For the first time, almost 100,000 records of Thames watermen and lightermen have been made available online.
Family history website findmypast.co.uk has published online just under 100,000 records of Thames watermen and lightermen, spanning the years 1688 to 1949.
Watermen were highly skilled boatmen who carried passengers up and down and across the Thames in rowing boats, steam boats, sailing boats and vessels. Lightermen worked on cargo boats rather than passenger vessels.
The collection comprises the following records:
- names of competitors and those eligible to compete in the Doggett Coat & Badge Hanover prize race 1715-2010 – including details of where they were from, the date of the race and their position in the race. This is the oldest annual sporting event in the world and first took place on 1 August 1715 between London Bridge and Chelsea. The records give the name of every known competitor, including those who were unsuccessful in the drawing of lots at Watermen’s Hall or the trials held at Putney.
- Corporation of Trinity House licences issued to ex-mariners to ply their trade as Thames Watermen between the dates 1829 and 1864 , giving the date and their age when the licence was issued;
- Company of Watermen & Lightermen of River Thames Binding records 1692-1949 (apprenticeship records);
- a register of contract licences for over aged boys 1865-1926;
- binding dates and birth proof affidavits 1898-1949;
- reassignments 1698-1908: a list of apprentices who were reassigned from one master to another, with information about both the masters and the apprentices.
The Thames is the only river in the United Kingdom that Parliament regulates for the training and apprenticeship of young men to the trade of watermen and lightermen. Originally boys were bound to a master (or mistress, who was normally the widow of a freeman) for one year. During the 19th century, however, the apprenticeship period was altered so the boy served between five and seven years, completing his apprenticeship at the age of 21.
Amy Sell of findmypast.co.uk says: “We often get asked about researching Thames watermen ancestors, so it’s very exciting that these records are now available for anyone to search online for the first time. There’s a rumour that one of my own ancestors won the Doggett Coat & Badge race, so I can’t wait to take a look. And if you find one waterman or lighterman in your family tree, it’s likely that you’ll find more, as this tended to be an occupation that ran in families.”
The 99,140 new records can be searched from the ‘Education & work’ area at findmypast.co.uk. They form part of the Thames-side and Medway collection, which also contains parish baptism, marriage and burial records for the region.