The Company of
Watermen & Lightermen
of the River Thames

The Master’s Blog – April 2020

This Blog will be rather different instead of describing the external events I would have attended if they had not been cancelled, it will instead concentrate on the Company exchanges as there is much that has been going on.

April continued as March finished with Covid-19 taking hold with a Government lookdown staying at home. It took us all by surprise not least because it was not likely to end soon. The Company needed to keep running so an early decision was taken to form a small group, which was later named the Dolphin Group, a suggestion from Past Master Jeremy Randall.  With myself as Chairman, it included the Senior Warden, now Master Elect Gina Blair, the President of the Almshouses and Charities, John Salter and the Chairman of the General Purposes and Finance Committee, Past Master Jeremy Randall along with the Clerk. Starting with 27th March, we have been meeting every Friday to steer the Company through this crisis. The Company adopted Zoom software to facilitate virtual meetings online.

I chaired the first Dolphin Meeting, and we prepared for a meeting of the General Purposes and Finance Committee that we planned for 1st April which in normal times would have been a meeting of our Court. We adapted our usual General Purposes and Finance Committee agenda to cope with being held remotely online. The most urgent business was to suspend our Standing Orders, the rules governing the Court and the Company in so far as those rules prevented meetings from being held remotely. At the April Court, the Senior Warden would in normal times be elected Master Elect. The Dolphin Group planned to conduct an election by email asking Court Members to vote for or against or abstain. These pieces of business needed the approval of the General Purposes and Finance Committee. The Dolphin Group proposed the Company must maintain communications with its apprentices monitoring their progress and encouraging the continuation of their training.

A successful General Purposes and Finance Committee was held online with 18 Committee members present. The Committee agreed the suspension of Standing Orders. The Committee supported the formation of the Dolphin Group and authorised its decisions provided those decisions were reported as soon as possible. It confirmed the decision to holding an election for the Master Elect and these other changes. Discussing the devastating effect of the pandemic on the end of my year as Master with Watermen’s Hall closed and all City events cancelled. The Committee agreed that subject to the lockdown being eased during the summer, to extend both my term and the Senior Warden’s term of office by six months. This was subject to the Clerk agreeing to postponed his retirement also by six months. These decisions needed Court approval. The Committee reviewed the Company finances noting that with careful management the Company and its Charities should survive the likely financial crisis that was going to be caused by the pandemic. The Committee accepted the Kitchen Committee’s proposal to cancel Company events up to the proposed Installation of a new Master on 8th July. The Committee asked that the Doggett’s Organising Working Party should consider what decision should be made regarding this year’s Wager. The Committee agreed the Court should meet virtually on Wednesday 15th April. The Committee was horrified to learn that Past Master Kenny Dwan had tested positive for Covid-19 and admitted to hospital in intensive care. They wished him well in his fight against the virus.

I chaired the second Dolphin Group met on 3rd April to follow up from the General Purposes and Finance Committee and plan for the Court. The Group agreed to suspend producing Waterman Hoy and to replace it with a Note from the Master as and when there was news to pass on. The Group proposed abandoning the normal report from each Committee Chairman requesting only urgent items were raised. It was agreed that the Hastings Working Party should meet to ensure all necessary precautions were being taken to protect the residents at Hastings.

I attended the Hasting Working Party chaired by the President, Past Master John Salter. It was agreed a Strategy should be prepared setting out how the Charity will tackle dealing with the pandemic. There is a plan to build two new bungalows on the site of the current double garage. The addition accommodation would speed up the refurbishment of the bungalow which currently can only be undertaken when a bungalow became unoccupied.  It was agreed that the current garage would need to be replaced elsewhere on the site and that planning permission should be sought once the residents and tenants had been informed of the intended work.

I chaired the third Dolphin Group on 10th April which was our last chance to prepare for the Court. The Group also looked at the options for postponing Doggett’s Wager which would be discussed by the Doggett’s Wager Operating Working Party.

As Master, I chaired the Company’s first virtual Court on 15th April with 25 Court Members present on screen. By this stage I am getting used to Zoom where except the speakers others are muted until they ask to speak. It has a reaction tab that allows users to show a thumbs up for voting and putting a hand up to indicate they wish to speak. Courtesy of the Immediate Past Master, Dr Iain Reid, a summary of the proceedings at Court has already been circulated.

I chaired the fourth Dolphin Group on 17th April which agreed a summary of the proceeding should be circulated to Craft-Owning Freemen. The Group reviewed the Strategy for the Almshouse Site at Hastings.

I attended the Doggett’s Wager Operating Working Party. The Company benefits from the sponsorship by Wintec of new sculling boats for the contestant. Due to Covid-19 the Chinese factory that built the boats had ceased production. Though production had now restarted our boats would not arrive until August giving contestants little time to prepare even if British Rowing had agreed rowing could restart on the Thames. It was agreed contestant needed two months to train in the boats they would race in. Subject to discussions with Fishmongers, the Working Party agreed to postpone the 2020 Doggett’s Wager to March 2021 holding the 2021 Wager in September 2021. It was equally agreed to cancel the Henley Sculling Weekend in order to avoid penalties in late cancellation of rooms. The dates Doggett’s Wager were subsequently agreed as 16th March and 8th September.

I chaired the fifth Dolphin Group on 24th April to review the Strategy for Hastings. It was agreed it would be put to the Almshouses and Charities Committee for approval. The dates for Doggett’s Wager were noted. The Group started to look forward as to how the Company would look post Lock down with a paper from the Clerk but agreed it was too early to take firm decisions. However it was agreed to look a holding a virtual Court of Bindings online and begin to plan examinations. For Court of Bindings the numbers attending would be limited, the Indenture would be retained to presented at a physical ceremony later and a dress code of at least a collar and tie despite we will be online.

And so April came to a close with the Government’s Lock-down firmly in place and most activities still on hold.

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 and a Royal Engineers’ Association Lunch in honour of Major Ted Hunt MVO and his 100th birthday due on the 23rd March that I was looking forward to, but it and so many other events were inevitably cancelled. I am beginning to think I might have seen the best of my year.

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