The Twickenham Museum
Exhibitions : Villages on the River

Watermen
It was a rough life, and bred rough people…

watercolour by Augustin Heckel, 1748

The river has long been a conduit for the movement of goods and people and a focus for leisure.

At Twickenham, the Town Wharf at the foot of Wharf Lane and Church Wharf at the foot of Church Lane were flanked by warehouses and the workshops of trades sited to receive supplies from river barges. Between them, at the lower end of Water Lane, stood the Watermans' Arms. This inn is first recorded in 1722 but was probably there much earlier. Acting both as hostelry and a point for boat hire it refreshed watermen and customers alike, the former probably to excess. It was a rough life, and bred rough people.

Twickenham Riverside, c1817 - watercolour after Thomas Girtin

From about 1555 watermen between Windsor and Gravesend were licensed and after 1585 the Company of Watermen & Lightermen introduced a one year apprenticeship, extended to seven years in 1603. This encouraged dynastic succession: the Goose, Love, Blower and Hammerton families in Twickenham and Teddington were connected with the river for generations, as was the Benn family in Hampton.

With the coming of better roads and the railways, river traffic declined. There was a further challenge: steamers, able to carry large numbers of passengers more quickly. In response, watermen banded together to form their own steam packet company. Waterman I was the first of a series of fast packets which were put into service between 1840 and 1844.

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