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
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.