Tradesmen of the Thames : success and failure among the watermen and lighter men families of the upper tidal Thames 1750-1901
This thesis explores the business of the boatmen on the Upper Tidal Thames (Teddington to Chiswick) from 1750 to 1901, and addresses the question of how it was that most of their families survived a series of threats to their trade - the buildingof new bridges and roads, the menace of the press gangs, and the development of steam ships and trains - and unexpectedly ended the 19th century in a stronger position than they had enjoyed in 1750. The research reaches the conclusion that those boatmen families that continued to work on the river did so because of the natural advantages of their locations, allied to an ability to adapt to new conditions.' In the picturesque upper reaches of the UTT most of the watermen took advantage of the increase in leisure activities by setting up as boat-hirers and boat-builders. Meanwhile most of the lightermen journeymen in Isleworth and Brentford benefited from the increased trade generated by . the building of the Grand Junction Canal and the Great Western terminal. However, there were two groups that did not succeed in adapting to the new circumstances: the lightermen owners found their own small fleets of lighters swamped by incomers who used steam tugs, and the' watermen in the down-stream villages of Mortlake, Barnes and Chiswiek were unable to create a leisure trade to replace their traditional business of carrying passengers and freight to London. The subsidiary factors that contributed to the survival or departure of the families in the 18th and early 19th century are explored in some detail. These included the considerable influence of widows, the threat of the press gangs and the use of protection, the value of sporting success and the prestige of Royal Watermen, and the problems posed by the size of the boatmen's families - often there were too few sons, occasionally too many. The thesis uses a database constructed from the index to the Company of Watermen and Lightermen's list of apprentices, and it collates a wealth of other data from the Company's massive and well-indexed archive, a resource very little used by academics. As the boatmen were key members of their communities, this analysis of their trade also adds a building block to our under-explored suburban history, supplying context for those researching similar business networks. It is hoped that this thesis may in time inspire a wider study of the archive and the suburban Thames.