The Company of
Watermen & Lightermen
of the River Thames

The Master’s Blog – January 2019

January 2019
Susan and I returned refreshed from an idyllic holiday in Bangalore. Bangalore is the hi-tech centre of India but not known as a holiday destination; I had some trouble convincing the immigration staff that we were going to spend the whole ten days there.
The first official engagement of 2019 was a dinner at the Plaisterers’ Hall on 8th January. Rebuilt in 2004, the Plaisterers were asked by the City to make it as big as possible so that it would be available as an alternative to the Guildhall – and it is huge! The largest Livery hall in London, the Great Hall can accommodate a dinner for 360. Despite its size, the dinner was very convivial because I was sitting with other Masters who I knew well.

Notwithstanding the excellent hospitality, I felt I should not stay too late because the following morning was the first Court meeting  of 201 9. As always, the main business was the reviewing and approval of the reports of the Standing Committees, but there were a few wild cards to ensure that the Master was kept on his toes. Our speaker at the Court lunch was Commander Sarah Oakley, RN, Commander of the UK Fishery Protection Squadron who gave us a stirring summary of the role of the squadron – and successfully dealt with a question from Past Master David Gordon!

The following Monday, 14th, it was a privilege to preside at a Court of Bindings when there were sixteen new apprentices and trainees, male and female, bound to the Company, ranging in age from 15 to early 30s. The Court of Bindings is a formal meeting, the Court members badged and gowned, conducted in the Freemen’s Room, when the new apprentices (with masters) and trainees, watched by their parents or partners, are bound to the Company. As Master, I welcomed everyone and explained the significance of the Binding and the importance of support from parents, partners and the apprentices’ masters. I reminded everyone, but especially the apprentices and trainees, of the importance of getting the necessary experience afloat, keeping their MCA Task Record Book up to date and completing the appropriate training courses.
The training officer explained the support and training that the Company could offer, and the Assistant Harbour Master explained the role of the Port of London Authority. Finally, I reiterated how the apprentices and trainees were now joining a river family and how their training would give them knowledge of the Thames from the Watermen’s Stone at Lower Hope Point through to Teddington Lock.
The final stage was for each apprentice and trainee to be interviewed by a pair of Court members who oversaw the apprentice’s signing, twice, of a certificate. The certificate was then immediately cut in half by the Clerk: one half to be retained by the apprentice; the other by the Company. Those halves will only be reunited when the apprentice completes the training and gains the Freedom of the Company in 5 years’ time.

On Tuesday evening, I attended the January Court dinner of the Worshipful Company of Fletchers at the Farmers’ & Fletchers’ Hall. Until I arrived, I had not realised that I knew so many Fletchers – not least our own Junior Warden, Sir David Wootton, who explained that the Fletchers was his original City company. I sat next to the Master Gunmaker at dinner, the first time we have met, so I learnt a lot about gun proofing. After dinner we were entertained by the Tooting Broads: two ladies, one a Liveryman, who performed several flute duets. The Master of the Fletchers’ address that followed made reference to the Fletchers being a relatively informal company and I can confirm that it was a very sociable and enjoyable evening.

Two meetings the next day: the Communications Committee and with the Fishmongers to discuss the organisation the Doggett’s Wager in 2019. The first meeting was the regular review of the Company’s progress with communications: everything from Christmas card sales to our social media presence. Perhaps the most unusual report was that the Company’s Facebook page has followers in such a wide range of countries, including Bangladesh, India, New Zealand and Australia.
Our meeting at Fishmongers’ Hall was less a review and more a look forward to the arrangements for the 2019 Wager. It appears unlikely that there will be major sponsorship this year and so some discussion ensued about where responsibilities should lie and whether savings could be made. It was agreed that the two clerks will be taking this discussion forward.

On Thursday (the 17th) I attended the Shipwrights’ Election Dinner at Ironmongers Hall. This was another major dinner with about one hundred and eighty present. Fortunately, links with the Shipwrights meant that there were many Watermen there too and I was lucky enough to sit next to Craft Owning Freeman Michael Everard, attending as Past Prime Warden of the Shipwrights. We had a great conversation and I learnt a lot about the industry of the 1960s – and how we had both managed to avoid being engineers. My only challenging moment was when I was approached by someone who said he still hadn’t forgiven me for beating him at Henley over fifty years ago!

The next day, before the Burns Night Dinner, I attended a fund-raising meeting. The Company’s situation remains unchanged: the Charities are reasonably well funded, but they can only be used for the specific purposes of the Almshouses, the support of the elderly and the training of apprentices. The meeting looked at various proposals to improve the Company’s income and agreed that these should be put to all Freemen in a specific publication. It was also agreed that Freemen should be made more aware of the long-term proposals to improve the upper floors of the Hall.

This was the first Burns Night dinner I had attended for many years (normally I go away in January) but it was great fun. There was a good attendance, and, with appropriate prompts, I managed to plunge the proffered knife into the haggis and cut it open from end to end at the right moment. No one fainted. Googling to see what should happen at a Burns Night, I see we were supposed to finish by singing Auld Lang Syne. If we did, I don’t remember it….
The editorial panel for Volume 6 of the Company’s History met soon after to meet the now commissioned author, Jon Temple, and discuss some of the broader issues. The suggestion is that the period to be covered will be 1920 – 1980, but because there is so much potential material that might be reviewed again. What was agreed is that there is a wealth of material available for this period and many living Freemen who will have first-hand memories. Anyone who is able to contribute material or memories is asked, in the first instance, to contact the Clerk.

The Doggett’s Emblem evening took on a new format this year and was a formal dinner. Demand exceeded the Hall’s capacity (80) and Martin had to create a waiting list in case anyone dropped out. The Prime Warden and Clerk of the Fishmongers attended, the former to present George McCarthy with his Doggett’s medal. I had already presented Alfie Anderson with his Doggett’s pin and we were delighted that Craft Owning Freemen Steve Woollacott was there to present the Ben Woollacott Memorial Sculls to Jimmy Anderson, the winner of the Sculling Weekend races. James Berry was the most improved sculler from that weekend and his name will be engraved on the 1959 Doggett’s Winner’s Cup donated by the family of George Saunders. It was a great pleasure to see so many Freemen and apprentices at the evening; everyone appeared to have a good time – and several apprentices managed to eat two meals

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

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