Danny Dyer’s Family Tree Part 2: Watermen and Lightermen


“Redknap’s men would wend their way through the Poplar marshes, and would need more than a pint of Ale when they arrived at the Inn on Dolphin Lane, they would be looking out for a meeting with Edward Dyer a fellow Waterman from the lane, to row their packages across to the Wealthy residents of Greenwich and upriver to the City of London.”

Father Thames

The Thames was tfather thameshe main thoroughfare of London, its name goes back to pre-Celtic Indo-European languages as Temisios, to the Romanised version as Tamesis, the name just meant dark or muddy river.  The river kept its name as Tameis  until the 16th century, when an “H” was added in order to try to reinforce the false idea that the name was derived from Greek and Celtic.  The many foreign sailors who plied the river called it “The London River”, but to Cockneys, to this day, it is just “The River”, everyone in London knows which one you mean.

The River has two different physical parts; the tidal part reaching from the North Sea and English Channel to Staines, which meant that the level rose and fell up to 28ft at some points, and indeed The River could be seen to flow in both directions, both upstream and downstream depending on the direction of the tide, lending the river a strange and mystical air to the natives who settled on its banks; a river that flows backwards at certain times of the day was indeed a strange thing.  On this tidal stretch the river rarely flooded more than the marshes on its banks, but could summon up a terrible flood when influenced by tidal surges from the North sea.  The tidal river brought the wealth of the world’s nations to London in commercial trade, plus more domestically, the Coal and Timber of the North of England, the Limestone of Southwest England, as well as the fruit and veg of the market gardens of Kent and Essex.  The other half of The River, the non-tidal part, flowed from its source in Gloucestershire down to Staines; faster flowing, fed by the rain off the fields and hills, and tending to break its banks to feed the fields that grew the corn and cattle to help feed London.

In these ways The Thames extended London’s reach from Gloucestershire to the North Sea along its navigable length of over 230 miles.  However, as well as the division between Tidal and non-tidal Thames, there was a much more local division to London.  As already mentioned in Part 1 of Danny Dyer’s Family History, London Bridge, built on a shallower part of The River, stopped the travel of larger vessels upstream.  This meant that to get upstream through the dangerous arches under London Bridge took great skill and experience, unskilled boats were frequently capsized trying to shoot the arches of London Bridge, and many passengers were drowned and goods lost.  In an age of poor roads, in a crowded City, where the easiest and fastest transport was by boat, the need for skilled and trusted boatmen was high.

Watermen and Lightermen

It is into this environment in the boom time of the British Empire, that Edward Dyer (Danny Dyer’s Great Great Great Great Grandfather) enters the story and takes his apprenticeship as a Waterman in 1803 at the age of 14. This meant seven years of boatmanindentured labour.  In return for being clothed, housed, feed while he learned his trade, Edward would agree to work six days per week for his Master, wouldn’t swear, gamble, or take strong liquor, and absolutely could not marry during that time, he may have received no wages at all, or perhaps the odd piece of pocket money, a hard life for a boy, but at the end of it he would be a man with a profession, licensed to carry passengers and goods safely on the Thames.  He would also have developed a physique to match his work’s demands, pulling on big oars in a Thames Wherry up, down, and across the river, six days per week, several hours per day, would build a magnificent physique, a strong back, big arms and shoulders, and calloused hands with a vice like grip, plus the stamina of a cart horse.

Romantic Deptford

During his time plying passengers between the North and South Banks of the Thames, Edward met Mary Robertson from Deptford on the Kent (South) side of the River, he was no doubt courting her between trips to and fro from the old East India shipyards at Deptford, to the new East India Shipyards at Blackwall, and, immediately after he finished his apprenticeship and was free to do so, he wasted no time in marrying Mary on 28th June 1810 in St Alphege Church at Greenwich.

Ironically St Alfege was the Archbishop of Canterbury who was unlucky enough to St_Alfegehave been captured by the same Danish Vikings who had captured London, and been seen off from by the Norwegian Viking Olaf (St Olave in Part 1 of Danny Dyer’s story) when London Bridge was pulled down. Alfege really was unlucky, his monks were unable to raise the ransom asked by the Danes for his release, so the Danes took him down near The River and executed him, on that spot was built St Alphege’s Church, and rebuilt in 1712-1714, this is where Edward Dyer and Mary Robertson married.

