The Master’s Blog-March 2020
March really was the most astonishing month of my year as Master. Astonishing because none of us saw Covid-19 coming our way. At the beginning of the month, it was a local difficulty in SE Asia having started at Wuhan, China. By the end of the month 1,789 UK patients had died and the whole of the UK was in a total lockdown probably for months. The City came to a complete halt.
The first event of the month on the 2nd March picked up on the issue of Boatmaster (BML) examinations that was raised in my previous blogs. Along with Junior Warden Derek Mann, Chairman of Apprenticeship and Training, Tim Keech, our Training Officer Craft-Owning Freeman, Alex Hickman, I met with Adam Stratford and Mike Greenwood to talk through the process of the BML examinations, our talks were productive which boards well for the future.
The next day, 3rd March, I attended the launch of the Lord Mayor’s Big Curry Lunch in Guildhall Yard. Unfortunately, the Big Curry Lunch due on the 2nd April was cancelled as an early casualty of Covid-19.
It was then a short walk to Innholders Hall by Cannon Street Station to meet the rest of our Court Members before joining the Innholders Court for our 500th Anniversary year lunch with the Innholders’ Company. Some of you will recall when we reached 500 years’ old in 2014 so did the Innholders and Trinity House. With the Innholders we celebrate each year with a lunch for our combined Courts alternating each year between both our Halls. It was the Innholders turn to host this year. It is always a very nice Lunch and of course I have to speak to thank the Innholders for their hospitality. The Clerk who missed the lunch as he had to attend a family funeral, forgot to warn me. However I am by now, used to having to find something to say as it is a task that frequently falls on the Master!
On the same day in the evening, I attended the Masters’ & Clerks’ Dinner at the Clothworkers’ Company, another fantastic evening held in a in a wonderful Hall. Freemen reading this and other Masters’ blogs might assume that dining so often with the other Masters & Clerks must get rather boring, but the reality is that with one hundred and eleven other companies, each with its own changeover dates, your fellow Masters are constantly changing. Moreover, all the companies socialise in different Company groups so there are some companies I have yet to encounter. The Clerks are equally fun as dinner companions, many having served for some times so, with a wealth of experience.
This week was building into my busiest week as the next day, 4th March, I was invited to a Court Luncheon with the Honourable Company of Master Mariners aboard their Livery Hall Ship – HQS Wellington at Temple Stairs. Events on HQS Wellington are always enjoyable because the reception, if the weather is kind is held on the quarterdeck so great views of the River to be had. We went below for lunch which was in the Master Mariners Court Room – a large nicely decorated space which you would not guess was once the original engine room.
The evening brought an event I had been particularly looking forward to – the Brewers’ Masters and Clerks dinner. I am of course partial to the odd pint or two. The Brewers are re-building their Hall adding 3 floors on top and were anxious to hold their event before they closed. Their Master is Simon Theakston, whose company makes a fine brew in Yorkshire. Naturally as well as offering a Champagne Reception, a pint of Theakston’s Old Peculiar was served as an alternative. The Brewers also ask their Master to produce a stronger ale to use as an alternative to Port for the Toasts. It was a really good evening with a couple of bottles provided as a gift for the journey home. I guarded mine safely, unlike one of our Past Masters who tripped up and broke his, I’m told.
Next morning, 5th March it was the Library Committee, chaired ably by Court Assistant Annamarie Phelps. This is an interesting Committee looking after everything inside the Hall, the Company’s treasures, from paintings to silver to photographs. They are working on a series of leaflets describing various types of treasure. They started by producing a booklet on costumes and badges and are now working on backboards. They are also planning the next volume of the Company’s History that will bring the series right up to date.
Lunch was with the Worshipful Company of Girdlers at their Hall. This was a Court lunch so a relatively small, intimate event with no speeches other than the Master’s welcome to the guests who included several of their staff and advisers. One of their Past Masters is Sir Charles Burnett whose father Sir David Burnett had been Master of the Watermen in 1964 and ran Hays Wharf, with whom I had the pleasure of sitting next to for Lunch, he really was good Company.
Dinner that night was with the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers at the Painter Stainer’s Hall in Little Trinity Lane, another lively, fun evening, with the American Ambassador to the Uk as guest speaker.
On Friday, 6th March the Doggett’s Winners held their re-union dinner at Watermen’s Hall. It was a great evening with Past Master Dwan in attendance along with his two sons Robert and Nick who between them organised the event. As usual Mark Groves of Cook and Butler put on a tasty spread. It was great to see the Winners and their guests enjoying the Hall. It was the best of ways to end a really busy week.
On Tuesday 10th March the Apprenticeship and Training Committee met chaired by Court Assistant Tim Keech. This is the key Committee supervising our training of apprentices. It was, as usual, followed by the Rowing and River Events Committee looking after Doggett’s Wager and all the other events held afloat.
I shall not describe the work of the Committees which are key to the work of the Company as it is here that issues are discussed, solutions found and policy is formed. Summaries of the activities of the standing committees (the Library & Heritage, Almshouses & Charity, Apprentices & Training, River & Rowing, Membership, and Kitchen) and the less formally structured Working Parties (Communications and Fundraising) do appear on the Company’s website.
It was at this point that Covid-19 caused the first cancellation, the Port of London Parliamentary Reception which was to be held on 11th March.
However, that evening we still held our Fundraising Film night at Sands Cinema in Rotherhithe. We saw two films in their cinema seating on sofas and armchairs. I particularly enjoyed City of Ships the story of the growth of the Port of London. Afterwards we went to the Captain Kidd for Fish and Chips and a few beers.
On 12th March the Kitchen Committee met chaired by Court Assistant David Powell. In the evening I had been invited to the Irish Society’s Dinner at the Old Brewery in Chiswell Street as a guest of the Baltic Exchange but unfortunately it was cancelled because of the outbreak of the virus.
On Tuesday 17th March the Almshouses and Charities Committee chaired by the President John Salter was to meet but it was instead conducted by telephone. The next day we took the decision to close Watermen’s Hall for the foreseeable future. The City was already beginning to close down with the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers Lunch cancelled along with a Royal Engineers’ Association Lunch in honour of Major Ted Hunt MVO and his 100th birthday due 23rd I was looking forward to that, but obviously the right decision to cancel. Along with it, so many other events were inevitably cancelled. I am beginning to think I might have seen the best of my year.
As sad as that might be, it is totally insignificant to some of the suffering that some are having to endure..
I wish you and all your families good health though these unprecedented times, we are all experiencing.
Master to The Company of Watermen & Lightermen 2019-2020
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