The tradition of a livery barge or cutter dates back to Elizabethan times when water transport was the main means of movement about London. Exclusive use of a Thames Watermen’s cutter and crew would have been the equivalent of the Chairman’s car today.
How we got involved
The wealthier companies had the larger shallops, with ten oarsmen. Today only the Worshipful Company of Drapers maintains a shallop. SIM’s active representation on the river in a cutter started in 2007.
Following discussion from 2005 by several Past Masters with the then Senior Warden, Captain Guy Brocklebank RN, it was agreed that he would investigate achieving this addition to the livery representation in the City. The implied logic being that a Naval Captain should be able to make such a thing happen with minimum effort!
At the time there were some 20 livery companies with cutters or a shallop and several other organisations with traditional cutters, such as Trinity House, the Port of London, Lloyds Register and HMS President (London Division RNR).
A 3-part plan
The plan came together from three parts. Firstly there was an active rowing club at the National Physical Laboratory, which included rowing traditional Watermen’s Cutters, of the sort favoured by livery companies as a Master’s Barge. The club, led at the time by SIM Liveryman Professor Simon Hall, was keen to participate in the several livery cutter events and races, but under a livery banner in order to be eligible for the Watermen’s prizes.
2. Richmond Sea Scouts
Secondly there was also available a traditional Watermen’s cutter from the 14th Richmond “Viking” Sea Scouts. After discussions with the Sea Scout Leader, Vic Griffiths, it was agreed that SIM would take an option to use the cutter, Arthur Alcock, for all Thames Traditional Rowing Association events and the Great River Race. For this the Trustees of the Livery agreed to pay an annual charitable donation to the Richmond Sea Scouts youth programme. During the summer months the cutter would be used by Richmond Sea Scouts as part of their wider water training activity on the Thames for young people.
Thirdly, SIM joined the Thames Traditional Rowing Association (TTRA) and appointed a Bargemaster, Captain Guy Brocklebank RN, to represent SIM and administer the arrangement. SIM was duly represented at the November 2008 Bargemasters’ Council at Glaziers’ Hall. It is of note that both the Glaziers and the Launderers (who share the Hall with us) also have cutters.
First outing at the Frost Fair
The cutter’s first outing was the Frost Fair in December 2007. The cutter race was part of the wider Frost Fair events on the south bank between London Bridge and the Globe Theatre. The Master in 2007, Brian Lowings, was the passenger on a cold, wet and windy day, with 10 cutters participating. However the damp was dispelled by an excellent post-event reception in the undercroft of the Globe Theatre, including presentation of prizes by the Guildable Manor of Southwark.
In December 2007, the cutter Arthur Alcock was provided with livery regalia to participate as a Master’s Barge for the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers. This was a generous gift to the Company from the Master, David Smith. It comprised a canopy, in blue with gold trimming, topped by the head of Minerva with Faraday coils on each post. Lute boards to the stern, supporting the arms of the livery and benches under the canopy. The cutters can either be in full livery regalia, with four rowers and up to three passengers. This is the ceremonial rig. They can also be rowed without regalia and six oars, for faster work, such as the Great River race.
The organising body is the Bargemasters’ Council and the Thames Traditional Rowing Association, made up from representatives of all the rowing participants, under the governance of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers.