Prince pays speaker-phone visit to Hayles & Howe in Baltimore

Andrew talks to workers in giving Queen's Award

November 27, 2003|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

The plaster artisans at Hayles & Howe Inc. spent yesterday morning sipping champagne in their Baltimore workshop and chatting with royalty.

Well, listening to royalty, at any rate.

Prince Andrew visited the ornamental plastering firm's British office to present the Queen's Award for outstanding achievements in international trade, and he said a few words to the Americans - who were connected by speaker phone.

"Are you there, Baltimore?" said the prince, third son of Queen Elizabeth II. "Are you listening?"

"We're listening intently," called out Jean Van Meter, director of marketing and development, as she hunched over the telephone.

"Intently or intensely?" he joked.

"Both!" she shot back.

Hayles & Howe, founded in England, is among 61 companies to win the queen's recognition in international trade this year. Between the affiliated offices in Baltimore and Bristol, which each employ about 50 people, the firm has worked on the restoration of such venerable buildings as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle in England, Grand Central Station in New York and the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore.

"It's modern archaeology," said David Hayles, who helped start the company in 1975.

Employees make and restore plasterwork, most notably the ornate decorations of aged institutions, though their projects include new buildings as well.

"Their work is very high caliber," said J. Bryan Blundell, managing director of Preservation Trades Network, an international group based in Rockville. "There may be four companies in the U.S. that are considered at their level."

Hayles & Howe has won many awards, but never one from the queen. The Baltimore workshop in Woodberry - covered in impossible-to-clean plaster dust - was temporarily transformed into an upscale reception area by caterers in bow ties. People ate asparagus, croissants and strawberries against a backdrop of work tables.

Several people from the local office flew to England for the presentation, and they gave a boisterous blow-by-blow to everyone who stayed behind. The prince is in the building. He's talking to a site supervisor from Baltimore. He's looking at the plans for the now-restored Windsor Castle.

Hayles, who lives in upstate New York, joined the Baltimore crowd around the phone and chuckled. "I'm sorry I'm not there, but never mind - I'm here," he shouted to the Baltimore employees on the other end of the line. "Give my love to the prince."

Prince Andrew's brief speech was difficult to make out, but they heard him point out - for their benefit, presumably - that the baby crying in the background was not him.

The company has worked for four or five royal families, according to Hayles. Yesterday was the first time a representative came in for a visit.

"It's quite amusing to have the prince in the workshop," said John Green, who's been with the company 22 years, originally in England. The Bristol building is rather like the Baltimore location, "but smaller and grubbier," he said, grinning.

Green, who opted for tea instead of champagne, sat down beside a wall covered with ornate plaster pieces and said the Queen's Award should be good for business. But he wasn't spending much time musing about that yesterday.

"It's nice to have a bit of recognition for the work - and a day off," he said.

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