Frequently Asked Questions
Who thought of organising Reflections?
Last summer a small group of people at a river function, including HM The Queen’s Bargemaster, thought there should be an official celebration of the Jubilee involving the River Thames in London.
They didn’t want to recreate the enormous spectacle of the Diamond Jubilee, but wanted to give the boating community the opportunity to pay their respects to the 70 remarkable years the Queen has been on the throne.
What is the history behind the appointment of a Royal Bargemaster?
This is an appointment which has been part of the Royal Household for more than 500 years. The river was historically the safest and easiest way of travelling between the Royal Palaces and manor houses along the Thames, so watermen were selected to become Royal Watermen – headed by the Bargemaster – who would safely row and navigate royalty between palaces whilst protecting the Crown. In effect, Watermen were the engines of waterborne limousines and water taxis from medieval times.
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. Under a further Act of 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.
The Company of Watermen and Lightermen still provide a suitable candidate to organise their duties and lead the Royal Watermen, of which there are 24 at any one time.
What are the present-day duties of the Queen’s Bargemaster and his team of Watermen?
The Royal Watermen, led by the Bargemaster, accompany the Queen when she and other members of the Royal Family travel on the Thames for official functions. Foreign dignitaries are among those whom the Queen and other members of the Royal Family have entertained on the river. HM Bargemaster and Royal Watermen are in attendance at formal state visits and escort the crown during the official opening of Parliament.
The Bargemaster is also a trustee of the Jubilant Trust. The Jubilant was built on the Thames in 2002 and presented to Her Majesty for her Golden Jubilee that year.
The late Prince Philip, who was often accompanied on the Thames by the Royal Watermen, once asked the then Bargemaster “Can you chaps actually row” – a challenge they took up as most of the oarsmen were international oarsmen, one of whom had competed in two Olympics. This conversation started a ceremonial row in 1987, the Tudor Pull, between Hampton Court and Greenwich (subsequently shortened to the Tower of London), which has been rowed every year since except during the COVID lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. This event was instrumental in setting up the successful Great River Race by Stuart Wolff and Harry Purchase the following year.
Why are we waiting for September when the Jubilee Bank Holiday is in June?
September is a significant month for the River Thames and its journey through London. Around Festival Hall – and on what was called Jubilee Gardens before the London Eye was erected – on the South Bank the Thames Festival was created. In July of the late 1970s, Lambeth Festival held riverside events there, mainly for the benefit of local Lambeth charities. From this, Thames Day was created in the 1980s, initially organised by the Festival Hall.
Since then, Thames Festival became Totally Thames and was moved to September, as Londoners came back after their holidays and schools were back for the autumn term. It soon became a month-long celebration of the river.
What is Totally Thames?
Totally Thames is an annual season of unique, diverse, and accessible arts and culture throughout the month of September, with activity taking place on, beneath, and along the River Thames. The month-long programme runs the 42-mile stretch of the Thames through working with artists, local communities, river interest organisations and businesses to celebrate the river we live on.
Who will take part?
The Royal Row Barge ‘Gloriana’ is invited to be in the heart of the procession, escorted by traditional rowing boats such as Thames Watermen’s Cutters, Cornish Pilot Gigs, Skiffs and Skerries, in addition to a fleet of motor launches and cruisers. All will be illuminated with white lights to give added reflections on the water, adding to the spectacle created by Illuminated River which have lit all the bridges from Battersea to the City. The lighting all along the riverbanks will add to the reflected glory on the water, providing a wonderful light display.
Reflections 2022 logo by Nathalie Crouch