A guide to how The Company operates
We are frequently asked about the Company, its activities, and our Hall, so we hope that this will help Freemen and other visitors get a better understanding of what we do and the way we work.
If you have any other questions please email the Assistant Clerk, Carol Ratcliffe,
The Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames began in 1514 when the earliest Act of Parliament received Royal Assent from King Henry VIII to regulate the activities of watermen, wherrymen and bargemen. But there were Watermen working on the Thames much earlier: for instance London watermen rowed King John to Runymede to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.
Under the terms of a subsequent Act of Parliament in 1555 the Company introduced apprenticeships for those wishing to learn the skills of the Watermen, and in 1700 the Lightermen (carriers of goods and cargo) joined the Watermen’s Company, which remains a working guild rather than a Livery Company. However the Company is more ancient and distinguished than some Livery Companies and in many respects operates in much the same way as a livery company.
The Company is governed by a Court of Assistants, led by the Master and four Wardens, who are elected annually by the Court. The Court itself is composed of 24 voting Craft-Owning Freemen who are invited to join the Court with a view to becoming Master. Some members are Honorary Court Assistants, serving a three-year term for their expertise or to gain insight into how the Court works. The Court is the controlling body for the Company, the ultimate trustee for the charities, and the sole shareholder of Minories Holdings Limited.
The running of the Company is assisted by a series of Committees, responsible for Kitchen, Library and Heritage, River and Rowing, Apprenticeship and Training, as well as Almshouses and Membership. All are chaired by a Court Member and all report to the General Purposes and Finance Committee which reports direct to the Court. Membership of each Committee includes Freemen (both Craft-Owning and Journeymen) who have volunteered their services and been invited to join for their relevant experience.
In addition, there are several Sub-Committees such as the Lighterage Committee and the Ladies’ Committee. The Lighterage Committee helps raise funds to assist young apprentices, to arrange river trips up and down river, and to arrange financial assistance with more specialist river activities. The Lighterage Committee also arranges two lunches each year for Senior Lightermen. The Ladies’ Committee organises events for the ladies of Freemen of the Company, to raise funds for the preservation of the Georgian Hall, as well as encouraging friendship among the ladies.
Freemen of the Company are encouraged to get involved and help play a more active role in our activities, either by joining a committee or providing specialist skills such IT, or assistance with fund raising. Those interested should email the Clerk, Colin Middlemiss.
All committee posts are unpaid, neither are expenses reimbursed.
The Company’s roles today are the education and training of its apprentices, as well as the provision of support for elderly or infirm Freemen in financial need.
The day-to-day running of the Company is led by the Clerk – our Chief Executive Officer – who reports directly to the Master and ultimately to the Court. He is assisted by the Assistant Clerk, the Company Events Manager, the Administrator to the Clerk, and the Training Administrator, who are all based at Hall. In addition we have a Rowing Officer and a Training Officer, whose roles are based on the river.
Ownership of Watermen’s Hall is vested in Watermens Hall Limited (formerly Minories Holdings Limited, a limited company formed to protect the Company itself from legal risk, yet wholly owned by the Company. Its principal activities are property holding, and the provision of hall hire and catering facilities for commercial functions.
Watermen’s Hall is the administrative centre for all Company activities, including its charities, and is the registered office for Minories Holdings Limited. The staff look after a wide range of activities, including training support, financial activities, event management and the administration of our almshouses in Hastings.
The Company’s charities, for which the Court is the corporate trustee, include the Royal Benevolent and Educational Fund for Watermen and Lightermen (Charity number 1086890) and the Company’s Poor’s Fund (Charity number 231320). Full details of the aims and objectives of our charities can be found on our website.
Membership of the Watermen’s Company includes Journeymen Freemen and Craft-Owning Freemen, as well as Freedom of the Company by Patrimony – in all cases the term ‘freeman’ is used to describe men and women. Full details of all three categories of membership, together with application details, can be found on our website.
All catering at Hall and hiring for private events is undertaken by The Cook and The Butler who are subcontracted to run this side of the business on behalf of Minories Holdings Limited. All events for the Court and Freemen are paid for entirely by those attending, without any subsidy. Fliers are circulated by email so Freemen need to ensure that their current email address is on our database. Events are open to all Freemen but limitation of numbers may restrict attendance only to Craft-Owning Freemen. There is no bar at Hall, but a retiring stirrup cup is often available after Company events.
The River Thames Luncheon Club, open to everyone, is held at Hall on dates listed on the Company’s website. Bookings can be made by emailing The Cook and The Butler or by checking our website for more details.
The Company can be found on several social media including Facebook, and Twitter.