04.02.20 Past Master Martin Payne

Winter Court Dinner 2020


The Winter Court Dinner took place at Watermens’ Hall on 23rd January, but before we squeezed into the cosy dining room, we had the usual Court Meeting to cover business, accept applications for membership and clothe Freemen in the Livery. The Master presided over the meeting in a rather elaborate and fitting chair (and seemed to be very much at home as he addressed the Court). For some in the Livery, this will be a return visit to this delightful Hall; for others it will be a first time visit. It was worth taking a few moments to observe the architecture; there is a lot of history here – if only the walls could talk, they would have a tale to tell.

The Master Richard Charlesworth MVO

The Master Richard Charlesworth MVO

At the dinner, the Master introduced guest of honour Colonel Toby Browne CVO The Crown Equerry and his wife Serena Browne, Major Thomas Coker RDG and the recently clothed Liverymen Messrs Mark Peters and The Hon. Martin Hunt. The Master then thanked the Master Watermen for allowing us to use his delightful hall.

The Master pointed out that during his career at Bentley Motors, Col. Browne and his predecessors had been his main point of contact with the royal household and the royal family. He shared anecdotes about audiences with HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh to discuss the design and specification of the Bentley State Limousine, which was presented to Her Majesty in 2002 on the occasion of Her Golden Jubilee. This included some challenging conversations with The Duke about the appropriateness of the extensive use of wood in the interior of the car, which he was not keen on, but The Queen rather liked. There was the issue of there being no obvious location for the traditional RAC and AA badges to be mounted on the new Bentley, and Her Majesty’s amusing observation on how to work around the situation. Similarly, The Queen’s story of when the tyre on the Limousine had a puncture, and she and The Duke had been unaware, due to the run-flat system doing its job, but that the worried chauffeur had shared the problem with them.

Guest speaker Crown Equerry Col Toby Browne

Guest speaker Crown Equerry Col Toby Browne

Toby Browne gave a fascinating and amusing perspective of the workings of The Royal Mews, both at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. He explained that his team is responsible for the cars, carriages and horses that provide HM The Queen’s transportation around the UK, and for managing the challenges this brings. He explained that the Mews was like a small village and is a community for those who live and work there. He regaled us with stories of his time in the Household Cavalry, particularly when on one occasion his young horse Arabella decided to disappear at speed down Birdcage Walk with young Toby on top rather than follow the royal procession down The Mall, and how much trouble he had trying to re-join the procession near Admiralty Arch.

He thanked the Livery for our support with apprentice Kirsty Thomson and hoped that we might be supportive again if the opportunity to take on another apprentice arose.

Today the current official state car is either one of a pair, which were specially made for the purpose by Bentley Motors. The Master is particularly proud of his involvement in securing this arrangement.

The evening ended after the usual stirrup cup. We headed home reflecting on a most enjoyable evening.

History of the Watermen

The Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames was founded in 1514, when the earliest Act of Parliament for regulating watermen, wherrymen and bargemen received Royal Assent from King Henry VIII. The Company was established by an Act of Parliament in 1555 to regulate Watermen and wherrymen carrying passengers by boat under oars on the River Thames; further in 1555, the Company introduced apprenticeships for those wishing to learn the skills of the Watermen. In 1700 the Lightermen (carriers of goods/cargo) joined the Watermen’s Company. Built in 1780 by William Blackburn, Watermen’s Hall remains the only original Georgian hall in the City of London.

A Waterman carries passengers whereas a Lighterman simply carries goods and cargo. Both these trades were vital for moving people and goods from the Thames estuary up to London and beyond. The use of wherries was the only link across the river before the building of the first London Bridge by the Romans; from early times, the Thames was the major transport highway.