The Master’s Blog

Dr Iain Reid Master of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen

Master’s Blog   24th September – 7th October

The first General Purposes Committee of my year was on Tuesday 25th September.  This is the meeting that brings together all the committee chairmen so that reports, decisions and recommendations can be reviewed before they are presented to the Court for approval or discussion. The GP Committee tries not to refer to the Court anything that will get outright rejection, so it needs a skilful chairman and I am grateful for Past Master Jeremy Randall for handling matters so well.

That evening I went to the RAF Club in Piccadilly to hear a lecture organised by the Company of Air Pilots on the UK’s Reaper Force, i.e. the pilotless aircraft (we were told never to use the term ‘drones’) that the RAF operate in the Middle East.  Wing Commander Mark Jackson, the officer commanding one of the RAF’s two Reaper squadrons, was a little inhibited by not being allowed to reveal too much secret information, but we did get an insight into the extraordinary world of ‘remote’ operations.  Each aircraft has a ‘crew’ of three who sit in a small pod cluster: the pilot, the weapons controller, and an intelligence co-ordinator who interprets and assesses the information gathered.  The aircraft can fly for more than twelve hours, so control of any single mission may move from the launch crew (in the Middle East) to alternating crews based in Lincolnshire UK or Nevada, USA depending on the time of day.  We left the lecture reeling with the complexity of it all and moved to a very welcome reception on more familiar territory.

On Wednesday, I attended the quarterly meeting of the Company’s Communications Working Party which oversees the website and the various publications such as the Annual Report.  Thursday was a visit, along with many of the Masters and Clerks of the City companies, to the recently refurbished National Army Museum in Chelsea. We were welcomed by the new director, Brigadier Justin Maciejewski, and then invited to visit the current exhibitions, quite a task in the limited time available because they are so extensive.

The weekend was then devoted to the Company’s Sculling Weekend at Henley.  On Friday evening we took a Salters’ steamer, kindly provided by Past Master John and Mrs Linda Salter, for a curry supper cruise.  It was great fun, and we were delighted to be joined by a Senior Craft Owning Freeman John Morrell who has recently been able to renew his contact with the Company.  On Saturday, the serious work started.  The more proficient Apprentices were able to take to the water in the single sculls, but newcomers to the sport were ably coached by the volunteer Freemen.  We were especially grateful to Phyllis Court Rowing Club who manned several training doubles and a quad so that the novices were able to get some feel for sculling with no fear of an imminent ducking!  By the end of the afternoon, everyone had been out in a single scull – some more successfully than others…

This year the formal dinner was held at the Red Lion Hotel.  After a day’s strenuous activity there was an appropriately substantial roast beef dinner enjoyed by nearly forty Apprentices, Freemen and their partners.

The races for the Ben Woolacott Sculls took place on the Sunday morning under the supervision of Past Master Simon McCarthy.  The eventual finishing order was: first Jimmy Anderson, second James Berry, and third Matthew Brooks.  The sculler deemed to be the most improved over the weekend was James Berry.  The prizes will be awarded at the Doggett’s Emblem evening in February when we hope to see a good turnout.

Monday 1st October was the Common Hall, when the new Lord Mayor of London is elected.  Because the Company is not Livery we have no official involvement, but I was invited by our caterer Mark Grove to attend a breakfast at Guildhall with many other Masters and their Clerks.  At 10am the Livery Masters all disappeared to gown up for the church service and then to process with the Lord Mayor into the Great Hall.  Our Beadle Tony Parker and I were able to watch the impressive ceremony in comfort via CCTV on the giant screen in the Old Library.

On Tuesday 2nd, Susan and I were invited by the Society for Sailing Barge Research to the launch of a book at the Thameside Complex in Grays.  Also attending was the Company’s archivist Susan Fenwick, who had helped with the research for the book Goldsmith of Greys: the Pickfords of the North Sea.  The significance of the book to the Watermen & Lightermen is that the Goldsmith family provided three Masters to the Company: in 1896, 1930 and 1947.  Confusingly the family tradition required that all were named “E.J. Goldsmith”.  They operated a fleet lighterage company out of Grays from  1833 to  around 1952 and the three Goldsmith Masters covered a very interesting period of the Company’s history. The first in 1896 coming just after the Dock Strike of 1889, and the last in the period of dockland revitalisation after the Second World War.  On behalf of the Company I accepted an inscribed copy of the book from the Society, which, being the history of the family, firm and fleet, will be a useful addition to the Hall’s library.

