About Thames Watermen and Lightermen

About Thames Watermen and Lightermen

Watermen and Lightermen – Watermen carry passengers whilst Lightermen carry goods and cargoes.

From ancient times the Thames has been the main highway for moving people and goods from the Estuary to London and beyond. The use of ferries was the only link across the River Thames before the building of the first London Bridge by the Romans. However evidence of the importance of the River was provided by Stow, who in his survey of 1598 related that some 40,000 men earned a living on or about the River. The Act of 1514 was passed by Parliament which regulated the fares charged on the River Thames. However the Watermen who carried passengers continued to act independently and an Act of 1555 appointed Rulers of all Watermen and Wherrymen working between Gravesend and Windsor, thus the Company of Watermen and Lightermen was born. The Act of 1555 also introduced apprenticeships for a term of one year for all boys wishing to learn the watermen’s trade and this was extended to seven years by a further Act in 1603.

The Company of Watermen & Lightermen’s principal activity is that of a working guild, providing services to its Freemen, facilitating an apprenticeship scheme, acting as trustee for its charities and participating in the traditions of the City of London. The Company is governed by a Court of Assistants. This is led by the Master and four Wardens who are elected annually by the Court. The Company has over 390 Freemen who are either Craft Owning or appointed as they have a special connection with the River. They also have some 500 Journeymen Freemen who have completed a five to seven year apprenticeship to become qualified Watermen and/or Lightermen (now the MCA National Boat Master’s Licence).


The Company of Watermen and Lightemen, is recognised as a City company but is without livery for historic reasons and known simple as The Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames.

Visit the Company of Watermen & Lightermen website by clicking here.