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Ferry Service on the Thames

Until the Putney Bridge was built in 1729, the only means by which to cross the River Thames was by London Bridge or by boat. Watermen were employed in great numbers to row people, goods and equipment around London in boats known as wherries. Wherries were small open rowing boats used originally to carry passengers on the tidal reaches of the Thames. Noted for their great speed, wherries were sometimes called “light-horsemen”. Wherries measured a standard length of 22½ feet, and could take up to five passengers. Normally a wherry was rowed by two men with long oars. But for cross-river passages and other short journeys it would be manned by a single waterman using short oars or ‘sculls’; it was then known as a ‘sculler’. For some time boats were the quickest way to travel any distance in London. Until the Westminster Bridge was built in 1750, Vauxhall Gardens could only be reached by water via a six pence boat ride. Even after the bridge was built the trip to Vauxhall was best made by boat due to footpads stalking the roads. In fact it was quicker to walk than ride in London’s narrow, uneven streets, but it was unsafe to walk in many areas. The Company of Watermen was established by Act of Parliament in 1555 not only to protect the economic interests of its members but also to regulate them and their activities. Queen Elizabeth I granted the company its arms in 1585. Officers empowered to license

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