|History of London Watermen|
Need for regulation
By Elizabethan times Thames watermen had become some of the most important tradesmen in London. But work on the river could be dangerous for poorly qualified men in unsuitable boats. Accidents were frequent, and passengers were often overcharged.
In 1514, in Henry VIII’s reign, Parliament found it necessary to introduce an Act to regulate watermen’s fares. A further Act of 1555 led to the foundation of the Company of Watermen and the introduction of apprenticeships on the river. The original one-year waterman’s apprenticeship became seven years in 1603.
The Company of Watermen and Lightermen
Watermen flourished in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and many popular prints and ceramic figures illustrate their activities. Some of these caricatures make fun of the watermen’s rivalry when touting for passengers and the reputation of the less scrupulous for overcharging.
However, competition from new bridges, improved road and rail transport and Thames steamers with their heavy wash, eventually led to a decline in the number of watermen.
The lightermen, however, benefited at first from the increase in the shipping trade of the Port of London. But they were severely affected by new cargo-handling methods introduced into the docks in the second half of the 20th century.
Changes to the Company's role
Today, the principal activities of the Company are the training of apprentices and the charitable support of watermen and their families. The Watermen’s Company also continues to encourage an interest in rowing and the use of the Thames, as well as traditional City of London ceremonial river events.
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