The couple set up home in Butcher Lane Deptford, where their first child Elenor Dyer was born in 1812.  The sojourn South of The River was short lived, and by 1814 when their second child, named Edward after his father , is born in Limehouse.The couple would have six more children up to 1832 all born in Poplar.

London Bridge Really was falling down

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“London Bridge 1830”. Licensed under PD-US via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:London_Bridge_1830.jpg#mediaviewer/File:London_Bridge_1830.jpg

 

Times were changing, in 1810 Locks were put in up River at Teddington, bringing the tidal reach of the Thames back 16 miles down river from its former reach at Staines, taming and controlling the River’s ebb and flow upstream.  A more important change for Edward Dyer the Waterman was when London Bridge finally did fall down, this happened when the “new” London Bridge was built between 1825 and 1831, the old bridge was torn down once the new bridge was completed, and the new bridge had a major impact on the Thames Watermen. Much wider spans meant  that progress for boats was much safer than it had been, so people could be transported with much less risk, and this was taken advantage of by unlicensed watermen, swarming like unlicensed mini-cabs to transport travellers up and down the river.  Worse still, steamboats came onto the river scene in large numbers from the 1830s and by 1835 it was estimated that around 3.5 million passengers travelled per year between The City and Blackwall, virtually all by steamboat.

Watermen would need to pick up adhoc passengers wanting private transport and any given time that it was required.  This was reflected in the impact it had on Edward’s living, he temporarily went into transporting goods rather than people as a Lighterman in 1828, and the building of an Iron Bridge over the River Lea into Essex, and the roads linking Poplar from Blackwall to North Millwall, and on into the City meant that foot and horse travel was greatly improved all the way from South Essex into the City of London, with an associated decline in the need for the transport of travellers by Watermen on the river.  This period also coincides with outbreaks of Cholera among dockside communities, and Edward and Mary lost three of their children in infancy between 1814 and 1831, Edward, Caroline, and Emma.

But the early 1800s weren’t all bad news for the Dyers, despite the declines in certain routes for Watermen and the tragic loss of their children, work was always there as the Docks boomed, so there was always a background demand for transport, and Mary’s family connections across the Thames in Greenwich and Deptford opened options for transporting workers across to Blackwall as the new and expanding docks drew in many workers from south as well as north of the river.  And big families meant at least some children would survive.

Just as the Dyer’s Family had risen in three generations from 4 and then 6 Dyers, to Edward and Mary’s Family of 11 children and adults, albeit reduced by the Cholera Father Thames brought to their door, Poplar had also grown from 1,000 people in the 1600s to over 4,000 in 1801, and tripled again to more than 12,000 by 1821.

An echo of Smugglers

The Dyers lived in Alpha Street.  Alpha Street had an interesting history, as it developed from the old Poplar marshland path which ended in the local Beer House and a few cottages, a welcome sight for any lost travellers that had wandered through the marshes of pre-industrial Poplar.  This sounds innocuous, but the sight of the tavern and the Watermen’s cottages appearing out of the mists of the Poplar marshes would also have been a welcome sight to men travelling with carts and pack horses filled with luxury goods, which may have avoided Customs Tax on its way over from France and the Netherlands.

Goods were brought to landing places at Blackwall and the River Lea by the (alleged) smuggling Foreman family (ancestors of Jamie and Freddie Foreman of acting and Kray Twins fame) bringing goods upriver from their Boat Yards at Faversham, a handy route avoiding the Royal Naval Cutters on the Isle of Sheppey.  Enos Redknap (ancestor of Harry and Jamie Redknapp of footballing fame) Landlord of The Gunn Inn at Cold Harbour would be a man to deal with, under the patronage of the Royal naval Boatyard close by, the sailors turning smugglersred“Nelson’s Eye” to the unofficial business ventures of this man from a long line of King’s watermen.  Redknap’s men would wend their way through the Poplar marshes, and would need more than a pint of Ale when they arrived at the Inn on Dolphin Lane, they would be looking out for a meeting with Edward Dyer a fellow Waterman from the lane, to row their packages across to the Wealthy residents of Greenwich and upriver to the City of London.

