In 1514 the earliest Act of Parliament for regulating
watermen, wherrymen and bargemen received Royal Assent from King Henry
VIII. In 2014 the Company celebrated the 500th anniversary of that Act.
A number of freemen are appointed Royal Watermen who under Her Majesty's Bargemaster are responsible for Her Majesty The Queen's safety afloat. Reference is made to King John being rowed to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in June 1215. This would indicate the services of the Royal Watermen are probably around 800 years old.
The Company has been regulated by a succession of Acts of Parliament, the most recent in 1859. The Acts allow the Company to set byelaws for its internal governance.
Company aims and objectives include upholding the traditions of the Company to maintain its place at the forefront of the working life of the River Thames and to bring to bear its skill, knowledge and experience towards assuring the safe and healthy future of the River. To develop its activities and use its assets to ensure that best use is made by the Company of the opportunities presented by the changing needs of the River, its infrastructure and its users. To undertake its duties as required by its statues and other legislation and to ensure that the Company has the Constitution and powers needed to fulfil its aims. And to encourage active participation in the recognition of the work of the Company.
The Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River
Thames was formed by an Act of Parliament in 1555 to maintain the
standard of navigation amongst Watermen plying for hire as passenger
carriers in the tidal Thames above Gravesend. This it has done in
succeeding centuries through a system of Apprenticeship, examinations
and granting of licences. The Lightermen, the goods carriers, joined the
Watermen in 1700.
Throughout most of its existence the Company has possessed a Hall, the first in 1600 being the Mansion of Coldharbour on the north bank of the River. The present Hall was built in 1780 to the designs of William Blackburn, later a prominent prison architect, who was a fellow student of Sloane, whose influence might also be discerned in the Court Room. The Hall was extended considerably in 1982/83 when the Freemen 's Room was constructed.