The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh will attend a reception at London’s Watermen’s Hall on 27 March 2014 to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Royal Watermen.
One may forget that the Thames was the route of choice for travel for the Monarchy well into the middle of the 19th Century. The river was not used purely for ceremonial purposes but also for means for travel between the royal palaces. Until 1760, London Bridge was the only crossing for land transport. The Sovereign used the Royal Barges as a means of transport from Windsor, Westminster, Hampton Court Greenwich and the Tower of London.The Royal Watermen were the individuals who rowed the Royal Barges up and down the River Thames.
Grand Ceremonial events often were held on the Thames such as Henry VII’s Queen Elizabeth traveling from Greenwich by barge for her coronation in 1487, the 1533 journey of Anne Boleyn for her coronation and the 1662 extravagant ‘Aqua Triumphalis’ which had Catherine of Braganza arrive from Portugal to wed Charles II.
The Thames is not used for the ceremony and pageantry of the Monarch quite as much anymore. During Queen Elizabeth II reign, it has seen the 1977 Silver Jubilee, 2002 Golden Jubilee and in 2012 the Diamond Jubilee.
There are traditions still kept to this day and one is the Bargemasters and Watermen of the Thames.
The Bargemaster is accountable for the Royal Watermen, selected from the ranks of the Thames Watermen, who manage tugs and launches on the river. It is indeed a honour to be chosen as a Royal Watermen as they receive a small annual salary of £3.50.
Five Bargemasters still exist, the most senior being the Queen’s Bargemaster. The others are retained by four livery companies which include the Vintners, Fishmongers, Dyers and Guild of Watermen and Lightermen.
Presently, Her Majesty keeps 24 Royal Watermen who are under the command of The Queen’s Bargemaster thus continues to be one of the oldest Royal Household appointments. Prior to King Edward VII decreasing the contingent, there were 48 Royal Watermen.
The uniform of the Royal Watermen in royal scarlet is still the skirted tunic style of the traditional Thames Watermen. They wear a dark blue cap, scarlet stockings, white shirts and black shoes. On the front and back they display large solid silver badges with the Royal Cipher. The uniform of the Queen’s Bargemaster is distinctive in that he wears a tailcoat jacket with an additional braid. His stockings are white rather than scarlet.
The duties of the Royal Watermen are now entirely only ceremonial. They participate in any state events that occur on the Thames. They are also present when The Queen’s guests use the river to travel to Hampton Court or Greenwich. Their onshore responsibilities see the Royal Watermen as footmen on royal carriages during State visits, royal weddings and jubilees.
On the event of a coronation, they walk in the procession behind The Queen’s Bargemaster. During the State Opening of Parliament, the Bargemaster and four Royal Watermen travel as boxmen on coaches. There they have the role of guarding the regalia when it travels from Buckingham Palace to Westminster and back.
Today there are no longer any State Barges afloat and in use. There is the Royal Nore that the Port of London Authority owns and maintains and is used by the Royal Family is travel on the river is required for an official engagement.
photo credit: Defence Images via photopin cc
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