Simon Block (2012)

Address for Simon Block

Service of Thanksgiving at St Lawrence Jewry - Tuesday 7th February 2012

My father sat as a judge in the Mayor’s & City of London Court, just across the forecourt here, and when the list at The Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey) got too long he would spend time there helping out. He often sat in a court in the basement, the walls of which were covered in mosaics. He would on these occasions get up from the breakfast table and solemnly announce to his family: “and now, I am going to sit …. in the lavatory!”. So I feel sure that Simon, his nephew, would have felt entirely at home when he found himself at the centre of City government at the Guildhall and with a grace and favour flat in The Old Bailey. But more of his City life later.

Thank you all for coming. Simon would have been proud to see such a fine and exclusive gathering, and I am sure his children are.

Simon was a family man. He and his future wife Patricia Ann, universally known as Tishy, were childhood sweethearts, and I don’t think he ever looked at another woman, nor she at another man. Tishy’s parents sent her to Southern Rhodesia, as it then was, in order to cool off but, unsurprisingly, it didn’t work! They were married soon after Simon came down from University, and settled in Kent, where they brought up their much loved children, Adam, Robert and Justin. Later they would move to Exmoor. It was a double tragedy when Tishy died from a brain tumour just at the time, ten years ago, that Parkinson’s disease took hold of Simon and he could have done with her tender care. Adam did a terrific job in her absence and they were surrounded by friends in South Molton, who together cared for him. A cottage was being prepared for him where he could be surrounded by his family but sadly he never made it, spending the last few years of his life in a nursing home.

Simon had been brought up at the family farm in Battle, in which the family now live. He attended Feltonfleet prep school, whose headmaster had been at Pembroke College Cambridge with his father, a school with which he would be closely associated for the rest of his life. He went on to Marlborough, where he hunted on bicycle with the Tedworth and Beaufort foxhounds and where he joined with two others in forming the College beagle pack, which still exists today. During National Service Simon served with distinction in the Malayan emergency, the only soldier to capture an enemy flag, now in a museum in Guildford, and he emerged with the Campaign Medal. Then it was on to the Block stronghold of Pembroke College, Cambridge to read law. It was the practice of the law firm of Crossman Block & Keith to farm out family members to take articles in other practices, and so it was that Simon found himself at Linklaters before joining CBK, in which he would serve for the rest of his working life.

Simon rowed in the Pembroke College 1st VIII, and he rowed for England in the University Youth Games in Moscow. During his time Pembroke built a new student accommodation block. Pembroke had sent out an appeal for the odd million or two to pay for it, and received a telegram from New York saying “am sending cheque for it”, signed Gugenheim! Simon provided a climbing plant for its façade, still alive today. He spent much time and energy then and afterwards on the College Mission in the East End of London, and for many years he coached the Pembroke 1st VIII.

In Kent he was a great supporter of the wandering cricket club, The Grannies. But it was hunting at Marlborough which had set the tune for Simon’s best leisure interests in life. He whipped in at Marlborough and with the Wye College Beagles. He was a hunt supporter with fox and stag hounds in Kent and on Exmoor, running the countryside to keep up. It was rather, I suppose, the horses which had to keep up with him! Possibly he was most content stalking on Exmoor and in the far north-west corner of Scotland, lying in the heather on a moor in Durness or Wester Ross, where he had his croft. At CBK he ran the commercial department of the firm and he was Senior Partner for more than 20 years. He was very keen to take his lawyer protégés on outward-bound trips, character-forming he would have thought. One such person recalls a trip to Durness; he tells me:-

“We put the car on the night sleeper train to Inverness and drove on from there. Simon’s infectious enthusiasm for the Highlands was on full display even at 5.30 in the morning and he was far too busy pointing out the scenery to pay much attention to the road as we headed north on the single track roads, the Volvo Estate periodically lurching back and forth as Simon made last moment steering corrections to avoid unplanned off-road excursions. This did somewhat reduce his passengers’ ability to focus with as much attention as the driver on that same scenery. It was a very good thing that there was negligible traffic. Once we arrived at the cottage (he had warned us in advance that running water and plumbing would only cause frozen and burst pipes, and so none were fitted), we immediately donned walking boots and set off in search of suitable fine beasts to stalk. Now we could enjoy the scenery in that unspoiled place and we had a very hearty and entertaining weekend walking and learning about the place from Simon. A lifelong memory!”.

It was the convention that articled clerks should carry the briefcase to meetings, and Simon’s was large and heavy with papers! He was always supremely fit and his long legs gave him a great stride and speed. He would walk all over London to attend meetings, trailing his hapless articled clerk trotting behind! He was wholly unaware of the smiles of others when he went out to a client meeting wearing his stalking Barbour, which some suspected was bloodstained with stag, all set off nicely by the pink socks of Leander. He ran the commercial department on military thin red line principles, someone always available to step into a gap. To further the international interests of the firm he sent young Solicitors for sojourns in France, the USA, Holland and Germany. One such person reports that it shaped the rest of his time in the law.

If it was not lying on a moor in Scotland, possibly Simon’s first love was the City of London. He followed his father into The Worshipful Company of Broderers, and not content with that also into The Worshipful Company of Weavers, to which forebears of ours had also belonged. He became Master of each – he was, in other words, twice a Past Master! The Royal School of Needlework was supported by these Companies, and he found it in a parlous financial state. Retrenchment involved its highly successful move to Hampton Court Palace, which Simon arranged possibly with the help of his father-in-law, who happened at that time to be Steward of Hampton Court Palace. It’s not what you know, it’s whom you know, and Simon knew movers and shakers aplenty. He served for many years on the City’s Court of Common Council, being elected as representative of the Ward of Cheap, and it is appropriate that his Thanksgiving Service should be held in this Church, the official church of the Lord Mayor of London and the Corporation of the City of London. He rose to be elected to the office of Lay Sherriff, one of the Lord Mayor’s two sheriffs. During his year as Lay Sherriff he generously offered all his numerous cousins an invitation to something. Sue and I were invited to the Mansion House for the Lord Mayor’s Show, with our young daughter. Watching the Show from a seat on the balcony was an experience she, and we, will never forget.

Chairman of the Governors of Feltonfleet School, Master of the Broderers, Upper Bailiff of the Weavers, Chairman of The Royal School of Needlework, Chairman of The Port of London Health Authority, Chairman of Spittlefields Market, Honorary Solicitor to The United Wards Club, Senior Partner of Crossman Block. Goodness knows how he found the time to do it all!

The great thing about Simon was his enthusiasms, always accompanied by that smile with crinkles round the edges and that infectious laugh. He was an honourable man, a gentleman in the old sense of the word, with a very strong sense of what was right and what was wrong. He was a deeply committed Christian and this shone through all he did. He inspired loyalty and in return he gave it in abundance. Nothing was ever too much trouble. When it was reported to him that a Liverpool Solicitor had said he had to deal with that sharp Solicitor in London he was mortally offended, but it was of course intended as a compliment, sharp of mind rather than of practice. His worst swear words were “sparrow’s fart” to indicate the time his guests should leave for the moor! We shall miss him greatly.

Nicholas Block