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Grammar glossary: what words do


  1/- In 1901, a pound was divided into 20 shillings. There were 12 pennies in each shilling. The way to write one shilling was 1s, or 1/-. This was changed in 1971 to a decimal system, with 100 pennies in a pound. Shillings (then worth 5p) disappeared. One shilling often called a 'bob' is equivalent to 5p in todays money. It was worth a lot more in 1901. A clerk in London would earn 16/- a week. A good breakfast would have cost 1/2 a shilling (6d or 2.5 pence of todays money) and you could rent a sparsely furnished corner of a partitioned attic for 4/- a week in central London. In the first part of the century 7/- was worth about £10 today. (Also see penny.)

An apprentice is someone who has a contract agreement to learn a trade from a master of that trade. For example, in 1901, a boy could become a lighterman's apprentice when he was 14. He had to work for the lighterman for seven years. Then, if he passed a test, he was free to work anywhere on the river.

  ARMS FACTORY An arms factory makes guns and explosives.
  BARGE A long boat with a large hold (storage space), for carrying cargo up and down rivers, canals and coastal waters. A Thames barge has sails or an engine or both, so it can go against the tide.
  BOW The front of a boat.
  CARGO Goods carried in a boat or ship, to be bought and sold.
  CAUSEWAY A raised path over wet ground. Along the Thames at low tide, you need a causeway to get across the mud to the water. At high-tide the causeway off Crane Street is covered by water.
  CHARRING Cleaning floors and furniture in homes and offices.
  COAL Coal is a hard, black, shiny rock which splits into layers. It burns well because it contains a lot of carbon, like wood.

A ship which carries coal. Colliers carried coal up and down the coasts of Scotland and England.


A dock is an area of water by a wharf, where ships stop to load and unload their cargoes. The docks along the Thames are man-made. By 1800 there were so many ships using the river, there was not room for them all to stop in the river. The first docks were dug on the Isle of Dogs, the land north of the river opposite Greenwich. Thousands of people from the south side of the river worked here, loading and unloading ships.

  DRAPER A draper’s shop sells material for making clothes and curtains.
  ELECTRICITY From the 1840s, people began to make cables to carry electric current and electric signals.
  FURLED Folded

There are places along the Thames shore where you can climb down to the water at low tide. Watermen used to wait at the river stairs for passengers. If you wanted to go somewhere by boat, you went to the river stairs and hired a waterman in a skiff to row you there. Garden Stairs are still found at Cutty Sark Gardens, Greenwich.

  GUINEA 21 shillings, one shilling more than a pound. (£1.05) 1 shilling = 5 pence
  HERRING A smallish, silver-coloured fish. Every year a vast shoal of herring swam around the coast of Britain. The herring shoal was followed by a fleet of fishing boats. The boats came ashore at certain towns to gutt and pack the fish in barrels of salt, and then sell it.
  LIGHTER A lighter is like a barge but it has no sails or engine. It looks like a long floating skip. It has a big open hold for carrying cargo. In 1901, lighters went up and down the river with the tides. Today, they are towed by tug-boats. They carry goods between ships and the shore. They also carry goods from one place to another up and down the river.
  MILLWALL DOCKS Another name for this part of London is the Isle of Dogs. The five large docks here are called Millwall Docks (outer and inner) and West India Docks (north, middle and main). There are also two smaller docks, called Blackwall Basin and Poplar Dock. You can still see these docks today, along the route of the DLR trains between Island Gardens and Canary Wharf.
  MOORED A boat is moored when it is tied in a fixed place, so that it doesn't move.
  MOORINGS A place where boats are tied up or anchored so that they do not move.

In 1901 there were 240 pennies in a pound. A penny could be divided in half (a ha'penny — ½d) and into quarters (a farthing — ¼d). 12 pence made a shilling. This system lasted until 1971, when old pennies were replaced by new pennies with 100 pennies in a pound.

  PORTER A dark brown beer, with a rich bitter flavour. In 1901 you could take a jug to the pub and have it filled with beer to take home.

You say this word ‘kee’.
A quay is a platform at the waterside. It is there to help ships load and unload cargo.

  QUEEN Victoria was born on 24 May 1819. She was 18 when she became Queen in 1837. Victoria died in January 1901, aged 81.

