We 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. We've been looking into the Irish connection to this watery profession.

Discover more about the Thames Waterman records

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 Theatre. At the height of his fame he relied heavily on the watermen to get from the theatre 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.

At the height of his fame, Thomas relied heavily on the watermen to get from the theatre to his home in Chelsea

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. We don't know how many there were in Doggett's day but they can be found in the Birth register of contracted men.

Edward Henry Javins, the boy from Galway Bay

Among these was Edward Henry Javins, a native of Dangan. We know that 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.

Edward Henry Javins in the Ireland Births 1864-1958 records


Javins in the Thames Watermen and Lightermen 1688-2010 records

Javins in the birth register of contracted men 1865-1921

Javins and Annie Deeks in the England and Wales marriage records 1837-2008

Life on the river perhaps must have taken its toll, as Edward is shown as incapacitated in the 1939 census, 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

Javins in the 1939 Register

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.

Javins in the England and Wales death records 1837-2007

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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