Oars Of The Roses: The Tudor Pull

Tim Koch reports from London,

The British are very fond of their ceremonial and welcome any excuse to don knee britches, big shirts and strange hats. If this can be combined with rowing and ancient and obscure institutions of state and trade, so much the better. The ‘Tudor Pull’ is just such an occasion. This event involves getting a piece of medieval water pipe (the ‘Stela’) from Hampton Court (Henry VIII’s Palace of 1514) twenty-five miles downriver to the Tower of London, a building nearly five hundred years older. This year the archaic bit of plumbing was carried on the magnificent Royal Barge Gloriana, rowed by eighteen Queens Watermen and escorted by twenty three shallops and cutters, many from Livery Companies of the City of London. Other river craft such as skiffs and gigs also joined in.

Now, you may be asking, ‘Why?’ Our friend Chris Partridge at ‘Rowing For Pleasure’ has one theory involving the Duke of Edinburgh. Another suggestion that it (somehow) commemorates the sinking of Queen Eleanor’s royal barge under London Bridge in 1256. The modern idea behind the Pull is that the present organisers, The Thames Traditional Rowing Association, use it ‘to support and promote the sport of fixed seat rowing and sculling on the River Thames in Waterman’s Cutters’. The event is also supported by ‘Thames Alive’, an organisation which ‘celebrates and promotes’ the river and events held on it. Whatever the reason for it, this unlikely story is perhaps best told in pictures.

This photograph was actually taken at the end of the day at Tower Bridge but it clearly shows the Stela in its glass case. It is held by Paul Ludwig, the Queen’s Bargemaster, who commands the twenty-four Royal Watermen. The gentleman on the right is John Redmond, the Master of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen.

Hampton Court: On the left is a procession from the Palace bringing the Stela to the Queen’s Bargemaster, the Queen’s Watermen and representatives of the Watermen’s Company, all on the right.

The two Queen’s Watermen on the left are wearing a modern, lightweight version of their traditional heavy woolen costume, something which is much more comfortable to row twenty-five miles in. The gentleman on the right is the Beadle of the Waterman’s Company. The office of beadle is a very old one, he is an official of an organisation who assists in its running in various ways and may also be charged with keeping order. The most famous holder of such an office is Mr. Bumble, the workhouse beadle in ‘Oliver Twist’ (thankfully the Waterman’s Beadle is much more generous than the Dickens’s character). A 1708 description of his duties is here.

The Gloriana is followed by the Royal Shallop Jubilant. Bob Crouch, a Doggett’s winner, past master of the Watermen’s Company and past Queen’s Bargemaster writes about shallops on the Jubilant Trust website.

The oarsman on Gloriana’s port side here is Bob Prentice, a Doggett’s Coat and Badge winner who HTBS has written about before.

The Worshipful Company of Founder’s cutter at Richmond. The 32-foot, fixed-seat Thames cutters are normally rowed by six people but, for events such as the Tudor Pull, two rowing positions are replaced with passenger seating and a canopy. Flags and sometimes sideboards are also mounted.

The flotilla passes Brentford. Having gone past Richmond it is now on the tidal Thames.

A cutter from the Royal Naval Reserve shore establishment, HMS President. It is the only boat in the flotilla that is entitled to fly the ‘White Ensign’ of the Royal Navy. Six naval ratings provide the power, a Lieutenant does the steering and a Commander and a dog provide the dead-weight. The canine is part of a theme of ‘dogs in boats’ on HTBS. This is from June 2012 and this is from March 2013.

Passing St Mary’s Church, Battersea. The present building dates from 1777 but there has been a church on this site for 1200 years. Here William Blake was married and Benedict Arnold is buried. The shallop (Royal Thamesis) belongs to the Worshipful Company of Drapers. Read about its history here. Despite its light blue and gold colouring and flag bearing three crowns it has no connections with Sweden.

The cutter of the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers passes the Buddhist ‘Peace Pagoda’ in Battersea Park.

The flotilla reaches the Albert Embankment and the Headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service (better known as MI6), the British equivalent of the American CIA. MI6’s most famous operative, James Bond, is a Commander in the Royal Naval Reserve – so the Commander in the Royal Navy cutter on the left may be more than he seems… The cutter on the right belongs to the Worshipful Company of Barbers.

The Tudor Pull reaches the end of its journey at Tower Bridge. It is a common misconception that this structure is ‘London Bridge’ and there is a popular myth that when a gentleman from Arizona bought the 1831 London Bridge in 1967, he thought that this was what he was getting.

The Tower of London. On the right is the Resident Governor of The Tower and Keeper of the Jewel House, Colonel Richard Harrold, and one of his ‘Yeoman Warders’. The latter are commonly known as ‘Beefeaters’ but officially are ‘Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary’. Governor Harrold is presented with the Stela by Paul Ludwig in his capacity as Queen’s Bargemaster.

My thanks to the man behind this event, Malcolm Knight, the tireless Secretary of the Thames Traditional Rowing Association and a Director of Thames Alive. A retired Metropolitan Police Sergeant (specialising in riot training and self-defence) Malcolm has five world records for distance rowing and now gets paid to mess about in boats with Marine Film Services, a company that provides ‘all things boaty’ for the film and TV industry. Malcolm is evangelical about the Thames and traditional rowing and has also been heavily involved in organising things such as the Lord Mayor’s Show Flotilla (the first in 156 years), the Thames part of the Olympic Torch Relay and the manpowered section of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

© Photographs Tim Koch 

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