I chaired the first Court meeting of my year on Wednesday 3rd and, despite signals from the Clerk that I was going too slowly through the agenda, we emerged just about in time for lunch.  The guest speaker was Mickola Wilson, now a very senior property fund manager whose appointments include being a non-executive Director the Government Property Agency.  She is also a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Chartered Surveyors. However, back in the 1970s and the reason for her being our guest speaker, she was a very junior surveyor and a key member of the team that developed St. Mary at Hill and Lovat Lane.  She could remember when much of the area was still bombsites and abandoned warehouses, and had been much involved in the expansion of the original Watermen’s Hall to include the neighbouring building which today incorporates the offices and the Freemen’s Room.  She was a very amusing speaker and recounted how on one occasion a property marketing lunch had brought together the dance troupe Pan’s People and the Court of the Company of Watermen & Lightermen.  She had been unsure whether the two would mix – but the outcome was that the promoted property had been let the same afternoon.

There were only two more engagements in my week: The Master and Clerks’ Luncheon organised by the Worshipful Company of Lightmongers at Tallow Chandlers Hall, and the Installation Dinner of the Worshipful Company of Feltmakers at Haberdashers Hall.

At the Lightmongers’ lunch I was seated next to the Master of the Environmental Cleaners and we discussed the challenges of creating a government approved apprenticeship scheme.  The Environmental Cleaners have been trying to establish one for some years but every proposal has been rebuffed, despite the hazards of the machinery and chemicals involved in environmental cleaning work.  On my right I had a Lightmonger whose company had made contract lighting for stations, public areas and prisons.  He described how the specification for the latter had included that the fittings must be capable of resisting assault with a chair leg, and the nervousness of watching a burly prison warden do a practical test of this feature.

On arrival at the Feltmakers I was greeted by the Master and Wardens, the latter wearing the sort of hats I associate with Peruvian national costume.  However, in the helpful notes supplied I read that the Wardens’ hats are copies of the style worn by London gentlemen at the time the Company received its Charter in 1604.  Again I was seated in excellent company: a Past Master of the Feltmakers, a manufacturer of felt, and an employment lawyer who swims every morning, all year round, in the Serpentine.  She was very much an open water, long distance swimmer who regarded the dawn swim of the Henley course (held every year just before the Royal Regatta) as too short and instead had competed in the annual Henley to Marlow swim of 14km that takes about 4 hours.  I didn’t bother to discuss my swimming proficiency badge…

Master’s Blog 10th – 23rd September

On Monday 10th, I attended the working party that is to consider potential improvements to the almshouses at Hastings. It was a wide-ranging discussion that considered the possible refurbishing of the bungalows, the timetable for road resurfacing and the ratio of Watermen to commercial tenants.

That evening, Susan and I attended the opening event for the 2018 Totally Thames Festival at the Guildhall Art Gallery. The reception was preceded by an outdoor display relating to the Doggett’s Wager and, with several Doggett’s winners in attendance, it was great fun walking around the display trying to identify the individuals and speculate about the year of the older pictures.  At the reception I was delighted meet for the first time Claire Hayes, who competed in the Wager in 1992, and Kate Saunders in 1998, 1999 and 2000. The Totally Thames Festival made a major feature of the Wager this year and for those who have not already found them, can I recommend the audio recordings of a selection of Doggett’s winners and competitors (including Claire and Kate) that they have made available on the internet at

On Tuesday, I attended the first of the various quarterly committee meetings that are the working heart of the Company.  This was the Almshouses & Charities Committee, which covered a wide range of topics: everything from road surfacing to charity fundraising.  I had to leave the discussions early to attend a Court Lunch of the Water Conservators held at the Armourers Hall. One is always surprised by the connections one can make at these events: the speaker was until recently HM Lieutenant of Bristol and, chatting to her husband, I realised that my film company had been regular customers of his firm, Alexandra Workwear, through the 80s and 90s – a small world!

The latter part of the week I took off to accompany Susan on a weekend trip to Gerona organised by her company, the Glaziers & Painters of Glass: all very educational – plus a bonus day spent at a vineyard!

