The Events Manager at Trinity House, Edgar King is retiring at the end of April 2019 after 24 years service.
After 24 years at Trinity House – and about as many again in the hospitality and catering industry prior to that! – it’s fascinating to reflect how much the industry has changed over the decades. When I joined Trinity House in 1995 as their first Events Manager, few other dedicated academic venues, City or livery halls welcomed independent room hire reservations. Trinity House was, up till then, solely the working home of the General Lighthouse Authority and the Corporation of Trinity House (merchant) maritime charitable entity.
When the nation’s manned lighthouses were decommissioned in the late 80’s, it became apparent that Trinity House was in need of substantial renovation and the adjoining building on Tower Hill was sold to cover these costs. Unfortunately, this coincided with the property crash and additional treasures such as historic charts and books from the 1600’s had to be added to the sale to meet the capital needed. It was decided also that the House should be open to carefully vetted private bookings to augment the refurbishment funding.
At the time, there was little competition from comparative venues. Few of the numerous mercantile livery halls operating at the time were pro-actively marketing their spaces for private hire – and certainly not ‘out of office hours’ – so there was no industry guidebook to refer to. When established caterers (and one of London’s true ‘originals’ dating from 1786) Payne & Gunter (P & G) stepped into the breech as an unofficial adviser, it was very helpful. Bethan James from P & G suggested that it was in everyone’s interest if more livery halls joined together to promote the general availability of these special spaces for corporate hire and, of course, weddings.
Five halls subsequently collaborated in those early days as ‘City of London Secrets’ which was the beginning of the joint promotion of City venues. In such a virgin business environment, pricing Trinity House became the key consideration – the location and heritage of each venue informed on pricing strategies with the charges needing to reflect the unique prestige of each building but still make the concept attractive. (In the early 90’s, to hire the House for an evening dinner would cost £1,000, whereas today it is £4,600). It was an uphill struggle initially to promote the House to The City as the location was both a bonus (tremendous views of the Tower of London) and a challenge….however little things, such as front-of-house parking, proved influential in their decision-making process.
In those early days, a clearly defined marketing budget was non-existent (and remained so for another eight years) so I had to get creative. In these pre-email days of phone and fax, printed brochures were an essential sales tool. In order to circumvent any unnecessary expenditure, I approached selected caterers to contribute an A4 single page of information and images which went into a sales folder for distribution to potential clients.
It seems extraordinary to remember that UVL – Unique Venues of London – was only launched (under a different name) just under two years later – they celebrate their 25th anniversary this year. Trinity House was a founder member of UVL and we value our membership today. They were the first to professionally launch a marketing organisation and to charge venues for membership.
The LCS (London City Selection) was started about seven years later (as the London City Collection) when a few City hall and hotel venue managers identified the need for a more targeted marketing directive and strategy. Then the Westminster Collection promoting West End venues set up a separate organisation.
The kind of events we organise today is drastically different from those early days. Then we were a preferred venue for many corporate roadshow presentations and financial product launches, with the likes of JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley staging one or two a week…now it’s more like now one or two a year. Budgets, both corporate and private, were lavish – extravagant even.
The list of early and stalwart caterers, such as Payne and Gunter, Chester Boyd, Mustard, By Word of Mouth and (Lady Anson’s) Party Planners all helped to steer events in our direction – and the more word got around, the more we were approached by other caterers wanting to work with us; we collaborate currently with approximately 12 preferred caterers. I do think it’s telling that over 70% of our bookings nowadays are repeat business.
Some of the more memorable occasions were Adrian Swire’s wedding anniversary, and Sir Conrad Black’s mega two-day conference – with the likes of Giscard D’Estaing, Lord Carrington, Gianni Agnelli and Maggie Thatcher attending the second day – and of course, the 2012 Olympic Games. Tyrol Tourism (Austria) took over the entire house for two weeks and a mock alpine chalet was constructed throughout the interiors. In front of the exterior façade we constructed a dining area and bar which was very popular. We are increasingly popular with tourism boards due to the proximity of the House to the DLR (handy over WTM, for instance). The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee that same year was also an exciting time.
The House has also ‘starred’ in numerous movies and TV shows including ‘Shackleton’ – with Kenneth Branagh sprinting into the House; ‘Johnny English’ with Rowan Atkinson; The Muppet Movie; James Bond’s ‘Skyfall’; ‘McMafia’, ‘The Invisible Woman’; episodes Eight and Ten of BBC’s riveting ‘Trust’ series and, more recently, Celebrity Master Chef.
Generally, events today are simpler and more value-oriented…..silver service has disappeared as caterers prefer to exert greater control on food presentation and dishes arrive at the table carefully plated. This format promotes quality consistency as well as contributing to rigid budget control – critical when margins are continually being reduced. There has been a reduction in budgets across the board of 20% – 30% over the years.
In 2019 we are no longer the ‘new boy on the block’ but the House remains a bit of a secret and retains a certain mystique – 24 years later it is still gratifying to see the surprise on the face of new corporate and wedding bookers when they step through the door of this ‘hidden gem’. It’s been a rare joy and privilege to work in such glorious surroundings and to have contributed to its future security and, through it, the promotion of England’s celebrated maritime heritage.
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After graduating from The Birmingham College of Food and Domestic Arts in 1973, British/Norwegian national Edgar King commenced his professional career working at seasonal hotels in Norway, (mountain hotels in the Winter and fjord hotels in the summer) before working for two years on an expeditionary cruise ship which explored the Antarctic and Arctic, the South Pacific and sailed 3,000 miles up the Amazon.
He resumed his career at the Trust House Forte group of hotels within food and beverage, hotel management and marketing operations sectors over a period of eight years.
He joined luxury outside catering firm Ring and Brymer as Senior Catering Manager where he was responsible for a staff of 30 and a budget of over £2 million. In 1991 he was appointed Hotel Manager of the new cross channel luxury ferry Stena Normandy where he supervised a staff of 120 and successfully launched this service.
Edgar has been Events Manager at Trinity House since 1995 overseeing the management of a diverse range of private events including exhibitions, corporate meetings, formal banquets and weddings.
Edgar was born at Northampton in 1953 of an English father and a Norwegian Mother and now lives in Winchester with his wife Judith.