The Taming of the Marshesmillwall

As the marshes in North Millwall were dug out to build the docks for the East India Company, Alpha road developed a position as a route between the Millwall and West India Docks.  The days of smugglers were coming to an end, to be replaced by the Dockers and shipwrights.  The older cottages from the 1700s penetrated by the cold and damp miasmas of the marshes, a harsh environment to try to raise nine children in, both the floors of houses and the marshland paths were dirt based, but by the early 1800s these were starting to be replaced by houses thrown up by speculators which were still rough and slum like, but set out in straight lines with wooden floors along cobbled streets.eastindiadocksentrance

Times were changing, some things for the better some for the worse, Edward and Mary’s surviving daughters would marry local Smiths, Boiler Makers, and Shipwrights, and their one remaining son Edward William Dyer (Danny Dyer’s Great Great Great Grandfather) would serve as an apprentice to his father as a Waterman,  and his Father Edward would persist in his trade as a Waterman, but the takings were ever diminishing, and in Edward’s case would lead to poverty and eventual death In Poplar workhouse in 1864, Mary outlived him by a few years to 1867, moving one of her daughters and her family in and working as a Housekeeper.  Both Edward and Mary Dyer had lived into their seventies, a good age for working class people in early Victorian London.  But now the steamers on the Thames easily passing London Bridge and offloading their passengers onto purpose built jetties had stolen the Waterman’s Trade, the removal of trade barriers and a numerous Customs and Police Force spelled the death of smuggling, and the metal ships in the dockyards heralded a new age.  We shall see in Part 3 how the Dyers adapted.

(If you would like your Family tree uncovered, it costs from £300 to £600 for a full surname line, and makes for a great present.  Ccntact me on paulmcneil@timedetectives.co.uk if interested.)

Jamie Foreman’s Family Story; Part 1 Origins in Faversham, Kent





Most people will know Jamie from his many film roles as well as his menacing portrayal of Derek Branning in BBC’s Eastenders.  His family history is equally dramatic, and is outlined here.

Origins of the Family

In Faversham Kent

The Foreman name is predominantly an eastern England Coastal name.  From Northumberland in the North to Kent in the South the name spreads down the English coastline, with the notable almost exception of Essex where the name’s history is sparse. Jamie’s ancestors were no exception to this rule. The name is Old English, and most likely derivation is from “foremost” or “leading” man, exactly as the work position of foreman in the building trade denotes a leader of a team of men, the same was true of the first holders of this name, in this case perhaps a leader of a team of shipwrights or carpenters.  The fact that the name distribution corresponds roughly to the areas first settled by the Angles and Jutes, among the sophisticated seagoing communities of the Romano/Belgic British on the east coast of England, may indicate that this was a name applied by the Germanic incomers to leaders of craftsmen from the original inhabitants of the area who were still prized for their abilities in carpentry and metalwork.

On the North Kent Coast a tidal Creek off The Swale in the Thames Estuary had given a safe harbour to boats navigating around the Isle of Sheppey, trading up the Thames and with mainland Europe.  Since at least the Iron Age British Belgic tribesmen had traded with their cousins in Northern France and the Low Countries, well before the Romans invaded, and the Romans, always having an eye for both the strategic and a profit, developed the port on the creek as a stopping off point between London and Gaul, and dredged the Oyster beds that provided tons of food for Roman households.

This trade port was still prized after the Roman Province of Britannia broke up in the Dark Ages and gave a summer residence to the Jutish Kings of Kent.  At this time name of the town developed from a Belgic/Jutish interpretation of the Roman word for a craftsman Faber, into Faefer, so it became Faeferham the village of the craftsman, possibly Iron workers or boat builders from Roman times.  This direct use of loan words from Latin would seem to indicate that Faversham was one of the earliest areas to settle Germanic speakers before the collapse of Roman Brittania, in addition modern research does seem to indicate that the Belgic tribes were speaking a Germanic rather than “Celtic” derived language when they arrived from the continent in the iron age, so the shift to “English” from Belgic/Latin was probably that much easier, and doesn’t need explanation by the forcing out out the original inhabitants by the incoming Jutish settlers amongst an already thriving community.  The other interesting point is that Faversham is unique as a place name in the UK, a fairly rare occurrence seeming to imply that it was shaped by a unique set of circumstances.