The Worshipful Company of Farmers held a lunch for Masters and Clerks on Monday 17th September and again I immediately found common ground with my two neighbours at lunch: the Junior Warden of the Farmers, David Bolton, is also the President of Norwich Rowing Club; and the Clerk to the Plumbers served in the RAF as an HR specialist, my own academic field. It was a very convivial lunch with a young speaker, one of the Farmers’ own scholars, speaking passionately on environmental issues. Interestingly, she spoke before the lunch and I wondered whether the Company should consider doing the same?  Opinions invited.

The next day was a return to the real business of the Company with a meeting of the Apprenticeship & Training Committee to hear the Training Officer’s report on the 36 new apprentices bound in the current year, and the reports of those who had been sponsored to go on sail training, the forthcoming draw-down walk, and possible revisions to the BML training.  The committee also discussed the work being done towards the proposed Trailblazer apprenticeship scheme and the Company’s response to the Mayor’s Consultation on Safeguarded Wharfs.

Sadly I missed the second half of the meeting because I had been invited to join the Londonium III as a guest of the City Sheriffs to watch their sponsored row from Westminster to HMS President.  I knew that the Company had been asked to provide a crew but assumed that the invitation had gone to all the City companies. At the Westminster Boating Base, however, it became obvious that the Watermen had been specially selected for the honour of accompanying the Sheriffs.

The crew for the Jim Holt had been organised by Craft Owning Freeman Tony Bull and comprised Craft Owning Freemen Chris Gooderidge, Derek Whyatt, Philip Foster, Past Master Jeremy Randall, Sue Perry-Whitehead (passenger), Nick Paul (cox) and Geoff Probert (Phyllis Court Rowing Club).

See picture below

The row alongside the Sheriffs was not intended to be a race, but with Past Master Randall in the stroke seat a competition was inevitable and so the Jim Holt was first to Tower Bridge.  The reward was that, having disembarked at HMS President, the crew were invited to join the reception for the Sheriffs and assembled Livery Masters where it was announced that the Sheriffs row might become an annual event with all companies invited to participate: whatever – the Watermen & Lightermen were there first!

Afterwards the Watermen’s representatives moved on to the Dicken’s Inn where, having generously offered to buy the crew a drink, I had to be bailed out by Mrs Carole Bull having left my wallet at the Hall – thank you again Carole.

There were two committee meetings in the next two days. On the Wednesday, the Membership Committee met and we interviewed four new candidates for the Freedom, all of whom were approved.  The Kitchen Committee met on the Thursday when Mark Grove of Cook & Butler (and the current Master of the Worshipful Company of Cooks) joined us to review forthcoming events.  There was some discussion about the timing of the Company’s ladies’ events which, inadvertently, were all scheduled over two weeks in April/May. The decision was made to postpone the 2019 Ladies’ Dinner to November and, given we have a growing number of female Freemen, to consider a more gender-neutral title.

The last meeting of the week was the Progression Working Party.  The title probably needs some explanation. Historically, those joining the Court join as Assistants and progress year-by-year to eventually become a Warden and then, after four years, the Master.  However, this straight, chronological progression makes no allowances for an Assistant’s personal circumstances or his or her own career path. Also, it might be that not everyone wants to progress to become a Warden, and thus Master.  Therefore, one of my projects for the year is for this working party to review the Company’s current practices and see whether firstly, more flexibility can be introduced so that Court members have some control of when they become Master, and secondly to investigate whether the Court could be more open so that Freemen can apply to observe it and assess if they wish to participate. The Working Party came up with several interesting and useful ideas and its members are canvasing opinions among the Court and Freemen.

Master’s Blog    1st – 9th September

The first event after the summer break was at the Royal Hospital Chelsea to commemorate the actions of the London Divisions during the final one hundred days offensive of the First World War.  The hot weather lasted into September, so the open-air service took place under blazing sunshine.  It was a splendid event: the Chelsea Pensioners; a military band; pipers; lots of gleaming uniforms; the military wives’ choir; and the preacher was the imposing former Bishop of London, Lord Chartres – in all, enough to make anyone sit up and pay attention. There was a slight hiccup in the military precision when the hardworking subaltern forgot to shoulder arms after the two minutes silence which the band took as the signal to play the National Anthem prematurely.  However, Lord Chartres seized control and the service ended perfectly with the salute being taken by the Lord Lieutenant of London, Sir Kenneth Olisa OBE.  Afterwards, there was a display at nearby Burton Court of many stands manned by enthusiasts representing the regiments, units and associated cadet associations of the Reserve Army. At the associated reception I was able to catch up with Sir Kenneth and confirm that he will be our guest speaker at the November Freemen’s lunch.

