Report by David Glassman on the Reception on Tuesday 29 March 2022.
The Resolution representing the foundation of the Anglo-Batavian Society was passed at its inaugural meeting held at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce on 7 May 1920. The wording was that ‘in view of the desire expressed by over 125 ladies and gentlemen to found an Anglo-Batavian Society for the promotion of good fellowship between the British and Dutch races, it is now resolved to form such a Society, and the Society is hereby constituted’. Its first President was the Eighth Earl of Albemarle GCVO CB and first Chairman Sir Walter Townley. The name was retained until 1944, when its archaic nature was accepted and we became the Anglo-Netherlands Society.
At the start of January 2017, your Council began to focus on how the Society might plan to mark the Centenary of our foundation. The guiding principle was that in appropriate ways we should celebrate the Centenary of that spirit of fellowship originally highlighted in 1920. It was a no-brainer that we should have a party. The option first considered was a grand dinner. Our net membership had however grown steadily over recent years, despite some natural attrition, and the prospective cost of a large dinner seemed prohibitive, leading us to the decision to go for a reception that could be enjoyed by a significant number of Members. But we also felt that we should do more to produce some lasting evidence of our celebration, in the form of a book of essays that we could try to assemble from Dutch and British experts and enthusiasts across a wide range of walks of life where typically the Dutch and the British had worked or played together over the last hundred years. This was the origin of what became North Sea Neighbours.
We had to decide on the location for a Centenary Reception. A prestigious venue in Central London was needed. While we considered alternatives, a Royal Palace seemed highly desirable. We also believed that our celebration was of such merit that we should seek Royal presence at the event. Through the appropriate channels, we were happily able to secure a positive indication from both Kensington Palace and the Palace of Noordeinde that Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands might be willing to be present. Kensington Palace seemed to us the perfect location in that this great building, originally built for King William III and Queen Mary, had Dutch influence everywhere. In some quarters it was known as the Dutch Palace in London. To secure the historical Royal Apartments for the Reception we were required to negotiate a contract with the Historic Royal Palaces. This was done, with a planned date of 17 March 2020. We also negotiated with our principal service suppliers from a set of approved firms on the Palace list. All the preparatory planning was done in detail, in close liaison with the two Royal Palaces and with the Netherlands Embassy and the British Embassy at The Hague.
Then on 13 March we met HE Ambassador Simon Smits at the Embassy to review our position at the time of foreboding over Covid-19. While HM Government had not then announced its decision on its action plan, our feeling was that to protect our Members and Guests there was no alternative to our cancelling that event, with a view to reinstating it later. That weekend was quite busy as we unscrambled all the arrangements. A key challenge was to reach amicable understanding with our main service suppliers over the refund of payments made, or their credit to us for postponement. Our normal contractual obligation was to carry all the costs incurred in our late cancellation of the event and insurance against this would not have been possible. We met with ready understanding from all the main parties. With hindsight, we took the right decision, painful as it was.
Council tracked the development of Covid-19 over the rest of 2020 and the first half of 2021. Possible earlier dates for restaging were considered but by the end of the year we had set a firm plan for 29 March 2022, agreed with all parties.
From early 2017 we had embarked on planning what we later named North Sea Neighbours. We decided that this would be a private publication for our Members, run by Council, not a commercial venture, over which there would have been some copyright constraints. The first task was to set up an editorial team. The Society was deeply grateful to Professor Jane Fenoulhet of UCL for her agreement to advise us and to Ms Elisabeth Salverda for breaking into her postgraduate research to become Editorial Assistant. Working through a wide range of walks of life we defined aspects of the history of the Dutch and British working together over the 100 years, our building bridges together, co-operation in war and peace, friendship and rivalry in sport, and contact and exchange in various forms. We identified and approached around thirty individuals, asking if they might write us an essay on their subjects. Apprehensive as we might have been in approaching busy people, almost all said yes. His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales generously agreed to write an introduction. We appointed a publisher, Whitefox, as project manager and are indebted to Shell International Petroleum for their generous support to the project. Working largely online, the editorial team engaged in the detailed process of structuring the book, chasing writers and the inevitable multiple stages of editing. As described at the Society’s AGM on 10 December 2020, our financing of both the Reception and the book activity was accounted for separately, to provide Members with a clear view of these special activities.
Council determined early on to combine the Reception with the launch of North Sea Neighbours, inviting our generous book contributors who were not already Members to attend as our guests. Immediately after our decision on 13 March 2020, we were instead able to post copies of the book to all our Members and guests, thanks to some tremendous help from Shell over the logistics of this exercise. Thereafter, we extended the Society’s outreach to universities in both countries by offering them complimentary copies. We saw the book as having a shelf life of some years and arranged a print run accordingly for us to invest in a reasonable stock on which we could draw later. A number of our Members subsequently asked for further copies of the book for family and associates and new Members have often asked for copies. The Society will continue to see the book as a marketing tool for new membership.
Given the history of our Centenary celebration affected by Covid-19, it was with a sense of considerable relief that the Society could rearrange the Reception for 29 March 2022, in the gracious presence of our Royal Guests at Kensington Palace.