The Creek at Faversham held twelve feet of water at a high tide, so could accommodate most trading vessels of the mediaeval period, and an ancient quay called “The Thorn” had been built to make good use of the deeper parts of the channel near shore.  The Isle of Sheppey nearby is derived from Old English “The Isle of Sheep” and the town thrived under the Normans, and reached a Mediaeval peek with the Wool trade that made Britain rich.  The Traders of Faversham although always in the shadow of the bigger port of Chatham, none the less, built a steady trade between London and Europe, and the town slowly grew.

faversham

The boom in building in London from the 18th century made the need for bricks an urgency, and Faversham was ideally placed to ship the yellow Kentish clay bricks up the Thames, straight into the heart of the capital.  Being a busy port the one trade that was guaranteed was that of Boat Building, and from at least the 1700s onwards there was a family in Faversham building the boats of the wool traders, the brick traders and Oyster fishermen.  These were the Foremans.

smugglersred

For at least 200 years from the 1600s into the 1800s smuggling was rife along Faversham Creek, even remarked upon by Daniel Defoe, lamenting the growth of the town on the back of it.  So throughout most of coastal Kent smuggling was accepted and often supported, larger enterprises being financed from London.  Smugglers maintained this position above the law by a mixture of threat, bribery, goodwill, and family connections.  An enterprising family of boatbuilders may have avoided a little tax here and there themselves.

Faversham was ideally placed to support the smugglers, it provided a good port away from the Naval base at Sheerness on Sheppey, and the excise cutters at Whistable.  Surrounded by mud flats, Salt Marshes, with many inlets and creeks, their navigability known only to local men in small boats, and yet the main Faversham Creek deep enough for a large North Sea trading ship.  With the Isle of Sheppey and the swift currents of the Swale providing both cover and means of escape to the smugglers’ fast cutters, and the short passage to France and Flanders reducing the time needed to be at sea, meaning the Faversham Smugglers were not liable to be under the noses of the patrolling revenue cutters for very long.The Gangs, or “Companies” as they liked to style themselves, along the North Kent Coast tended to be smaller than the big organised Gangs of other parts of Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire, therefore attracted less attention from the authorities.  For example the smuggler gangs of Deal were so big notorious and well organised that in 1785 1,000 troops were sent in to attack the town and try to capture their boats!  The smugglers of Faversham were more low key, although openly brazen none-the-less, as when in 1821 two smugglers from the North Kent Company were captured by the excise men as part of a Naval Blockade, and marched to the gaol in Faversham, only to be released a few days later when the gang attacked the town gaol.  A £100 reward (equivalent of about £5,000 today) was posted, but the men were never recaptured.  Faversham had the added advantage of the Oyster trade with the Dutch who turned up surprisingly low in the water for boats with empty holds when coming to legally purchase the Faversham Oysters.

Unless the Foremans were the only honest shipwrights in the whole of North Kent, it is almost impossible to imagine, given the general collusion of the populace of Kent with the smugglers, that a family of carpenters and shipwrights working in the heart of an area that had been smuggling territory from the 1600s through to at least the second half of the 1800s, were not up to their eyes in the business.  However, they were no doubt smart enough not to be manning the boats themselves or exchanging fire with the Navy and Revenue Men.  They would have provided a key lynch pin service, building and repairing the fastest boats, that ran the blockade to the continent, and equally the barges that hoisted their red sails and peacefully slipped up the Thames past the looming floating Prison Hulks that held Dicken’s Magwitch, to London where the real profit lay.  It is unlikely that the Foremans ever went short of Rum, Tobacco, or gold sovereigns.
 

Samuel Foreman 1810-1897

and

Ann Transom 1811-1898

The Foreman’s had been documented as shipwrights and carpenters in Faversham from at least the mid 1700s.  Their grandfathers may have been among the “…rabble of seamen and others..” who captured James II on 12th december 1688 during his attempt to flee to France at the end of his fairly disastrous reign.  So Faversham was not a backwater, it was a place with far reaching connections within the Kingdom and the world beyond.

The friction with France during the 18th century was a boon to the Foremans, they were building ships throughout the period of the wars with France into the Napoleonic Wars and the early 19th century; the family prospered during this century of warfare and smuggling.

Samuel Foreman is the first that we can trace with a direct line to Jamie Foreman.  He would have known fairly good living conditions, large houses were built on the back of the legal and illegal trades of the town of Faversham, and there was no reason for any man not to be either gainfully employed, or making money by other means on the waterways of the Town.  The attack on the town gaol and the freeing of the two smugglers by the North Kent Company was no doubt witnessed by a ten year old Samuel, whilst the Family took no notice and got on with their work like the rest of the town.  Samuel’s father stopping work to use words like Kiplings for the boy’s benefit:

Five and twenty ponies,
trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie –

Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!

