Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thames Watermen & Their Wherries

Thursday, February 15, 2018
Thames Waterman—circa 1825
Loretta reports:

By 1833, the time of A Duke in Shining Armor, it would have been simple enough for my hero and heroine to get on a steamboat to continue upriver from Battersea Bridge. I decided to put them on a wherry instead. The chances of mishap on either vessel were good: Steamboats exploded, and wherries overturned or lost passengers overboard. And of course, I’m always looking for ways to make my characters’ lives difficult.

The wherries, about which I knew next to nothing, however, were aesthetically pleasing, and turned out to have a long history, while the watermen had a distinctive character.
“As may easily be imagined, they formed very much of a caste by themselves… They were a rough, saucy, and independent lot, if we may judge from allusions to them which occur in the novels, comedies, farces, and popular songs of the last century.”Old and New London Vol 3
Thames Wherries, Richmond 1829
As to their vessels:
Thames Wherries.—Of all wherries in the world, none are so beautifully modelled or so light and graceful as the "trim-built wherries" of the Thames. They are constructed upon the most scientific and approved lines; the numerous boatbuilders daily endeavouring to outvie each other. These boats are truly a pattern for all nations, and are the especial admiration of foreigners, particularly the smaller craft, adapted for a party of five or six. They have a beautiful sharp bow, with graceful proportions, carrying the beam well aft, or gradually flaring from the bows, and finishing with a neat tapering stern: a chair rail, for a support to the back, is prettily arranged round the stern-sheets, where the company sit.  —H.C. Folkard, Esq., The Sailing Boat 1863 3rd ed
Rowlandson, Thames Watermen 1807
Though I found images of wherries with a top covering, like the one described in the book, only recently did I come upon the term for these boats: “By a 'tilt' boat of course is meant a boat with a covering." —Old and New London Vol 3. Or, as the OED describes it: "tilt-boat n. [SE tilt-boat,] ‘a large rowing boat having a tilt or awning, formerly used on the Thames, esp. as a passenger boat between London and Gravesend."

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


sirlancelot said...

Great post! It seems like the Thames wherries were smaller than their Norfolk wherrie cousins.
The other major type of boat on the Thames is of course the Thames Barge. These are large and can easily be recognized by their wineglass shaped transom sterns and red sails. These were quite capable of cross channel journeys and often went to the coast of Holland.
There are a couple still on the river, I nearly booked a ride on one last year. If you have seen the recent film Dunkirk, there is one amongst the fleet of "small boats" near the end.

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