The Doggett’s Wager was rowed on Tuesday 4th September as one of the major events of the Totally Thames Festival.  For better or worse, there were only two competitors.  Admittedly, this meant less of a spectacle at the start but, given that Alfie Anderson and George McCarthy were reasonably well matched, it did mean that the following fleet was able to keep up with the scullers and to watch the race evolve; so often the leader has been a mere speck in the distance! At the start, Alfie established a small, early lead and thereafter was able to dominate the race and counter every move that George made. Susan and I followed on the Zephyr with the Prime Warden of the Fishmongers, last year’s winner Jack Keech and some of the Fishmongers’ sponsors but we were able to disembark at Cadogan Pier and congratulate both very worthy competitors.  It’s so tough that there can only be one winner.

Susan and I then joined the Watermen’s party on board the Mercia where it was obvious that the party had been running for some time! We were delighted to welcome The Mayor of Windsor & Maidenhead, Craft Owning Freeman Paul Lion and his wife Laura as the principal guests for what was, given the hour, either a late lunch or early supper.

Two days later, Court Assistant Richard G Turk and I completed the Masters’ Walk around all forty of the City’s company halls.  This was organised by the Environmental Cleaners and started, after a substantial breakfast provided by Cook & Butler, from HQS Wellington. Forty Masters and Court Assistants in their gowns made a colourful display as we paraded through the City.  It was another hot day, but I was well-prepared in substantial walking shoes – even if the Master’s gown proved a little heavy after the first few hours. To get around all the halls in the allotted time meant there were few stops and, after a quick photograph in front of each hall, we pressed on to the next. We had mid-morning coffee at the Salters, lunch at the Armourers and we should have had tea at the Furniture Makers – but there had been some confusion with the caterers, so we got a glass of water.  We didn’t get to Watermen’s Hall until about 4.30 but Carol and Martin had kindly arranged for the Court Room to be available, so the Masters trooped upstairs to be photographed in front of the fireplace.  We finished, tired and hot at Glaziers Hall on the South Bank; my Fitbit told me I had done over 25,000 steps (that’s 21km or 13 miles).

The Master and Court Assistant Richard G Turk taking part in the Masters’ Walk of all the City Livery Halls.

The following Saturday, 4th September, was the Great River Race and Susan and I were invited to join the Chairman of the PLA, Craft Owing Freeman Christopher Rodrigues, on the Interceptor. The race, as always, was a wonderful spectacle and with close attention to the start list we were able to identify most of the competitors including, of course, the Watermen’s cutter, the Jim Holt crewed by the bargemaster, Robert Coleman, with Ben Bartlett, Daniel Bartlett, Daisy Bartlett, Ben Gliniecki, Nathan Evans, JP O’Donnell and Louis Pettipher.   They came a very creditable 8th in the appropriately named Thames Watermen Cutter category in which there were over thirty entrants.

Assessing the crews at the Great River Race 

It was a busy weekend because on Sunday I, as the representative of the Company, was invited to lay a wreath at the Merchant Navy Memorial Service at Trinity Square Gardens.  After a welcoming reception in Trinity House, I joined the other representatives of the Merchant Navy, the City, London Boroughs and associated organisations for the parade of Merchant Navy and cadet organisations.  We then moved to the area of the Memorial for a short, open-air service followed by the laying of wreaths in memory of those of the Merchant Navy who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars. There are over 36,000 names recorded on the Memorial, the youngest a cook aged 13, and it was a very moving experience to remember so many lives lost.

 July & August

After the Installation, it was serendipity that the next two engagements were with the armed forces, familiar territory for a former guardsman.  The first was a reception at the headquarters of the London Scottish Regiment in Horseferry Road SW1.   I had walked past the building many times when I lived in Victoria, so it was interesting to see the interior which is a classic, Victorian-style drill hall: an open area for drill and training, with cast iron galleries above leading to various offices and stores. The MoD have recently vacated the building, which is owned by the Trustees of the London Scottish, so the Drill Hall now houses the Regiment’s museum and is available for events and dinners. At this reception we were entertained by the pipes and drums of the London Scottish wearing a tartan with no pattern.  I thought this looked, rather confusingly, like the Irish Guards – but I was speedily corrected!

