19 February 2016
Tim Koch writes:
A 2013 television documentary on Thames Watermen and Lightermen has recently been put on YouTube and it is a programme well worth putting aside 40 minutes to watch. The original press release from Britain’s Channel 4 starts:
On London’s iconic river, boats are handled by a closed community of Watermen and Lightermen – men whose families have worked the Thames for centuries. They were once a powerful working-class tribe, proud of their royal connections and ancient customs, but today the jobs are drying up and their traditions are under threat. ‘Men of the Thames’ delves into the hidden world of three Thames dynasties – die-hard tug drivers, the Andrews, riverboat royalty, the Dwans, and passenger boat entrepreneurs, the Prentices. With a unique perspective on big river events from the Jubilee Pageant to the Olympics, this film charts the Watermen’s summer of London 2012, the personal and economic challenges they face and a historic way of life fighting to survive. For these cockney men, the Diamond Jubilee year has been bittersweet – in part a celebration and, in part, a reminder of a world they lost when London’s docks shut down and EU directives sank their 450-year-old tradition of apprenticing their sons into the river trade.
Unfortunately, the first few minutes are missing but it starts from the point where Bob Prentice and his family get out of the lighterage business (carrying cargo) and into the passenger boat trade. The film ends with Merlin Dwan’s attempts to become the fifth living member of his family to win the Doggett’s Coat and Badge.