Company of Watermen and Lightermen

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Watermen's Hall (1778-80), by William Blackburn.
Arms of mermaid and merman supporting fish and cross keys, with motto in old orthography "all worship be to God only"

The Company of Watermen and Lightermen (CWL) is a City Guild without Grant of Livery who historically licensed Thames Watermen. Its scope of occupations is now licensed in newer categories by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, however it maintains roles in organising apprenticeships, pro-river use lobbying and in centuries-old annual events and ceremonies.


Watermen are river workers who transfer passengers across and along city centre rivers and estuaries especially those affiliated to a guild as in some parts of Britain and its former colonies. Most notable are those on the Thames and Medway. Other rivers such as the Tyne and Dee in Wales had watermen who formed guilds in medieval times.[1]

Lightermen were workers who transferred goods between ships and quays (including wharves, jetties and piers). They specifically loaded, which is to say in mostly obsolete English once dominant in such activities 'laded' (surviving in bill of lading and the phrases fully laden with responsibility/ passengers / with heavy weight(s)) goods and later – after a ship's mooring or anchoring – 'alighted' other goods. In the port of London they overwhelmingly used flat-bottomed barges: lighters.[1]


Its medieval to industrial era consultable apprenticeship index[2] is a genealogy source.[1]

The annual race since 1715 (see below) has prompted three public houses in places associated with the Thames, all with memorabilia of the Company.

Apprenticeships and river transport lobbying[edit]

Belying its medieval guild roots, CWL is active in lobbying. Doing so alongside the Passenger Boat Association, CWL consults and negotiates with government and its agencies on behalf of members. In 2003 government grants were contracted to CWL to assist apprentices from the riverside east London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham.[1]

Ceremonial annual procession[edit]

The company organise the Knollys Rose Ceremony, the taking of a fresh rose to the Lord Mayor's Mansion House in a well-dressed procession every June since 1381.[1]

Rowing race[edit]

The Doggett's Coat and Badge, which was first raced in 1715, is the oldest continuously-run river race. It claims to be the oldest continually staged annual sports event;[3] though is among single sculls today rather than original skiffs or lighters. The winner's prize is a watermen's red coat plus a silver badge, displaying the horse of the House of Hanover and the word "Liberty", in honour of George I's coming to the throne. Each completing competitor of the six apprentices chosen receives a miniature of a Doggett's Badge for their lapel in a ceremony at Watermen's Hall, in silver for the winner and in bronze for the others. The Fishmongers' Company rewards the rowing clubs of the top four, tiered prizes of: £1,000; £600; £400; £200.[4]

Transport on Water[edit]

In 1975 a linked charity Transport On Water (TOW) was founded by members and people in public life. It aims to maintain the Thames and other waterways, including the Medway, as working rivers. It has organised The Thames Barge Driving Race (annually in June, since 1974).[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Company website
  2. ^ "Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section - Records of the Watermen & Lightermen". Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  3. ^ "Doggett Coat and Badge Race". The Company of Watermen and Lightermen. Archived from the original on 13 March 2006.
  4. ^ "Doggett's coat and badge, 1920. - People and places". Port Cities. 15 November 2012. Retrieved 30 November 2015.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°30′32″N 0°05′02″W / 51.509°N 0.084°W / 51.509; -0.084