Master Mariners CrestThe ancient city of London is a city and ceremonial county within the conurbation of Greater London. It constituted most of old London from its settlement by the Romans, once called Londinium, in the 1st century AD to the middle ages. The conurbation has since grown far beyond the City’s borders and is now only a tiny part of the metropolis, though it remains a notable part of central London. The city of London itself has grown very little since Roman times and the boundaries are only a few hundred metres outside the original city walls. It is one of two districts of Greater London to hold city status; the other is the adjacent city of Westminster.

The city of London is divided into 25 wards. They are survivors of the mediaeval government system that allowed a very local area to exist as a self-governing unit within the wider city. They can be described as electoral/political divisions; ceremonial, geographic and administrative entities; sub-divisions of the City. Each ward has an Alderman, who traditionally held office for life but in the modern era put themselves up for re-election at least every six years. Wards continue to have Beadles, an ancient office which is now largely ceremonial: the main remaining function is the running of the Wardmote, an annual meeting in each ward of electors, representatives and officials. At the Wardmote the ward’s Alderman appoints at least one Deputy for the year ahead. Each ward also has a Ward Club, which is similar to a residents’ association found elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

The wards are ancient and their number has changed only three times since time immemorial: in 1394 Farringdon was divided into Farringdon Within and Farringdon Without; in 1550 the ward of Bridge (London Bridge) Without, south of the river (river Thames), was created, the ward of Bridge becoming Bridge Within; and the Bridge wards Within and Without were merged in 1978 as Bridge ward.

The city of London is widely referred to simply as the City (often written as just “City” and differentiated from the phrase “the city of London” by capitalising “City”) and is also colloquially known as the Square Mile, as it is 1.12 sq mi (2.90 km2) in area. Both of these terms are also often used as terms for the United Kingdom’s trading and financial services industries, which continue a notable history of being largely based in the City. The City (through Liverymen of the City) elects a Lord Mayor every year that represents the City throughout the world as her representative. The Lord Mayor (immortalized by Richard Wittington and his “cat”) should not be confused with the Mayor of London who is responsible for the administration of Greater London and her boroughs.

During the late 11th century, and possibly before 1066, there grew up trade associations known as “Guilds” which represented the various skills to be found within (and without) the City walls. The Guilds came into being to regulate skills, provide training apprenticeships and alms for those of their Guild who fell on hard times. Today the livery companies of the City of London comprise its ancient and modern trade associations and guilds, almost all of which are styled the “Worshipful Company of...” their respective craft, trade or profession. The exception to this being the Master Mariners who were granted the title “Honourable” by HM King George V for the noble, self sacrificing and honourable work Master Mariners gave to the United Kingdom during World War I. Latterly the Guild of Air Pilots have been granted the title “Honourable” by HM Queen Elizabeth II on presentation of their Charter in 2013. London’s medieval guilds developed into corporations responsible for training as well as regulating their respective trades, such as wage control, labour conditions and industry standards. Like most organisations during the Middle Ages, guilds or livery companies were obliged to forge close ties with the Church in Rome (at least prior to the Protestant Reformation) by endowing religious establishments such as chantry chapels and churches, by observing religious festivals with hosting ceremonies and their well-known mystery plays. Most livery companies retain their historical religious associations, although nowadays members are free to follow any faith or none.

Colourful gowns, hats and trappings worn by senior members of the guilds, brought about the term “livery”. The wearing of badges of office is a relatively recent innovation, having been introduced in the 19th century. Most livery companies maintain their original trade, craft or professional roles, some still exercise powers of regulation, inspection and enforcement, and others are awarding bodies for professional qualifications. The Scriveners’ Company (No 44) admits senior members of legal and associated professions, the Apothecaries’ Company (No 58) awards post-graduate qualifications in some medical specialties, and the Hackney Carriage Drivers’ Company (No 104) comprises licensed taxi drivers who have passed the “Knowledge of London” test. Several companies restrict membership only to those holding relevant professional qualifications, eg the Honourable Company of Master Mariners (No 78), the City of London Solicitors’ Company (No 79) and the Worshipful Company of Engineers (No 94). Other companies, whose trade died out long ago, such as the Longbow Makers’ Company (Bowyers Company No 38) have evolved into being primarily charitable foundations. London’s livery companies, which currently number 110, play a significant part in City life, not least by providing charitable-giving and networking opportunities. Liverymen retain voting rights for the senior civic offices, such as the Sheriffs and Lord Mayor of the City of London Corporation, an ancient municipal authority with extensive local government powers.

