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Watermen of England

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Surname/tag: Occupations
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On the River Thames: a Waterman was someone licensed to navigate and pilot passenger vessels on the River Thames; a Lighterman, on the other hand, worked on barges, carrying goods or wares up and down the river and from cargo ships to shore) [1]

Watermen were also known as Boatmen in Britain. Boatmen are found in many census records with variations of occupations including 'coal boatman' or 'canal boatman'. Until the coming of the railways, boatmen could afford to keep their families in canalside cottages, but that the reduction in wages after that meant they had to take the whole family afloat. It's certainly true that narrow-boaters involved in long haul traffic lived with their families on the boats, and had no other home. It is not always the case, "canal boatmen" with landside addresses are known. In Britiain, if canal watermen and boatmen appear in a census, they do so in just the same way as anybody else, except their address is enumerated as being the boat they are on, rather than in a house. However, if they were genuine liveaboards, who never had a land address, the chances of finding them in a census are not good. As the censuses progressed, more emphasis was placed on trying to record them but the success rate was never good. If families happened to be on wharf at a fairly major location, then they were more likley recorded than, If they were on the move, on a long distance run, they were less likely to have been noted. Unlike seagoing vessels, they are not recorded on different forms from land based people. They sit in districts and are generally found in the final pages for the district. [2]

Some were on canals where there was a lot of short-haul work. The Birmingham Canal Navigations is an example - many of the boats used there either only had day cabins, or more often than not, none at all. [3]

The canal in the area of Dukinfield Cheshire was known as 'Dukinfield Hall'. Boatmen there did not live in cabins but in terraced houses along Gate Street, Ashton Street, etc. The canal can still be walked along today, and it seems to go through Stalybridge, Ashton, Dukinfield and Hyde. There are three canals that pass through this area, including the Huddersfield Canal. [4] It could take 5 days or more to bring a load of coal down from Midlands coalfields to London, so clearly living at home was not an option for crews involved in long distance carriage. [5]

There is a news forum from Rootsweb back in 2001, in which a member was 'collecting' boatmen from the 1881 census in Cheshire, where over 20 families were listed all living along Astley Street in Dukinfield who were all boat men, including the Turner family. [6]


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Categories: England, Watermen