The Weaving of the French Circle Tapestry – Part 1 
 
      By Elizabeth Woodman 
 
Imagine yourself in a large luxurious leafy garden with gently sloping lawn and a sylphlike 
 
creature flitting about with bare feet and flowing long blonde hair. This was the late ‘60s and my 
 
introduction to Joan Schwitzer,  local historian and socialite, and I was accompanying a friend to her 
 
party. I bumped into her family again two decades later and from then on the Schwitzers run like a 
 
golden thread through Highgate life and the French Circle. Highgate could almost have been called 
 
“Schwitzerland”! 
 
Now it is 1988 and I find myself chatting to Mat Schwitzer and son Steven at one of the first 
 
French Circle meetings. Mat was Chairman of the Highgate Society then and, prodded into action by 
 
Ruth Hazeldine, he had asked David Weight, of Highgate School, to start up a French group. Only 
 
about seven or eight members attended in those days and the hall at 10a was badly lit and needed a 
 
lick of paint. Nevertheless we happily chatted away over our coffee and biscuits. To me, living in 
 
Tufnell Park, it was all magical. I only had to walk up the hill and, for a mere 50p, I could find myself 
 
in a new exotic world, speaking another language and immersed in another culture.
 
  The shape of our French Circle was now set for the future, meeting on the first Wednesday 
 
of the month, with festivities at Christmas and Epiphany and a summer meal held at the tiny 
 
restaurant, “Le Moulin” in Archway Road. Occasionally David would press his pianist wife to play for 
 
us, or William Molesworth, his former pupil, to sing for us. Equally rarely a member, like Françoise 
 
Lowden, would talk about her work. 
 
 When David retired from the Circle in 1996 Mat took over and the Circle took off! 
 
Attendance was now about 12 or 13 a night and growing, and we often had wine now instead of 
 
coffee. Mat was arranging events of real quality and interest such as outside speakers, cookery 
 
demos and concerts.
 
At a coffee morning in 1999 Mat declared that, at over 80, he should really retire from 
 
running the Circle, so I agreed to take over. I was very excited. Now I could experiment with all sorts 
 
of entertainments and pursuits. I had ideas for treasure hunts, quizzes, discussions, contributory 
 
evenings with members bringing a favourite picture, poem or possession etc. Members were waiting 
 
to talk to us: Ruth about jazz, Christine Knight about Jacques Brel, Mat about Slovakia, Adrian Mayer 
 
about Hindu temples – and so on.  The topic did not necessarily have to be French but everything 
 
had to be IN French. One word of English and the “spell” would be broken.
 

The tapestry of the French Circle was now becoming intricate and intriguing.