Nick Ardley speaks!
‘Felixstowe was the first container port in the country when it opened half a century ago and yet, as the great cranes were being built, I was aboard the vessel delivering the port’s last freight under sail.
‘Standing on the mast-deck of the 91ft Thames Sailing Barge Cambria, as the narrow dock entrance neared, was the 18-year-old mate, myself, anxiously awaiting the order to stow sail. At the wheel was the 63-year-old skipper, Bob Roberts, carefully judging the ebb which was running across the mouth of the dock entrance.
‘Cambria was already long out of her time: other sailing barges had been converted to power, houseboats or yachts, while the majority had been hulked in lonely creeks. So a crowd of bystanders had gathered to watch us sail in. This did not help my growing nervous tension. There was even a young mother who turned her pram to face the water so baby could watch, too. “Come on, Bob,” I said under my breath, “give the order.” Read more…
Our musical friend Kathy Wallwork’s grandfather was a Thames lighterman and she takes great interest and pride in his medallion presented by the Amalgamated Society of Foremen Lightermen, and the photos.
Here’s what she says about them:
‘My Grandpa, Henry Charles Coppock, was a lighterman on the River Thames in the Pool of London. He became apprenticed to his father, William Joseph Coppock on 3th June 1893 at the age of 15, and gained his freedom on 10th July 1900 age 22. He then served in the Second Boer War from 1901 until 1902. Three of Grandpa’s brothers were also bound apprentice to their father as lightermen.
‘A late uncle of mine told me that Grandpa walked from his house at 326 Southwark Park Road in Bermondsey, up through Cherry Garden Street, then left along the roads that border the Thames to either Butler’s Wharf or Hay’s Wharf to board the lighter and begin work on transferring goods between the ships anchored in the Thames and the docks. He was well known in the area and as regular as clockwork, and my uncle said that you could set your watch by him. People would say: “There goes Harry, off to work.”
‘Lightermen had to be fit and healthy, for physical strength was required for the unpowered lighters, and the job demanded a higher level of intelligence than many of the available trades. There was the necessity of being able to read and interpret tide tables and negotiate the tides and currents in the river and the docks with the lighter. According to Charles Booth (who carried out his survey of life and labour in London between 1886 and 1903) his category F included: “Higher class labour and the best paid of the artisans. Earnings exceed 30s per week. Foremen are included, city warehousemen of the better class and first hand lightermen; they are usually paid for responsibility and are men of good character and much intelligence.” Grandpa worked for the Union Lighterage Company, and joined the lightermen’s union, the Amalgamated Society of Foremen Lightermen. Their motto was “At command of our superiors”. It merged with the Transport and General Workers Union in 1969.
‘Grandpa’s later career saw him promoted to a supervisory position in charge of all oil transport. He died in 1941 from pulmonary tuberculosis, age 63.
‘I would like to discover a bit more about the medallion in the [second] photograph. Does it represent the year (1916) in which my Grandpa held the position of President, or whatever the head role was, of the union?’
If you can answer Kathy’s question, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll pass the message on.