Cricket Bats and Vampire Dolphins

Watermen’s Hall at 16 St – Mary – at – Hill, London EC3. Picture: Steve Cadman.

Tim Koch writes:

Bernard Hempseed’s recent piece for HTBS on the variations in the deceptions of the arms of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames prompted me to look at the images that I have in my archive. My findings confirmed that, even with a limited search, there are indeed some weird and wonderful versions of the Watermen’s heraldic device.

The present Watermen’s Hall dates from 1780. Its exterior sports a fairly simplified version of the arms. Unlike with some depictions, the oars do look like what they are trying to represent and the boat is a reasonable delineation of a waterman’s wherry. The sculptor has not attempted a ‘heraldic’ depiction of water but has gone for a ‘realistic’ image. Also, while most of us think of dolphins as rather gentle creatures, these marine mammals look ready to attack anyone who comes too close.

John Redmond (right) Master of the Watermen’s Company, 2012 – 2013, and one of his Wardens. They stand below another version of the Company’s Arms, this one displayed above the fireplace in the Court Room of Watermen’s Hall. There is a small picture of the arms and the fire surrounded here. This is a very pleasing example – with the possible exception of the blank space above the boat (which Bernard describes as a ‘bit of a no-no in heraldry’).

John Redmond is wearing the Livery Collar of the Master of the Watermen’s Company. The overall effect is of a splendid gold and enamel badge of office but when looked at in detail it reveals what appears to be a pair of crossed cricket bats, a couple of angry dolphins baring fangs and an arm holding something that could be anything but an oar.

The version of the arms printed on this invitation to the Doggett’s Coat and Badge is used in most of the current publications produced by the Watermen’s Company. Both the single and the crossed oars do not look as though they would be much help in propelling a boat along, the dolphins have clearly come from a castle in Transylvania and the knight’s helmet seems to have morphed into a large angry bird.

Ultimately of course, none of this is important. Heraldic devices emerged long before the precise corporate logo and company trademark. They are a reminder of a time before widespread literacy, when pictures were the best way to convey information and to show the authority under which a body acted. Exact consistency was not important. The reasons for vampire dolphins, however, may remain a mystery.

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