You can dine with the Watermen at The River Thames Luncheon Club

Full course Dining with a dash of History at the Watermen’s Hall

The bus set me down on a bustling street, a mix of graceful historic architecture and glass and chrome Towers, with smartly dressed people dashing to business appointments and lunch engagements. The medieval façade of Southwark Cathedral stood to our left, down the hill loomed the mighty Tower of London and Tower Bridge and the impressive monument to The Great Fire of London in 1666, the tallest isolated stone column in the world, is just down the road in Pudding Lane, on the spot where the fire began. This is the heart of the City of London, centre of Commerce since the Middle Ages and I’m on my way to the Watermens Hall, St. Mary at Hill , one of the ancient Livery companies, which still thrive in “ the city”.

Livery Companies had their origins before 1066, similar to Cities and Guilds which controlled the provision and manufacture of goods in the City of London and provided some protection for the people, really the forerunners of present day Trade Unions. Ancient companies included spectacle makers, vintners, pewterers, haberdashers, coachmakers and goldsmiths. Companies whose original purpose have virtually vanished, like Fanmakers and Horners have adapted to become Air conditioning and Plastics. One of the first charitable tasks undertaken by early guilds was care of their members in sickness and old age. Education was also a component and both these endeavours remain important parts of the Livery function today.

Halfway down a narrow lane leading to the riverfront we entered the headquarters of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames, one of the oldest Livery companies, founded in 1555, when a one year apprenticeship program which still exists, was instituted for boy’s wishing to learn the Waterman’s trade. The watermen, ferryman on the River Thames, long before there were bridges, who were the equivalent of today’s Taxi drivers, were granted arms by Queen Elizabeth I in 1585 and in 1770 they were joined by the Lightermen, who ferried cargo up and down the river.

Their original meeting hall and all the records were completely destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and although they rebuilt, they eventually moved to the present premises in 1780. The small but attractive Georgian style building was designed by William Blackburn for the Company of Watermen. After suffering bomb damage in the last war, it has undergone several restorations which blends its historic ambience with modern up to date enhancements, and Watermen’s Hall is now the only original Georgian Hall in the City of London. You can see some of the historical possessions in the beautifully restored rooms, paintings, a collection of old silver and some old documents.

The Company still maintains its old traditions, offering Apprenticeship programs, Almshouse accommodations and pensions for aged watermen and encouragement of river activities. Among these are the 800 year old the Lord Mayors Show,  originally a water pageant, when a  company of watermen  escorts  the Lord Mayor’s coach in a colourful street parade showcasing the fabric and diversity of the Livery companies and other organisations,  through the old City of London, in November every year.

But necessarily, interest in the Watermen’s trade has declined and the Company looked to other methods of raising revenue. Now the hall can be hired for weddings and special events or you can dine with the Company of Watermen and Lightermen on selected days, for lunch or dinner with a difference. They welcome visitors and enjoy informing visitors on the past and future activities of this ancient and interesting corner of old London.

The River Thames Luncheon Club began eight years ago and is open to the public. Meeting monthly on Friday’s throughout the year,  the inclusive package  includes a five course taster luncheon with a cash bar and superb wine selection. At 55 GBP,  it is a high end choice, but come here for a special atmosphere and historical setting you won’t find elsewhere.

The event proved so popular that a Dinner Club was formed in 2014. The monthly dinners take place on Tuesdays with the same enticing menus.

Of the many ancient customs and traditions in London, the Livery Companies are among the oldest and most interesting and it is not often that non members can be part of them. It is a unique dining option to consider and a place to unwind on your next business trip to London.

Cook and Butler have now taken over Catering and Banqueting functions at this historic venue.

For further information or to make a reservation,

Contact:  Mark Grove

The Cook and  The Butler Event Company:

Tel: 020 7620 1818

Email:  cookandbutler@btconnect.com

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