The Company of
Watermen & Lightermen
of the River Thames

Guidance for attending formal Company lunches and dinners

Company functions are warm and welcoming, but there are some formalities to be observed. These  should not be regarded as stuffy or rigid but the continuation of the City’s traditions, an extension of good manners and respect for one’s companions.  We hope these notes help everyone to have an enjoyable experience.

Dress Code: The invitation will state the dress code and details of those codes can be found at    It should be noted that when ‘black tie’ is stated it means just that: no colour other than black!

Arrival.  The invitation will give two times: the time to arrive and the time that the meal will start – and it is always best to arrive slightly earlier than the arrival time. The thirty-minute interval is there for guests to check their coats and bags in to the cloakroom, collect and study the table plan, proceed through the receiving line, enjoy a drinks reception, and share small talk with friends and acquaintances.  This is the moment to use the cloakroom facilities because it is a City custom that no one should leave the table before the Loyal Toast unless for medical reasons.  If you are very early, you may be directed by the Hall staff to the appropriate waiting area, usually the Silver Room, to wait the call to attend the Master and the receiving line.

The Receiving Line: Company functions usually start with the attending Freemen and guests being greeted by the Master and one or more Wardens.  The Company Beadle will announce all attendees as they approach the door, and it is helpful to show the Beadle the name on your menu. Having formally shaken hands, Freemen and their Guests should move well into the room and be conscious of the potential queue following them. The reception is the last opportunity to avail oneself of the cloakroom facilities.

The Lunch or Dinner: The Beadle will call Freemen and their guests to the Freemen’s Room ahead of the Master, Wardens and their guests. Freemen and their guests should move promptly to their allocated seats and stand behind them. The Beadle will then call for the room to receive the Master, Wardens and the principle guests in silence (unlike many Livery Companies who clap).  No one should sit until after the Grace.  Mobile phones should be on silent and not used.

 Toasts: During the meal it is the custom that the Master and Wardens will take wine with the those present. The Beadle will announce this and request that Freemen and guests remain seated.

At a suitable point in the proceedings, usually after the dessert and before coffee, the Master will propose the Loyal Toast to Her Majesty the Queen, and everyone should stand. Unlike many other City events, the Company does not toast the Royal Family nor the Lord Mayor, so it is then permitted to leave the table for a comfort break.

Speeches: The Master will then say a few words, perhaps to welcome new Freemen, read a few ‘parish notices’ and, most importantly, to introduce the principle guest. The Master will then ask all Freemen to rise and toast ‘Our Guests’. Only Freemen should rise for this toast.

The principle guest will then respond, finishing with the traditional toast to the Company when everyone should rise to toast ‘The Company’.

Withdrawal and Stirrup Cup.

At a suitable point the Beadle will announce that the Master has ordered a Stirrup cup be provided and for all to ‘make way’ for the Master, Wardens and the principle guest. All will rise as that party leaves the room. Freemen and guests can then join the informal gathering in the Court Room.

The Company of Watermen and Lightermen, Watermen's Hall, 16 - 18 St-Mary-at-Hill, London, EC3R 8EF

© 2019 The Company of Watermen and Lightermen