Samuel would have worked as an apprentice for his Father or Uncles for seven years from the age of 12.  During this time he would have worked long hours for no pay, just board and lodging, and would have had strict rules applied to his conduct.  At the end of the apprenticeship, he would have become a qualified Journeyman Carpenter around 1829/1830.He was obviously very skilled as he subsequently qualifies as a Pattern Maker, a highly skilled branch of carpentry, which involved crafting wooden “patterns” or the outline representations of particular difficult joints for shipbuilding, that could then be used by less skilled men to make the actual parts for a ship in a repeatable way without mistakes, their skills could also be used to make moulds out of wooden models for iron parts for ships and machinery.

By the 1830s the world was changing, peace at the end of The Napoleonic Wars meant that trade with the continent was ongoing, reducing the relative benefits of smuggling, and many of the gangs had been finally overwhelmed and either hanged or transported to Van Dieman’s land by the authorities.   An age of inventiveness, of Businessmen rather than Lords, of steam and engineering was being born in Britain.

Samuel moved up the coast to Dartford in Kent,  as there was a demand for skilled men by entrepreneurs like John Hall, originally a Blacksmith and Millwright, who now built steam engines,  and was applying his knowledge of iron working to build the engines for new ships.  John Hall had purchased the government gunpowder works at Faversham so had a connection with the town that would have made him aware of the best craftsmen there.  Samuel would have found good employment in such an environment, and may have met the inventor of the steam engine Richard Trevithick, who had been contracted to come to Dartford by John Hall to build a new type of steam reaction engine for his steamship design.  Unfortunately Trevithick would never complete the project as he died suddenly in the Inn in the town, and was buried by Hall’s directors and workmen, the funeral being financed by the sale of his gold watch.  Samuel may well have witnessed the great man’s funeral, marking the end of the beginning of the age of Steam.

The coming of the age of the new Queen, Victoria, proved good for Samuel in Dartford, and in 1837 he had saved enough money to return to Faversham to marry a girl from the village of Ospringe, Ann Transom.  They returned to Dartford and raised two children in Park Place; Thomas born in 1838 and Sarah born in 1843.In 1849 modernity in the shape of Steam, continued its impact on Samuel with the Steam Railway line coming to dartford.  This opened up a less parochial market for Samuel’s talents, and in the same year the family had uprooted and moved to Shoreditch in London, to 3 Appleby Street, off the Kingsland Road.  The driver was most certainly work for Samuel, as Appleby Street is within walking distance of the Regent’s Canal and particularly the Kingsland Basin where barges and lighters were moored and repaired.  These barges interestingly transported many of the types of commodities that made their way through Faversham to London such as coal from the North East coast, and timber from Scandinavia.

Appleby Street was working class, relatively rough and ready, but nowhere near as bad as many London areas at this time.   Arthur Samuel was born within a year or so of their arrival, and the Foremans shared the small two story terraced house with a Bricklayer and his family.  Most of their neighbours were London Cockneys, with a small scattering of men from Kent, Surrey, and a few other English Counties.The  Family stayed whilst the work lasted into the 1850s, when they would have seen an Italian called Carlo Gatti build ice storage pits by the canal to sell the ice in warmer periods for people to use for simple refrigeration, and also to make ice cream, bringing widespread sales of Italian ice cream to London for the first time, a great treat for the Foreman children.

But the trade on the canal slowly declined, so Samuel and the family once more took the advantage the railway being extended down the Kent coast to Faversham in 1858 and to Faversham Creek in 1860, the foreman’s moved by train back to their roots in Faversham, settling in Abbey Street.  Many of the houses in Abbey Street had been privately owned by individual families, but during the 19th century many of these well to do owners had moved out and the houses were now let to tenants, such as the Foreman’s.  To Samuel and his family memories of Abbey Street would have been good ones, with well to do families in the street, now it was their turn to live in the same houses, a great contrast to Appleby Street in Shoreditch, but no doubt the children missed the Italian man and his ice cream.

Samuel and Ann would stay in Abbey Street for the rest of their lives, down near the waterfront, and a short distance from Ospringe where Ann had been born.  Samuel carried on working as a Carpenter on the boats of the Swale and Thames tidal waters, large scale smuggling was gone and steam boats were moored in small numbers alongside the large numbers of sailing barges and Dutch and scandinavian vessels along the creek.  samuel and Ann would see their days out among friends and family in the place where their roots were, with memories of travel the length of the Thames, of smugglers, and steam engines, of London and ice cream.
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