The following evening (Friday 13th!), I was in Portsmouth for the “COMPORFLOT Awards Dinner” with the Royal Navy.   On arrival, I was able to decode the occasion as the annual awards by the Commander Portsmouth Flotilla to those who had achieved outstanding service during the last year. There were about twenty awards, presented in brilliant sunshine on the deck of HMS Victory with the recipients’ families present.   Each award was presented after the reading of a citation. The most memorable being to a junior rating who, firstly, had prevented a manoeuvring accident by taking immediate action to fix a steering mechanism and, secondly, identify that the problem was that the wrong lubricant filter had been fitted. His opinion had been ridiculed by various superiors and the civilian contractors who supplied the filters – but he had been eventually proved correct. A well-deserved award I thought.

Afterwards, we went to a reception at HMS Nelson (a rather solid naval barracks), where we were served large quantities of gin and tonic served from two-pint jugs.  We dined under a splendid panorama of the Battle of Trafalgar (my photograph doesn’t really do it justice) and, as is the Royal Navy’s practice, we remained seated when we toasted the Queen.  I was seated for dinner next to the Commander of the Fishery Protection Squadron, Cdr Sarah Oakley, so had a fascinating time learning about the integration of women into the Royal Navy.  Cdr Oakley had commanded a mixed crew and I have invited her to come as a lunchtime speaker to tell us of her experiences.

Cdr Oakley had been invited to the January Court has guest speaker.

‘The Battle of Trafalgar’ 

On Wednesday 18th, on what seemed to be the hottest day of the year, I was invited to lunch by the Company of Environmental Cleaners on board HQS Wellington.  Thankfully the reception was on the quarter deck – and the dining room was air-conditioned. I hadn’t encountered any environmental cleaners before but was soon reminded how critical their work is: “no one gets into a hotel room and no surgeon starts operating until we’ve been there”.  One also forgets the scale of the cleaning industry; one topic over lunch was the contract for Dubai Airport.

Yet another hot summer’s day was my visit as a guest of the PLA to Gravesend for the unveiling of a statue of HM the Queen by the Bishop of Rochester. After the short ceremony, Michael Russell (Doggett’s winner 1997) was persuaded to pose for photographs. The invited guests took refreshments on the PLA’s Royal Terrace Pier and then Peter Steen, Director of Marine Operations, invited the Commanding Officer of the Royal Engineers at Chatham and me to visit the PLA Operations Room.  It was fascinating to see the data available to the operators who control movement on the Thames and very real insight into the complexity of the PLA’s operations.

Doggetts WInner Michael Russell (above)

So far, so good.  But I was about to be bought back to the realities of being Master by a dilemma with the entries for the Doggett’s Wager.  For many years the Wager has been contested in July, often the last official event of a Master’s year of office. This year, as an experiment, the Wager is to take place in early September as a highlight of the Totally Thames Festival – and thus at the start of my year.  At the Draw, held at Watermen’s Hall for the first time, it became apparent that there was a predicament: there were only two competitors eligible to row. There were potentially three others, but one was away concentrating on his RYA licence and the other two had still to take their BML examination which would qualify to compete as Freemen.  Naturally, the Fishmongers assumed that as Master I should be fully acquainted with the rules for Doggett’s and the individual competitors but, being an ordinary mortal who was never eligible to compete, I have never felt entitled to do any more than note the arrangements for the Wager. Thus, there was some speedy reading of the rules and a hasty review of the situation.  We await the result of the forthcoming BML examination.

My last official engagement before the August break was to attend a dinner with the Worshipful Company of the Founders in their very modern Hall. Another warm evening, but  the reception was in the adjoining graveyard. One learns so much about the activities and the trade of other City companies, but I was especially pleased to learn that the skills, records and equipment of the Whitechapel Foundry are all being preserved.  The Foundry, which I visited a few years ago with Past Mast Goddard, closes-down after over four hundred years of trading; the site being no longer deemed suitable for industrial use.

There being no more engagements until the 1st September, Susan and I then departed for two contrasting breaks: to visit Kiev and the post-nuclear accident site at Chernobyl followed by a reading holiday in Madeira.






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