The origins of the Honourable Company may be traced to the Annual Shipmasters’ Dinner held in Liverpool on 2nd March 1921. Sir Robert Burton-Chadwick Bt, suggested that the profession was entitled to form, and was capable of forming a Guild or Company, very much on the lines of the old city of London Livery Companies. Burton- Chadwick’s vision was realised on 25th June 1926 with the formation of the Company of Master Mariners.

In March 1928 Edward, Prince of Wales, assumed the office of Master. In June of that year HM King George V bestowed the title of Honourable on the Company – a rare and signal honour. The title of Honourable had only ever previously been bestowed on two other companies; the Honourable East India Company and the Honourable Artillery Company. The Honourable Artillery Company continues today as a territorial regiment in the British Army, whereas the Honourable East India Company was stripped of its administrative powers over India in 1858 before being dissolved by Act of Parliament in 1874. Recently the Guild of Airline Pilots also took the title on obtaining their Royal Charter.

The city of London welcomed the new Master Mariners Company with great warmth and in 1932 the City Court of Aldermen conferred on the Company the status of Livery. It was the first time in over 200 years that the ancient doors of the Guildry of London had been opened to a new Company. The Company became 78th in order of precedence in the Livery and is noted as the first “modern” Company.

HQS Wellington Her Majesty the Queen became the Honourable Company’s Patron in 1952. His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh was Master from 1954 to 1957, and then became Admiral of the Company – a post he holds to this day. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was a Master from 1988 to 1990 and The Honourable Company’s connection with the Royal family continued with the installation of Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal as Master of the Company from 2005 until April 2007.

From its foundation it was always the ambition of the founding members of the Company to have a Livery Hall. Up to the outbreak of war in 1939, various proposals were examined, including the purchase of the sailing ship, the Archibald Russell. After the war, it became apparent that the possibility of building a Hall in the City of London had been rendered very remote. In 1947, the Grimsby class sloop Wellington was made available by the British Admiralty. The Company decided to buy her with money subscribed by the Members and convert her into a floating Livery Hall - an appropriate home for a Company of seafarers.

Built at Devonport in 1934, HMS Wellington served in the Pacific mainly on station in New Zealand and China before World War II. Wellington was fitted with two 4.7 inch and one three inch guns. Additionally, anti-aircraft guns were fitted for self defence. Depth charges, for use against submarines were also carried. The Wellington served primarily in the North Atlantic on convoy escort duties. She shared in the destruction of one enemy U-Boat and was involved in Operation Cycle, the evacuation of troops from St Valery. She was then converted from being His Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Wellington to Head Quarters Ship (HQS) Wellington at the Chatham dockyards. The cost of this conversion was met by an appeal to which Lloyd’s, Shipping Companies, Livery Companies and many other benefactors generously contributed. She arrived at her Victoria Embankment berth on the River Thames in December 1948 to continue service as the floating livery hall of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners. HQS Wellington has remained at this berth, since then. Her stern moorings are in the city of London. The ship is within the city of Westminster. This might change within the next two years if the new Garden Bridge is to be built where Wellington’s forward moorings now lie. She will be moved about 75 metres down stream and can then say that she truly lies within the bounds of the City.

In 1991 HQS Wellington was dry-docked at Sheerness for three months during which, apart from extensive steelwork repairs and complete external painting, she received a major refurbishment, which included the refitting of all toilet facilities, offices and accommodation areas. For the first time, Wellington was fully fitted with custommade carpet, which added a feeling of comfort and warmth to the ship. This, coupled with imaginative displays of the Company’s marine paintings and artefacts, gold and silver plate, ship models and newly discovered very early 18th century Mercator charts, helped to make the ship a Livery Hall which is admired throughout the City of London

Today the Honourable Company of Master Mariners is a robust company of approximately 700 members, one of the largest Guilds in the City. It is well respected not only within the City and the Guilds but also has strong connections with other Master Mariner Companies throughout the Commonwealth and the USA set up after the formation of the Honourable Company. It has strong connections with The Corporation of Trinity House, The Nautical Institute, the Royal Institute of Navigation, the Institute of Marine Engineers, Scientists and Technologists, The Royal Navy, The Marine Society, The Merchant Navy Association and other notable maritime trusts and organisations. The Honourable Company administers a charitable trust to benefit Merchant Navy Officers and dependants. It also supports a number of maritime affiliated schools including Christ Hospital school.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - May 2015 Issue
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