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Toastmaster History

There are a number of theories as to where the tradition of ‘toasting’ originated from. Some believe it was the ancient Greeks who had a strange practice of spiking wine with poisons. To eliminate their concerns, the host would pour wine from a decanter and take the first drink. Guests were then satisfied that the wine was safe and invited to raise their goblets for the ‘toast’. Others say it came about from the Romans, who drank to the health of Augustus at every meal.

In the 17th century, during the reign of Charles II, pieces of spiced toast were added to the wine, firstly to enhance its flavour and secondly to keep sediment, which was often found in the wine, at the bottom. By the end of the 17th century, ‘toasting’ important guests at a banquet was very popular. This tradition has continued down the ages to the custom we use in the present day.

History tells us that there were two main characters who were heavily influential in the development of Toastmasters as we know them today.

Richard ‘Beau’ Nash was a larger than life character, born in Swansea in 1674. Details on his formative years are scarce but he studied law at Jesus College, Oxford. He was quite a dandy, dressed in a frock coat, knee breeches, black stockings and silver buckled shoes. However he was not particularly academic and after a short spell in the Guards soon found himself in trouble by cavorting with too many women. He moved to Bath where he became assistant to the Master Of Ceremonies. Soon after, due to his employer being killed in a sword fight he found himself appointed Master Of Ceremonies, a title which he held for over fifty years.

He would organise many events in Bath society life and created a strict code of etiquette and behaviour for its citizens to adhere to. To this end he became one of the most influential men in social history of England.

A Toastmaster is employed to preside over an event and must be immediately recognised. The tradition is that he should be more splendidly dressed than the guests present goes right back to these times of Richard ‘Beau’ Nash. Extracts taken from Beau Nash: Monarch of Bath and Tunbridge Wells, by Willard Connely 1955

Some 130 years after the death of Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, a Toastmaster of repute by the name of William Knightsmith was becoming increasingly frustrated at being mistaken for a waiter at events that he was attending. Having explained this to his wife, she suggested that he should change the colour of his coat so that it made him stand out. Soon after, the ‘hunting pink’ tailcoat became the adopted form of dress for Toastmasters. The name is derived from Mr Pink, the tailor who designed them.

In the City of London, tradition and protocol is different, as the ‘hunting pink’ tailcoat is not worn. The reason being that the law stated a hunt was forbidden to pass through the City, and of course, the huntmaster wore this particular style of coat.

However, you will find that Toastmasters (particularly connected with the livery companies) in the City usually wear a black tailcoat with some form of red sash underneath.

(Much of this information was taken from the English Toastmasters Association training manual)

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