The Company of
Watermen & Lightermen
of the River Thames

The Master’s Blog – January 2020

The New Year started with our first Court of 2020 on 8th January. Craft-Owning Freeman Robert Constant was elected an Honorary Court Assistant and Company Bargemaster, Robert Coleman was re-appointed the Company’s Bargemaster for a further 3 years term. Then it was the usual business of reviewing and approving of the reports of the Standing Committees.  Our speaker at the Court lunch was John Dillon-Leetch, the PLA’s Port Hydrographer who gave us a really interesting and amusing talk about his working life and the role of the Port Hydrography Department of the PLA.

The following Monday, 13th January, it was a privilege as a working Waterman and Lighterman to preside at a Court of Bindings when there were twelve new apprentices bound to the Company, ranging in age from 16 to early 40s. The Court of Bindings is a formal Court meeting with the Court members in their Company badge and gowned when the new apprentices (some with masters), watched by their parents and/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, the importance of getting the necessary experience afloat, keeping their MCA Task Record Book up to date and completing the appropriate training courses.

Craft-Owning Freeman Alex Hickman, our training officer, explained the support and training that the Company could offer, and Mr Terry Lawrence, the PLA’s Tideway Harbour Master explained the role of the Port of London Authority.  Finally, I reiterated how the apprentices 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 of the Binding is for each apprentice to be interviewed by a pair of Court members who oversee the apprentice’s signing, twice, the certificate.  This certificate is then immediately cut in half by the Clerk: one half to be retained by the apprentice; the other by the Company, or their Master. Those halves will only be reunited when the apprentice completes the training and gains the Freedom of the Company.

In the afternoon, there was a meeting of the Hastings Working Party chaired by the President of the Almshouses and Charities, Past Master John Salter. The Working Party is charged with improving the rate at which the Charity is refurbishing bungalows at Hastings and ensuring the Charity meets its legal and other responsibilities. At present bungalows are refurbished when a resident or tenant move out. The process could be speeded up if a pair of bungalows could be refurbished at the same time. One option being explored is to build two new bungalows so that a resident or tenant next door to a vacant bungalow could move into one of the new bungalows.

The first outside engagement of 2020 was a dinner at the Plaisterers’ Hall on 14th 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 big, seating a possible 360.

On Wednesday, 15th January there was a meeting of the Communications Working Party which co-ordinates all the Company’s communications. The Working Party reviewed of the Company’s progress with communications particularly 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.

On Thursday the 16th I attended the Shipwrights’ Election Dinner. This was another major dinner with about 190 guests in Ironmongers Hall. The Company has good links with the Shipwrights. Along with the Master Mariners and Trinity House we are in a Nauti Group that meets regularly to debate matters maritime. A number of our Freemen are Liverymen of the Shipwrights’ Company, so it is a special occasion.

The next day 21st January, before the Burns Night Dinner, I attended a Fund-raising Working Party. We have a relatively new Fundraiser, Honorary Court Assistant David Beard who is enthusiastically organising fundraising activities  The Company’s situation remains unchanged: 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. Our priority therefore is to improve the Company’s finances. Freemen will find on the website a list of the fundraising events Honorary Court Assistant David Beard is organising.

On the 22nd January was the Company’s Burns Celebration dinner I attended with my wife Sue, daughter Rosie and her husband Jack Clark, one of our Journeyman Freeman, along with two very close friends of ours, it really was a great night.  There was the best attendance so far recorded, although I don’t think that was because of the popularity of the Master, but the possibility of seeing Past Master Salter in a kilt, which unfortunately didn’t materialise, however with appropriate prompts from our Master of Ceremonies, Bob Nesbit, I managed to plunge the proffered knife into the haggis and cut it open from end to end.  The evening finished with the traditional singing of Auld Lang Syne.

On 24th January along with our Training Officer, Freeman Alex Hickman, we took Katy Ware, Maritime and Coastguard Agency’ Director of Maritime Safety and Standards and Mike Greenwood afloat to show parts of the busiest section of the Thames and talk through some of the issues affecting the Company and its Freemen.

On Monday, 27th January, I attended a dinner with the Worshipful Company of the Founders in their very modern Hall. There were a number of other Masters and Clerks present. The food was very good.

The Doggett’s Emblem Dinner was held on 28th January, continuing this year as a formal dinner. I presented Patrick Keech with his Doggett’s pin. The Prime Warden of the Fishmongers, David Jones attended, to present James Berry with his Doggett’s medal. I was especially pleased that Journeyman Freemen Steve Woollacott was there with his family to present the Ben Woollacott Memorial Sculls to Max Carter-Miller, the winner of the Sculling Weekend race.  Scarlet Barnett-Smith was the most improved sculler from that weekend and her name will be engraved on the 1959 Doggett’s Winner’s Cup donated by the family of George Saunders.   It was a real pleasure to see so many Freemen and apprentices at the evening, and once again a great evening was had by all.


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

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