Carlingford Road, London, N15. Photo ©RogerDean 2016
Toilers in London – One of the Crowd, :
The Thames Watermen
Gay City ladies have for this half a century past ceased to inquire after “first oars,” and since the steamboats and the railroad have fixed the fare to Greenwich at fourpence the Thames waterman has lost the custom of the commonality as well. And the worst of it is, he seems utterly incapable of accommodating himself to circumstances or of making the best of things. Take any of the “stairs” affected by his tribe on either shore above London Bridge, and there will be found ten or a dozen drooping listlessly on the ancient seat or lolling against the rails, or pottering amongst the boats below with a stunned and bewildered air, as though the crushing blow steamboats dealt them had fallen but a month or two ago, and they as yet had no time to recover from it and look about them. Their boats are unpainted and shabby, and are mended and botched in raw and unsightly patches, as though the owners expected to be swept away altogether very shortly, and it didn’t matter. As for the dress of the men themselves, in the majority of cases there is nothing in it to denote them watermen – not even a check shirt, a black silk neckerchief tied in a sailor’s knot, or a round glazed hat. They might from their appearance be out-of-work carmen or hard-up warehouse porters. There would seem to be something in the nature of salt water that has an improving effect on a man’s regard for personal appearance. There is an indescribable smartness about a sea sailor under the most unfavourable conditions. His affairs may be far from prosperous, but he has ever a cheerful look forward for a turn of the tide of bad luck, and a free and flowing ready-for-action bearing that is unmistakable. But, judging from what one sees, river water is not so well adapted for preserving British pluck and perseverance.