The Company of
Watermen & Lightermen
of the River Thames

The Master’s Blog – 18th to 29th March

The new week started with a slightly unusual situation in that I was invited as a guest to Watermen’s Hall for the Modern Companies’ Spring Dinner.  The ‘Modern Companies’ are all those that were formed in the 20th and 21st Centuries, two hundred and twenty years after the formation the last of the ‘ancient’ companies, the Fan Makers.  There are thirty-two in all, ranging in order of precedence from the Master Mariners to the Arts Scholars.  The Modern Companies dine together twice a year and this time the organisation fell to the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers who chose Watermen’s Hall as the venue – and thus I was included as a guest.  With so many familiar Masters and Clerks one could not fail to have an enjoyable evening and, despite being in my ‘own’ hall, I did not have to make a speech.

On Wednesday 20th my invitation was to a Court Dinner at the Worshipful Company of Cutlers. This was very much a post Court meeting, ‘family’ event: no published seating plan, no processing and no speeches.  The relative informality of the evening meant that there was plenty of opportunity to look at the many archives and treasures in the Hall – and lots of Cutlers to explain them all.  It was also a pleasure to meet one specific Cutler who had been involved with Wilkinson Sword who, back in my military days, still made swords.  In the mid-1970s, I found myself a very unofficial facilitator for Wilkinsons when I was serving in Australia because my colleagues found it difficult to purchase swords locally.  I once returned from UK leave with a very large suitcase containing several military swords. Airline security was so much easier in those days.

The following day’s lunch was for Masters, Prime Wardens & Clerks, hosted by the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers.  It was not until the speeches that many of us realised the significance because it was revealed that the Tallow Chandlers were the instigators of the first ‘Masters & Clerks’ event only some forty years ago.  Since then, the practice of hosting such an event has spread across the City, but the Tallow Chandlers were there first and, furthermore, they have served the same menu every year since: Half Lobster Mayonnaise; Tournedos Fillet; and Spotted Dick with Custard.  We all agreed it was a fine tradition and toasted those who had had such foresight.

That evening I attended a Freemen’s Dinner at the Worshipful Company of Armourers & Braziers. The Armourers & Braziers’ Hall has been on the same site since 1428, although the building has been rebuilt several times, the last time in 1839; it survived the War thanks to an unknown fireman who broke in and extinguished the blazing curtains.  One’s impression is that every wall is decorated with ancient armour of some sort, all laid out in a most decorative style.  The company at dinner was more diverse: I had a music teacher with strong links to Kenya on one side and a metallurgist with academic connections on the other.  Sadly, the speaker, an old school friend of the Master’s, was a little too scientific for me to keep up – but I was relieved when the Master admitted he had failed too.

It has been agreed that the Company will be organising the ‘river and race’ aspects of the 2019 Doggett’s Wager, so the following Monday there was a meeting at Watermen’s Hall with Craft Owning Freeman Greg Gregory-Jones to draw up guidelines about the organisation.  Several names have been put forward to organise specific aspects (the Finish, communications, the media etc) so hopefully we will build a small team and thus a legacy that will carry the event forward.

Tuesday morning, I chaired the meeting of the Master, Wardens and Chair of the General Purposes & Finance, and then attended the General Purposes Committee, which draws together all the committee reports to be presented to the Court.  That evening, I was invited by the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers to the Automative Industry Dinner at Draper’s Hall.  After the dinner, the Coachmakers made a number of bursary awards to students studying automotive design at the Royal College of Art and I was interested that – with the exception of one from Sweden – the winners were from China.  I gathered that the RCA vehicle design course is very international, but it does seem rather ominous that there were no home-grown stars in this field.

The next morning, Susan and I drove to the Treloar School & College for Disabled Young People in Hampshire.  Treloars was founded by a former Lord Mayor in 1906 to ensure that children with disabilities could receive an education, and it has remained a charity supported by successive Lord Mayors and the City Livery companies.  Given these close links, the School was hosting an open day for all the City Masters combined with a visit by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress.  After a welcoming briefing we were divided into small groups and shown some of the work being done at this OFSTED and CQC ‘Outstanding’ rated school and college.

Historically, the disabled children were reasonably mobile and could be taught trades such as tailoring, carpentry or metalwork, however, today nearly all the young people are severely disabled with little physical control and many have no verbal skills.  Thus, they need constant care; there are 800 staff looking after 160 young people aged from 2 to 25, and one has to have immense admiration for those dedicated to undertaking this very challenging work.

The following evening, Thursday 28th, Susan and I were invited to a Banquet at the Mansion House, hosted by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress.  All Mansion House dinners entail white tie for the men – never the most comfortable of outfits – and with every Master and Consort invited, along with the Aldermen and a host of City dignitaries, the Egyptian Hall was packed to capacity with the seating even tighter than at a Watermen’s Christmas lunch!  It was, however, a very enjoyable evening with the opportunity to meet lots of friends and appreciate some excellent hospitality in the grandest of settings.

The month closed with the splendid United Guilds Service at St Paul’s Cathedral.  The first of these annual services was held in 1943 to raise the morale of the City at the height of the War and they are probably the most impressive services I will ever attend.  First, all of the City Companies attend with their Masters and Wardens robed so it is a very colourful affair.  Then the service itself is probably the most rousing that can be arranged: thunderous organ; recognisable hymns; inspiring readings; uplifting psalms and anthems from the choir; trumpeters; and a sermon from the Bishop of London. To top it all, there was a procession which was a veritable ‘I-Spy’ of City pageantry: the Masters of the Great Twelve; the City Marshall; the Sheriffs; the Ward Beadles; the Aldermen; the Bishop of London; the clergy and City Deanery; the Serjeant-at-Arms; the Swordbearer – all preceding the Lord Mayor himself.

After the service, twenty of us returned to the Hall to enjoy an excellent lunch in the Court Room.

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

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