A rivet is like a like a large metal bolt, but it has no thread. It was heated red-hot and put through holes in iron plates to hold them together. One end had the head. The other end was beaten flat. When it cooled, it pulled the plates tightly together. You can see rivets on old railway bridges and railway stations.

  SEWING MACHINE W. J. Harris & Co., sewing machine and perambulator makers, had a shop at 66 London Street.
  SHILLING In 1901, a pound was divided into 20 shillings. There were 12 pennies in each shilling. The way to write one shilling was 1s, or 1/-. This was changed in 1971 to a decimal system, with 100 pennies in a pound. Shillings (then worth 5p) disappeared.
  SIEMENS BROTHERS & COMPANY LIMITED Wilhelm von Siemens (from 1883 Sir William Siemens) was one of five brothers. In 1858, with his brother Werner, he set up a factory on the site where the Thames Barrier building is now. The factory made cables for the undersea telegraph links between Britain, Europe, North America and the other continents. Before the telegraph, it took over a week to send a message from London to New York — the time it took for a ship to cross the Atlantic and deliver the message. The electric telegraph let people send messages thousands of miles around the world in a few minutes.
  SKIFF A skiff is a small open wooden boat for carrying people. It may be rowed with two oars, one on each side of the boat, or it can be sculled with one oar over the back of the boat.

Coal smoke from homes and factories made the air dirty. Wet weather made the air damp. When dry air mixed with damp air, the air became cloudy and heavy. It became yellow smog. People breathed in a lot of dirt, which made them cough. Sometimes the smog weas so thick, people could not see through it. The fog was always worse on the river. Lightermen said that when it was smoggy, they could find still their way on the river because they knew all the smells which came from warehouses along their route.


From about 1810 steam power was used to drive boats. To use steam power, water is heated until it boils and turns to steam. The steam powers the piston which then turns the ship's paddles or propeller. Early steamships sometimes caught fire or blew up.

  STERN The back of a boat.
  SWEEPS Sweeps are long heavy oars, used to direct and drive a boat.
  TELEGRAM A message sent by telegraph. Telegraph is sending electric signals along a copper wire inside a cable. The message is sent letter by letter. Each letter of the alphabet is sent as a pattern of long and short signals. The signal is controlled by a magnetic needle. The system was invented in the 1830s by Samuel Morse, an American painter, art teacher and designer.
  THAMES WATERMEN AND LIGHTERMEN A waterman's trade is to carry people by boat. Until the 19th century, the easiest way to get around London was by boat. A waterman's skiff was like a taxi. You could hire one, and the waterman rowed you to the river stairs closest to where you wanted to go. You could travel along the Thames in one of the new steam-driven ferries. New docks were built, so more and more big ships used the river. The river got very busy. It was risky for people to travel in small rowing boats. All these things meant that the watermen's work changed: instead of rowing passengers in skiffs, they took lighters full of cargo up and down the river. This is the trade of a lighterman.
  TIDE The tide is the daily rise and fall of sea level. Like all rivers, the Thames flows down to the sea. But when the tide rises in the sea, the sea water floods up the river Thames. On the Thames in London, the tide rises and falls roughly every 12 hours 25 minutes. So every day, the two high tides are about half-an-hour later than they were the day before. At Greenwich, the Thames can rise or fall by 16 feet with the tide.
  TRAM A bus which runs on rails in the road. Trams pulled by horses ran in London from the 1860s. In 1901, some tram routes were being changed to run on electricity. The tram routes in Greenwich became electric in 1906.
  TUNNEL The foot tunnel between Greenwich pier (on the south side of the Thames) and Island Gardens (on the north side) was opened in 1902. It is still in use today.
  WHARF A wharf is a level area of shore by deep water where ships stop. At the wharf, goods are loaded and unloaded onto the ships.
  WINCH A winch is a machine for pulling or lifting heavy things. You wind or unwind a rope or chain, to raise or lower something. In 1901, some winches were worked by hand, by turning a handle. Others were worked by steam engines.
  ZINC BATH In 1901, most people did not have bathrooms. No-one had a washing machine. For washing, people would heat water on the stove.



Grammar glossary: what words do

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