The Company of
Watermen & Lightermen
of the River Thames

The Master’s Blog – March 2019

The first event of March saw an interesting reversal of roles because at the Billingsgate Ward Club Civic Lunch held in the Livery Hall at Guildhall, the Company’s Clerk, Colin Middlemiss, presided as Master while I attended as a mere guest. However, even as a guest I was on the top table and placed between our new Alderman, Bronek Masojada, and the Master of the Information Technologists, Lady Wendy Parmley, so conversation was easy.  There are few other companies in the Billingsgate Ward so Watermen were very much in evidence, not least because of the recruiting drive by Past Master Richard Goddard.  The thanks on behalf of the guests was given by the always irrepressible Past Master Jeremy Randall – we then had the unusual experience of hearing a formal response from the Clerk in his role as Master.

On Tuesday, 5th March, I attended the Masters’ & Clerks’ Dinner at the Clothworkers’ Company, another splendid evening in a fine Hall.  Readers of these 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, one’s companions are constantly changing.  Moreover, all the companies socialise in different groups so there are some companies I have yet to encounter.  At this Clothworkers dinner I met a Master I not come across before so, assuming she was recently installed asked when she had started?  “April 2018” she replied. She was, it emerged, the Master of the Framework Knitters and based in Leicester. The meal was great fun, not least because the Clothworkers around me had all worked in advertising and so we could reminisce enthusiastically about old times.  That may have been serendipity, but we decided it was more fun to assume the Clerk must have access to some secret database…

The next day I was invited to a Court Luncheon with the Honourable Company of Master Mariners – and almost the first person I encountered was the Master Framework Knitter which must prove something!  Events on HQS Wellington are always enjoyable because the reception, if the weather is kind is on the quarterdeck so one can enjoy seeing the working Thames.  We went below for lunch which was in the Master Mariners Court Room – an elegant space which one would not guess was the original engine room.  My conversation over lunch was with a very enthusiast retired captain who had worked in container ships – the small knowledge I retain from a lecture I used to give about labour relations in container handling was soon exhausted.  Fortunately, I was rescued by the Master Mariner who gave us a short history demonstrating how the Royal Navy had emerged from the Merchant fleet.  There were also some doggerel verses for which I gather the Master Mariner is renowned…

Thursday 7th March was a busy day with three events. The first was the opening of the Commemorative Garden for the Lord Mayor’s Big Curry Lunch.  There’s more on the Big Curry Lunch below but this event was all about the garden, donated by the Gardeners’ Company and created annually in the corner of Guildhall Yard.  This year it was opened by HRH the Duke of Kent so the representatives of the City companies, myself included, were assembled at 9am to watch the ceremony.  It was a freezingly cold morning and as soon as the formalities were over most us fled to somewhere, anywhere, that was warm to recover.

My 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.  Again, serendipity – or their Clerk’s skill – I was seated next to Sir Charles Burnett whose father had been Master of the Watermen in 1964 so we had a very interesting conversation about the contraction of the London dockyards.

Dinner was with the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers at their very modern and stylish hall near Liverpool Street.  This was their Spring Election Dinner, with only a few guests from the City, so I met with many members of the company – one of whom had a link to the incongruously named Cambridge rowing club, Rob Roy.   I forgot to use the opportunity to ask why it has a Scottish name.  The Master, nearing the end of his year, included in his welcome an amusing summary of the disasters of his year – but I am not sure that I am allowed to repeat them…

It being the second Friday of the month, there was a River Thames Lunch Club on the 8th and so Susan and I took the opportunity to entertain the Masters of the Girdlers, Barbers, Plaisterers and Armourers & Braziers and their wives at Watermen’s Hall.  I was delighted to see that the Freemen’s Room was filled to capacity and, as always, Cook & Butler provided an excellent meal.  All my guests were very impressed by the high standard and, while they all have their own halls, let us hope the word spreads that the River Thames Lunches offer excellent value.

On Tuesday 12th, there was a Freemen’s Lunch at the Hall.  Sadly, this was not a very well attended event but those who were there heard a very good speaker, Commissioner Ian Dyson of the City of London Police, who gave us a short, but very informative, summary of the work undertaken by his force; not the least of which was the valuable work suppressing those bogus telephone calls pretending to be about television licence renewals etc…

That evening, I attended a PLA Reception on board the Silver Sturgeon. All other Thames activity must have closed down for the evening because it seemed that just about everyone with a river connection was aboard too.  The chairman of the PLA, our own Craft Owing Freeman Christopher Rodrigues, joined us direct from Heathrow having flown in from Calgary where he had been attending an event as chairman of the British Bobsleigh & Skeleton Association; he emphasised that he had come direct by still being in his sporting attire! Despite his schedule, he gave a rousing address about the role, ambitions and achievements of the PLA before we launched into a very generous buffet.

On Wednesday, I attended another reception, this time at City Hall, at an event hosted by the Chairman of the London Assembly, Tony Arbour, to “celebrate the brilliant work of the thousands of people who keep the River Thames running”.  Again, there was a wide cross section of Thames workers present to hear the Chairman thank them for their unwavering dedication that helps to maintain and keep the river alive. He recounted how the value of the river had first been impressed on him as a child when he had seen references to “Great Waters” on a stained-glass window and, now he had the constituency with the longest river frontage, it was still very important to him.  We then heard several presentations from those involved in Thames activities: the Thames Estuary Partnership; the AHOY Centre; the Mudlark website; and our own Past Master Jeremy Randall who extolled the delights of the Great River Race.

The next morning, I started attending the next round of the quarterly committee meetings. The role of these committee I have described before, so I won’t repeat the same information, but they are the bedrock on which the Company is built because it is here that ideas are explored, policy is created and discussion undertaken before the distilled conclusions are presented to the Court for approval.  I shall not describe them in detail here but 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.

On Thursday 14th March, I was invited the AGM and Awards Ceremony of the Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association for Greater London.  As a Company we don’t have any involvement with the Reserve Forces or Cadets, but many other City companies do and so it seemed diplomatic to attend too.  The meeting was held in a Drill Hall near Kings Cross attended by several hundred and so the AGM was rather incomprehensible, none of the assemble Masters quite sure whether we had a vote or not.  However, the address by the Lord Lieutenant of London, Sir Ken Olisa who spoke at our Benefactors’ lunch last autumn, was much more inclusive and applauded the work, effort and commitment undertaken by the Reserves and the Cadets.  He then made the awards to the winners.  Given that there were winners representing the three services, the different age groups and then varying sub categories this was a lengthy ceremony, so it was something of a relief to get to the excellent curry supper when we had the opportunity to talk to the award winners.  And the Lord Lieutenant was right – one could not fail to be impressed by their commitment and enthusiasm.

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

© 2020 The Company of Watermen and Lightermen