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Findmypast recently released the fascinating Thames Watermen records, covering the men who ferried people up and down the Thames in the black cabs of the their day. Running from Gravesend in Berkshire to Windsor in Kent, the taxis were a popular way to travel. There is an Irish connection to this watery profession too.
Thomas Doggett, 17th century Irish actor turned Drury lane star
The earliest Irish link to the watermen was a customer rather than a driver. The actor Thomas Doggett was born in Dublin around 1640. His first London performance, as Nincompoop in the play Love for Money, in 1691 drew plenty of attention and he was soon playing to packed houses.
He was known as a comic actor and highly regarded by his contemporaries. He even became the joint manager of Drury Lane Theater. At the height of his fame he relied heavily on the watermen to get from the theater to his home in Chelsea.
Legend has it that one day he lost his footing and fell into the Thames. He was fished out by waterman and, in gratitude, he set up the race that would be his legacy. While the dipping is disputed, the race endures to this day. Doggett's Coat and Badge is the oldest rowing race in the world.
Each year six young apprentices raced from the Swan pub at London Bridge to the Swan pub in Chelsea. The prize was, and is, a red waterman's jacket with a silver badge commemorating the accession of George 1 to the throne. The race was first run on August 1, 1815, the first anniversary of the King's coronation (Doggett was a proud Whig).
Doggett died in 1821, leaving instructions in his will for the race to continue.
There were Irishmen among the watermen themselves as well.
Edward Henry Javins, the boy from Galway Bay
Among these was Edward Henry Javins, a native of Dangan. Edward Javins was born in 1881 in Galway, and apprenticed to his master Thomas George Puckett in 1911. He must have been still apprenticed when he married Annie Deeks in 1916 as apprenticeships could last up to seven years.
Life on the river perhaps must have taken its toll, as Edward is shown as incapacitated in the 1939 Register, with Annie still by his side and retired port worker Harry Collett sharing their home.
Life on the river perhaps had taken its toll, Edward is shown as incapacitated in the 1939 census, with Annie still by his side
Edward died in 1947, still living in Hackney, as he seems to have ever since he came to London. A life on the river would have been a natural choice for a boy from Galway Bay, but how different the grey Thames would have been from the blue of the Atlantic.
Edward Javins and Thomas Doggett are two very different Irishmen who were tied to the Thames. Glimpses of their lives can be found in the records along with many thousands of Irish men and women who made their lives in London.
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