures, and imposed severe penalties on those who broke the rules. They controlled imports and immigrant labour, set wages and working conditions. They trained the young and looked after members in sickness and old age.


Charity, Community and Education

One of the first charitable tasks undertaken by the early guilds was to care for their members in sickness and old age.

Charitable trusts still exist today and centuries of careful stewardship have resulted in a broader vision extended to developing countries, people with disabilities, young people, housing, museums and libraries, the arts and medical research.

Companies have been involved in university education for many centuries and support still continues in the form of scholarships and bursaries for young people to study for scientific and technical careers.