The Company of
Watermen & Lightermen
of the River Thames

The Master’s Blog – May 2019

My first engagement of the month was dinner on 1st May with the Worshipful Company of Brewers where the welcoming drink was, naturally, a glass of beer. Once seated, I found myself in an enclave of ex-military clerks so we were all able to indulge in shared memories. Every company’s traditions are entertainingly different and so, being Brewers, the Loyal Toast was drunk in beer. The post-dinner musical entertainment was provided by an enchanting close harmony group from Dame Alice Owen’s School, because the Brewers Company were nominated as trustees by Dame Alice when the school was established in 1613 and the two organisations retain close links. After dinner, I was invited back to another Hall for a night cap – and missed the last tube home. A lesson learnt!

The Lighterage Committee met the following afternoon and reviewed arrangements for the Apprentices’ Downriver Training Trip (of which more later), the Apprentices’ Barge Driving event (ditto) and the Steve Faldo Memorial Barge Race to be held in September. The possibility of more sail training trips was discussed, given the excellent experience that apprentices have had in the past.

It was the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, so it was Tuesday before I went back to the Hall for the Senior Lightermen’s Lunch. As always, it was a good turnout and sixty-five of us sat down to lunch chaired by Ben McCann.

On Wednesday, I attended the St Bartholomew’s Hospital ‘View Day’. I gathered that historically this was the day, pre-NHS, when the trustees of the charity that operated Barts Hospital would visit and inspect the wards, staff and facilities.  Those who trained at Barts (eg Craft Owning Freeman Dr Robert Treharne-Jones) later told me that, in the 60’s and 70’s, all the consultants would wear morning dress and the nurses their full dress uniforms (I think we are talking about the era of Carry on Nurse, but didn’t like to make that comparison).  Today, View Day is less an inspection and more a celebration of the work done at Barts Hospital.  First there was a service at the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great which gave thanks for Rahere, a jester in the Court of King Henry I, who founded the church and the hospital in 1123. The church is in itself a splendid survivor having survived fire and bombs into the 21st Century. After the service, however, we moved to a reception in the Great Hall, another Grade I listed building dating back to the early 18th Century. The Walls are lined with the names of the benefactors from 1546 until 1905 – at which point they ran out of space!   There was an opportunity to visit some of the medical facilities, but I didn’t take it up.

Thursday 9th was spent with the apprentices on the Apprentices’ Downriver Training Trip. We left at 10am from Westminster on MV Pride of London generously provided by Freeman Steve Woollacott who gave excellent running commentary on all the wharfs, piers, jetties and steps down to Greenwich. Twenty-six apprentices attended and took copious notes all the way. Two qualified journeymen also attended as part of their Continual Personal Development programme. On the way back, our Training Officer Craft Owning Freeman Alex Hickman ran training workshops on meteorology and the collision regulations.

Saturday was the postponed Apprentices’ Barge Driving competition. Fourteen apprentices and trainees took part on three barges, the Apprentice Waterman being manned by a predominately female crew. However, despite an early lead, they were overhauled by the Balfour skippered by Graeme Faulkner assisted by Dave Benneyworth, while Tom Costin (the youngest apprentice), Paul Metcalf, Riess Ballard, Leon Britton and Lucas Britton provided the brute strength. The only disappointing feature of the day was the paucity of spectators on the following boat, MV Salient, kindly provided by Past Master Robert Prentice. Although barge driving is organised by the independent Barge Driving Trust, the competitors for this event are the Company’s apprentices and perhaps in future more Freemen could turn out to support them?

On Monday 13th May I represented the Company at the PLA Annual Stakeholder Forum. The forum was to let those involved with the tidal Thames hear about the latest developments on the river and progress with the ‘Thames Vision’. We heard presentations from the PLA’s chief executive Robin Mortimer, the chief harbour master Bob Baker and the chief financial officer Julie Tankard, followed by a question and answer session.  The presentations were very interesting for me – always trying to improve my knowledge of the workings of the river – covering, for example, the increasing use of the port and the improved pilotage service, as well as the projects that will sustain trade on the Thames while supporting sport, recreation and environment improvement.  The Q&A seemed to focus on the latter with most of the questions coming from environmental activists about engine emissions etc.

