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8  Watermen and Lightermen 1660 - 1700

Watermen and Lightermen, 1660-74

In 1641 the watermen had complained that hay- and straw-boatmen and other goods carriers were carrying passengers, contrary to the Act of 1555, and thus stealing their trade. Their proposed solution on this occasion was to suggest that no-one be allowed to carry passengers or goods unless he were free of the Watermen's Company; and that he serve a 7-year apprenticeship (to a waterman?).[1]

     This idea was eventually to come to fruition in 1700, when the watermen and lightermen were joined together into one company.

Lighter: a boat used for loading and unloading the cargo of a ship (which cannot be brought right up to the wharf).

     The lightermen, whom we first heard of 'working unlawful engines and instruments' in 1659 - 60, petitioned the City in 1667 to be admitted to the same rights as those free of the Company of Watermen.[2] This seems to have been a response to the long-running dispute between them and the watermen. In November of that year, the watermen complained that 'certain persons who were never bred in the trade of watermen', and independent of the Company, 'have lately erected a new kind of employment and keep and row lighters', carrying certain merchandises, 'to the great impoverishment of the petitioners and decay of their Company'.[3] In January 1668 the 'matter in difference' between the two groups was referred to a committee of the Court of Aldermen for settlement.[4]

     The next we hear is in 1673. In January the Aldermen heard the rulers' complaints about the lightermen's 'infringements' of watermen's privileges. And in April the lightermen and wharfingers petitioned about 'differences' between them and the watermen. Both petitions were referred to a committee. In September the committee produced a provisional report, which put forward four recommendations. Masters and owners of lighters who were free of the City were to have the same 'privileges' with the Company as free watermen. Free lightermen were to be restricted to one apprentice, the others to be turned over to watermen or watermen's widows for the rest of their apprenticeships. All free lightermen, and their 'servants' that came to be free of the Company, should be eligible to be rulers or assistants. Lightermen would be free to employ boys under 18 to row in lighters (but not wherries), and when they reached 18 they were each to be bound to some waterman or waterman's widow. [5]

     But no decision appears on this matter at this time.

The Act of Parliament of 1700

The Act amalgamated the watermen and lightermen into a single company, the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames.

Three lightermen rulers were added to the eight watermen, making a total of eleven.



1. Lords MSS, 3 May 1641, rulers' petn, annex, fos. 4, 5. Back

2. Humpherus, I, p.320. Back

3. PRO, PC2/60, fo.35b, 27 Nov. 1667. Back

4. Rep.73, fo.47a. Back

5. Rep.78, fos.72b, 160b, 271b-272a. Back

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