Friday, 19 November 2010


Getting ready at St Katherine's Dock the Company barge in the foreground.  Tower Bridge framing the scene nicely. Photograph by Janice Thomson. 

Not quite heading upstream, a tricky manoeuvre to get back on station.  Left to right Gill Durdal, John Borradaile, Andrew Finlay -as the Wiffler at the bow - Robin Blandy, Alastair Ross and Andrew Oborne. Richard Norton's hat just visible at bottom of picture.  Photograph by Janice Thomson.
Things probably not best to wear on the Thames.  I am wearing the Master's fetching hat and gown over a life jacket and some warm clothing.  Rosemary is much more elegantly dressed.  Photograph by Janice Thomson

For the first time in many years the Lord Mayor had asked for a flotilla to row upstream from St Katherine's Dock just beyond Tower Bridge to Waterloo Bridge.  He would acknowledge the flotilla and it would arrive shortly before his fireworks display.

Originally the Lord Mayor's procession had been based on the Thames and had only moved on land in the mid-nineteenth century.  The reasons for this are a matter of some debate.  Two favourite themes emerge.  The first that the whole enterprise had become a chaotic shambles and second the extremely unsanitary conditions of the Thames, it was in effect an open sewer serving a rapidly growing city, were so unpleasant that no-one wanted to take part in or observe the event.  Probably it was the combination of both.

Whatever the true story a hundred and fifty years later we were re-creating history.  Twenty rowing boats of various types took part and we set off from St Katherine's Dock at 3.40pm into a steadily darkening late autumn evening. The Royal Thamesis, the Company's barge (see more details on an earlier post of  29 September), was crewed by stalwarts of the Company including:  Andrew Thomson, Cox and Bargemaster, Andrew Finlay, Wiffler - at the bow, John Borradaile, Robin Blandy, Richard Norton, Gilll Dirdal, Andrew Oborne, and Alastair Ross. Rosemary and I along with our daughter Grace, Janice Thomson and Sue Borradaile sat in relative luxury under the awning.

From the outset it was clear that the tide was moving faster than anticipated and we made rapid progress.  But very early on the plans for a tightly marshalled flotilla failed to be achieved although our admirable Whiffler, Andrew Finlay, kept station with the Jubilant - the vessel at the centre of the flotilla, as well he could.  There was an exciting moment when we crossed over a very substantial rope linking two buoys that suddenly appeared in our path.  A following craft, not so expertly handled, got stuck trying to do the same manoeuvre.

There was good turnout along the Embankment and a vociferous crowd of Drapers had come down from the Hall to cheer us on.

 Almost as dusk was falling we passed the Lord Mayor.  I precariously stood up and doffed my cap but I have severe doubts as to whether anyone more than a few yards away saw me.

Our task completed we tied up.  It was a great experience.  It was clear to me that the significant difficulties of organising and maintaining any form of order with a river based display makes a land-based option much more attractive.  This must have been a principal reason for the transfer of the Lord Mayor's Show to the land.

I thank the Drapers' barge team for a really great experience.  I have no doubt that the Lord Mayor's Flotilla will again become a permanent feature of the Lord Mayor's Show in future years.

We than stood on the Victoria Embankment and watched the spectacular fireworks display that concluded the day.

The firework display in its full glory.  St Pauls is lit up in the left distance and the OXO Tower a bit closer on the right.  Photograph BBC News.


  1. Very interesting and not a little exciting; but I'm glad you were all wearing lifejackets, notwithstanding the undoubted skill of our 'whiffler'?

  2. I had every confidence that the life jackets were only for ornament.

    Incidentally is Andrew Finlay the only person we know who 'whiffles while he works'?