That evening, Susan and I attended a charity event at Vintners’ Hall, ‘A Lord Mayor remembers’.  The welcome was given by our own Junior Warden Sir David Wootton, resplendent in his Aldermanic uniform (I won’t attempt to describe it in full, but think lots of lace, breeches, tights and buckled shoes) who berated us for being so underdressed!  At dinner we were entertained by a dancing Chinese Dragon, but the main speaker was Sir Andrew Parmley, Lord Mayor 2016-17, who amused us with accounts of various events and incidents from his time in office.

Tuesday 14th saw the main event of Susan’s year as Mistress Waterman as she had invited all the other Consorts of the Livery companies to join her for trip on the Thames on MV Mercia, kindly provided by Senior Warden, Master Elect Tony Maynard and Sue Maynard.  About eighty Consorts (one now must use the term because there are many female Masters in the City) attended on a beautifully sunny day, and the mysteries of the Doggett’s Wager were explained to them by Gary Arness, a former winner of the Coat & Badge. Cook & Butler provided an excellent lunch and the whole trip was deemed a great success; it was particularly interesting how many of the guests had never been on the river before, so it was an educational trip too.

Every year the Master is invited to one of Her Majesty the Queen’s Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace and this year Susan and I chose to attend on Wednesday 15th May (we chose well, it rained on the other days!).  Prior to the Garden Party itself, we were invited to join a lunch organised by the Worshipful Company of Water Conservators at Rubens Hotel in Buckingham Palace Road. Thus, after lunch it was only a short walk across the road to the entrance to the Palace gardens. Security was very tight, so we queued for some time but once inside the gardens are beautiful – and the afternoon tea excellent. We met lots of friends from the other Livery Companies, but also Past Master Chris Livett who had been invited in his official role as Her Majesty’s Bargemaster. The tea was attended by HRH The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and HRH The Princess Royal – but naturally we only saw them in the distance.

I raced back from the Garden Party to change into black tie because that same evening I attended the Billingsgate Ward Dinner at Watermen’s Hall.  Sadly the outgoing Master, our own clerk Colin Middlemas, was indisposed and unable to attend, but the new Master chaired the dinner and the reply on behalf of the guests was given by our own indomitable Past Master Jeremy Randall.

The next day it was my turn to speak, replying on behalf of the guests at the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers’ Court Election Lunch. The Hackney Carriage Drivers are great fun so it was a very cheerful occasion.  I prefaced my speech by saying that I was surprised to be asked because there are only two things that Watermen traditionally don’t like: hackney carriages and bridges!  For those who may not know, the Watermen spent much of the 17th and 18th Centuries opposing the novel horse drawn carriages which were stealing their passengers.  As there were several Royal Navy officers present, I was able to include them in our list of traditional foes because of the press gangs and occasional demands from the Admiralty that the Company provide seaman for the fleet.   Despite those ancient differences I was able to highlight the similarities in our companies, noting that Watermen had the advantage of being able to renegotiate the fare midstream and less of a problem with ‘bilking’: passengers jumping out without paying their fare!

That same evening was the Court Banquet, the renamed Court Ladies’ Dinner since we now have ladies on the Court.  We had a very good attendance with over thirty attending.  As Mistress, Susan had to make the main speech in which she highlighted the fun she had had around the City during her year.  She surprised everyone with her table gifts which reflected her Scandinavian roots: sticks of Norwegian Kransakaka and Kvikk Lunsj a Norwegian chocolate.

We had a quiet weekend, but I was back in Hall on the Monday morning for an Examining Committee.  The candidates are apprentices wishing to obtain their Freedom of the Company and the Examining Committee is the final step, because they have already qualified for the Boat Master’s Licence and have the necessary endorsements.  The Examining Committee is to test the apprentice’s knowledge of the River Thames from Gravesend to Teddington. The format has probably not changed much over the centuries: the five or six examiners are seated at a long table; the apprentice and his Master enter; and after checking where the apprentice is working and his work record the candidate stands in front of the table and the oral examination starts.  The examiners – all working professional Watermen – are looking to see that the candidate has a good working knowledge of the river (its key features, lights and markers) plus a good understanding of the navigation hazards, bridge clearances and evacuation points. After about forty minutes of questions, the candidates leave the room while the examiners make their decision.  On this occasion all three candidates were successful.

That afternoon, we had a meeting of the Doggett’s Wager Organising Committee. This year the Company has undertaken to organise the ‘race’ aspects of the Doggett’s Wager, and Craft Owning Freeman Greg Gregory-Jones (who used to organise the British Universities Rowing Championship with 4,500 competitors) has kindly agreed to coordinate the race and its officials.

