Ever been out near the Thames of a summer’s evening, seen a flotilla of Tudor looking rowing boats rush past, covered in heraldry and flying ornate flags and banners, and thought you must have just witnessed some sort of timeslip? In fact, what you’ve just seen probably isn’t evidence of the Doctor Who-like mutability of time and space; it’s more likely to be a Thames Waterman Cutter race.
A Thames Waterman Cutter is a traditional Thames passenger carrying craft. They’re very sturdy boats - crews have taken them all the way up and down the Thames, and even over the Channel and on to Paris.There are about twenty different Cutter crews currently active in London, representing various businesses, trade bodies, Livery Companies of the City of London (once Medieval trade guilds, now mostly charitable bodies), and even the National Physical Laboratory.
If you want to find out more, the best place to start is the Thames Traditional Rowing Association, who manage cutter racing on the Thames. They have details of upcoming races and ceremonial events (such as the Great River Race on the 5th September, and the Thames Festival on the 13th September), and can also point you towards any crews that are recruiting.
By Al Robertson, member of the Tallow Chandlers Livery Company crew.