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a tale of Restoration intrigue by

Molly Brown

The Thames

The river was congested with traffic. During the Restoration era, there were about 3,000 watermen plying for hire along the river between Westminster and London Bridge alone. (There were as many as 40,000 between Windsor and Gravesend.)

The watermen operated a kind of taxi service, transporting people by wherry, a type of rowing boat which was wide at the centre and could carry at least eight passengers comfortably.

From a letter by the Secretary to the Venetian Ambassador, 1618:

The watermen's trade came under threat with the introduction of the hackney coach in 1565, followed by the sedan chair in 1634. The Waterman's Company succeeded in keeping hackney coaches out of London for many years (unless their journeys ended at least two miles from the river), but by the Reign of Charles II, hackney coaches had become firmly established in London and the competition for passengers was fierce.

verse by John Taylor, the "Water Poet":

extract from a pamphlet against coaches, published in 1679:

Yet another attack on stage-coaches, this time on the grounds of health, from England in the Reign of Charles II, David Ogg:

As there was only one bridge across the Thames (see London Bridge), the city was dependent upon the river for the transport of supplies. As a result, crime on the river was rife. Though not as glamorous as their Carribean counterparts, there were pirates on the Thames. Gangs of armed men sometimes robbed cargo ships in broad daylight. Another common type of piracy was to cut a ship loose from its moorings under cover of darkness, then follow it downstream until it went aground and remove its contents before dawn. Throughout the 16th and 17th century, hundreds of thousands of pounds was lost every year to the river pirates.

Convicted pirates were sentenced to be hung "until three tides had overflowed them". This was usually done at Wapping, at a place that came to be known as "Execution Dock". From there the bodies would be transported to a gibbet downstream near Blackwall, where they were hung up as a warning.

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(c) 1996 Molly Brown