On Tuesday Susan and I attended the 365th Festival of the Clergy Support Trust at St Paul’s Cathedral.  The service sheet said that the Masters of the Livery companies would process to their seats, so one of the joys of these events is watching 110 Livery Masters shuffling around trying to get themselves into numerical order.  However, I am glad to report that they were led into St Paul’s by the two non-Livery companies: the Master of the Parish Clerks and ourselves.  It was an excellent service with music from three Cathedral school choirs: St Paul’s, Coventry and Canterbury.  After the service we were invited to dinner in the Merchant Taylors’ Great Hall.

On Wednesday 22nd I attended a lunch at the Worshipful Company of Bakers, our nearest neighbours in Harp Lane. It was a Masters’ and Clerks’ lunch so lots of familiar, friendly faces – and a few new ones because of the annual rotation of Masters always mean a few changes. Lunch was excellent, and the response to the Master Baker’s speech was given by their Clerk who took the opportunity to have a few jokes at the expense of the assembled Masters….however, all was forgiven when on departure we were presented with a freshly baked loaf – which Susan and I made short work of in two meals!

The Master’s summer visit to the Hastings Alms Houses was on Friday 24th May.  About a dozen of us went from the Hall and enjoyed some time walking in the gardens before an excellent lunch in the Community Centre organised by Martin Hackett, the Warden.  The President, Past Master John Salter, and I made short speeches at the lunch – I left the jokes to the President… and overall it was a very cheerful visit and it was good to see the Almshouses looking so fine in the sunshine.

It was a Bank Holiday weekend, so my next event was on Tuesday 28th when I went to Guildhall where the Ward of Cordwainer Club had organised a private exhibition of artefacts from the Mary Rose in the Crypt.  Dr David Starkey, an old colleague from my Cambridge and LSE days, is one of the Trustees of the Mary Rose Trust and he gave a fascinating lecture on why the Mary Rose was King Henry VIII’s favourite ship.

Although not technically an official Master’s function, that evening I entertained twenty former colleagues from the Industrial Relations Department at London School of Economics to dinner at the Hall.  Given their interest in craft qualifications, apprenticeships and professional qualifications, they were fascinated by the Hall, its artefacts and the Company’s origins and history.

The recently initiated Past Masters’ Lunch was held on Wednesday 29th May. We covered quite an historical range: the eldest present was Captain Sir Malcolm Edge who was Master in 1996 – we established over lunch that he had admitted or examined at least two of the Past Masters present. It was a very convivial event with much laughter and reminiscing, so many thanks to Past Master Chas Newens who initiated it.

That evening I attended the Chartered Architects’ Annual Lecture on ‘Beauty and the Min’ at the Royal Academy of Music. The lecture was given by their Liveryman Ian Ritchie CBE RA, who designed the Academy’s new Theatre and Recital Hall.  It was an interesting if complicated lecture about the challenges of designing musical auditoriums where one must consider echo and resonance. Two students – a violinist and a pianist- gave short recitals to demonstrate the superb acoustics.

Thursday was Ascension Day so there were two religious events.  The first was Beating the Bounds which started from All Hallows with a long procession from the church including the various companies within the Parish and a party of schoolchildren from St Dunstan’s College armed with birches.  At the various points around the Parish boundary, we stopped for a short explanation of where we were, a prayer and a verse from a hymn.  We stopped at six points (much to the bemusement of the tourists and City workers) but the most fun is always the River Thames boundary when the children are taken to mid-river on the Silver Darling to beat the water.

A church service followed but I had to slip away to attend the Ascension Court Dinner of the Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks (one day I will establish why they, also non-Livery, are ‘Worshipful’ and we are not!).  The most confusing feature of the Parish Clerks is that no-one is referred to by their name, but by the parish they represent, thus the seating plan was packed with name such as ‘St Bartholomew by the Exchange’, ‘All Hallows the Great’, ‘St Magnus the Martyr’ and St Margaret Fish Street’.  I sat next to the Master (‘All Hallows the Less’) but, fortunately, the principal speaker was someone I knew well and could address by name: Commissioner Ian Dyson who had spoken at one our Freemen’s lunches.

And so ended a very busy but enjoyable May.

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

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