Highgate French Circle celebrates 25th anniversary

Jonathan Whittley, dressed as Napoleon, helps celebrate the anniversary. Picture: Polly Hancock.

Jonathan Whittley, dressed as Napoleon, helps celebrate the anniversary. Picture: Polly Hancock. - Credit: Archant

It started with just two keen linguists sharing a café au lait but over 25 years a French club in Highgate has blossomed into a society with more than 90 members.

Last week the Highgate Society’s French Circle came together to celebrate a quarter of a century of French speaking in the village.

More than 30 members served up traditional French galette, cheeses and, of course, a little vin rouge to celebrate.

Keen French speaker Jonathan Whittley, dressed as Napoleon Bonaparte, paraded into the society’s headquarters to the tune of La Marseillaise to mark the special occasion last Wednesday.

Chairman Elizabeth Woodman said: “There were just two people to start with who had French lessons. They wanted to practice but there was no occasion to.

“But they asked the Highgate Society to help them set up the circle and here we are today with 90 members.”

Founding member Ruth Hazeldine, 77, used to regularly attend the French Cultural Institute in South Kensington in the 1950s but life took over and her passion for the language fell by the wayside. That was until she bumped into Pamela Lowes.

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“I told her I had forgotten all of my French and she said ‘why don’t we get together and practice. I’m sure there are other people like us who learned French at school and who would want to get together to talk in French’,” recalls Mrs Hazeldine, who lives in Jacksons Lane, Highgate.

Enlisting the help of then Highgate Society chairman and linguist, Matthew Schnitzer, the retired French teacher David Weight from Highgate School was recruited to give the group some guidance.

Today the society counts everyone from teenagers to veteran linguists among its number.

All French speakers, no matter if they are beginners or bilingual, are welcome but with one condition – English is banned once they step over the threshold.

Meetings are at the Highgate Society in South Grove on the first Wednesday of each month from September to May.

For more information visit www.highgatesociety.com