On 1st of February 1886 Robert Gray, a City of London wine merchant, wrote a letter to the Chairman of the Wine and Spirit Association proposing the formation of a Benevolent Society for the current and previous long-term employees of the wine and spirit trade facing hardship. After this a letter was published in the press voicing concern that the drinks industry was in a recession and therefore could not afford a trade charity. This prompted Robert Gray to comment that this made the need even more urgent and his colleagues were in agreement.
The Charity’s first general meeting was held on the 8th December 1886 at The Vintner’s Hall in London. Harpers Wine & Spirit Gazette covered the story and wrote ‘Born in a time of severe depression, matured during times of hope for a better future, and formally established at a time when the dawn of prosperity shows signs of tardy approach, the Society should have a proud future.’ These words would prove to be prophetic and the charity now boasts a proud legacy. Highlights include Benevolent Committee Member AW Gore winning Wimbledon in 1909, the charity surviving the destruction of its offices in the Blitz of 1940 and Madame Lily Bollinger becoming the first ever female guest of honour at the Annual Banquet in 1968.
Although many things in the drinks industry have changed over the intervening years, our mission remains unchanged and as pertinent as ever; to help those from our industry facing serious social and medical issues, as well as financial hardship. It is Robert Gray’s tremendous spirit of community and altruism, as well as the overwhelming support he received from his colleagues, that continues to inspire us to this day.