The original Helvetic Society was founded in Switzerland in 1761 by a group of intellectuals who wished to promote a Swiss identity, a sense of patriotism, which went beyond cantonal boundaries.
In May 1914 at a time of divided loyalties, the Society was reborn in Geneva as the Nouvelle Société Helvétique (NSH) with the same aim in mind.
Two years later, following a visit to London of one of the founder members of the NSH, Dr Georges Bonnard, the London Group of the Nouvelle Société came into existence to encourage good relation and understanding between the Swiss residents and their British hosts, who, at that time, were wary of all foreigners and suspected the Swiss of being pro-German. A committee, which included ten presidents of Swiss societies, was set up to draw up a constitution. The London Group of the NSH was officially founded on 18 June 1916 and its constitution approved at a general meeting a month later.
By the following year the Society counted 266 members - rising to 600 within two years - and a salaried full-time secretary and a typist had been appointed. It was a time of great activity and great influence for the NSH, who, apart from organising lectures and meetings, had an important input in many projects, such as the launch of the "Swiss Observer".
The inter-war years saw a decline in membership, if not in activity, and by the end of the Second World War the situation was such that dissolution was considered, but rejected. By the beginning of 1947 a new Council was in place with Dr Hans Egli, Chief Correspondent of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, as president. The future looked promising again.
Since then the Society has had many distinguished presidents and dedicated Council members; among them the first woman president, Mariann Meier. Mariann, who was involved in many activities of the Swiss community, found the time to write a history of the New Helvetic Society for the 75th anniversary of its foundation in 1991. It has been the main source of information for this page.
The 1916 constitution had been revised in 1948 and by 1994 was in need of an "overhaul" to respond to changing times. A study group set to work. Their recommendations, presented in a document entitled "The Way Forward", and the revised Rules were accepted by an Extraordinary General Meeting in July 1995. One of the outcomes was a more open society in which non-Swiss could enjoy full member status; another one, a smaller Council of nine members, each with specific responsibilities.
Over the years the NSH has organised many interesting events: lectures on a great variety of subjects of interest to the Swiss community and their friends, concerts, visits and purely social gatherings and looks forward to continuing in the same tradition hoping that, by bringing people together, it does fulfil the aim of its founder members.
The New Helvetic Society and the Cercle Genevois joined forces in January 2012. Here is the history of the Cercle Genevois:
In December 1602, by a moonless night, the duke of Savoy, Charles Emmanuel, attempted to take Geneva by surprise and suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of its citizens.
In 1914 a group of professional men from Geneva residing in London formed a committee to organise the annual celebration of this historic event, the Escalade, so named because some of the Duke of Savoy’s men had scaled the walls to gain access to the city.
By 1939 the committee felt that a more formal organisation was needed to take charge of the festivities and also to celebrate the anniversary of Geneva’s entry into the Swiss Confederation on 1st June 1814. All ‘Genevois’ living in and around London were invited to a meeting to discuss a way forward and at a further meeting on 31st May statutes for the new organisation were proposed and accepted unanimously and a name chosen. The Cercle Genevois was born. Its birth place was Pagani, the famous Ticinese restaurant in Great Portland Street, where a year earlier the 25th anniversary of the first London Escalade had been commemorated.
Despite the blackout the Cercle Genevois celebrated the Escalade as planned on 11 December 1939 at Pagani’s as usual. There the 21 members present were elected Founding Members and proceeded to elect a committee:
Monsieur R de Cintra - President
Mr H Charnaux - Vice-President and Treasurer
Mr F Chapuisart - Secretary
Mr C Campart - Archivist
Mr J H Oltramare - Associated Member
That was to be their last meeting at Pagini’s - the restaurant was destroyed by a bomb in October 1940. In fact no more reunions could take place until the end of the war, when they resumed at different venues, including another Ticinese restaurant, the ‘Valchera’ in Richmond, and at private homes too. In 1946 the committee was reelected, with one change, Mr Bleiker replacing Mr Chapuisart as Secretary. It was then agreed that, in future, ladies would be invited (until then the Cercle had been a male preserve!). Raoul de Cintra remained President until his death in 1969, when a new committee was elected:
Mme Eliane Heisch-Dominicé - President
Mr Jean-Pierre de Loriol - Vice-President
Mme Josiane Privat - Secretary and Archivist
Mr Michael Metford-Sewell - Treasurer
That year the Escalade was held at the Dorchester to mark the 50th reunion since the first London celebrations. The following year the Genevans gathered at the Law Society Hall and then, again, at various venues in London until 1984. From 1984, with the kind permission of successive Ambassadors, the Escalade has been celebrated at the Embassy.
For the 400th anniversary in 2002, the Cercle Genevois commissioned souvenir bowls commemorating the fact. They were well received and are probably still in use in many families. By that time Suzy Allan, who had been President for over 20 years had stepped down and her son, Fairley, and a long-standing member, Marie-José Lindon, had taken over as Treasurer and President respectively. The 2003 gathering paid tribute to Suzy, who had died earlier in the year. She had been a dedicated President and was sorely missed.
Over the years it became more and more apparent that attendance was declining. So when it was suggested by the President of the New Helvetic Society, Daniel Pedroletti, that the Cercle Genevois join the NSH with the undertaking that the Escalade would become the NSH December event, it seemed the perfect solution to ensuring the continuation of the celebrations.
Thus a new page in the history of the Cercle Genevois in London was turned in December 2011 when the Escalade was celebrated under the new regime for the first time.
|2003–2009||Regula Marsh Hilfiker|
|1962–69||Dr Hans Egli|
|1947–57||Dr Hans Egli|
|1928–47||A F Suter|