Watermen’s Hall – 13 November 2017
Today our gallant band of active members met up at Monument Station prior to a short walk to Watermen’s Hall where we were welcomed by tea and biscuits and entertained by the Deputy Clerk of the Watermen’s Guild. We learned that the Guild was established during the reign of Henry V111 and consists of Lightermen and Watermen. The former were those who transferred goods from vessels too large to negotiate the upper reaches of the River Thames to storehouses on the river banks, thus making the larger ships ‘lighter’. By contrast, the watermen were river taxies who would allow passengers to cross the Thames up or down river for a negotiated price. Apparently, such was their monopoly, watermen were known to increase the price in remoter areas on pain of expulsion from the boat and a so-called wet landing.
The Guild, like all others, was effectively a precursor to the modern day closed shop. It is still active and organizes 5-year apprenticeships for those wishing to work on riverboats. Although in existence for over 500 years, Watermen’s charter and official status only dates back to 1827. In a similar manner to Livery Companies, Watermen Freemen enjoy significant status and the establishment has enjoyed friendly relationships with royalty down the ages, in particular with Queen Elizabeth 11.
Following a most interesting visit we took a short walk to our lunch venue, ‘The Walrus and The Carpenter’, where we enjoyed an excellent meal in a dining room decorated by various scenes from Alice in Wonderland. As usual, funds generated by this visit will be available to support ESU core functions as the need arises.
This story was submitted by the ESU Epping and Essex branch. Please click here for information on this branch and its upcoming events.