Wharfinger: The lightermen
Lightermen were workers who transferred goods between ships, anchored in the middle of river, and quays, aboard flat-bottomed barges called lighters in the Port of London.
This was no mean feat. The shifting tides of the Thames required concentration and skill and, in the early days, considerable muscle to pull the lighters to the dockside.
The Company of Watermen and Lightermen, formed in 1700, licensed workers. However, the job was not popular with dock bosses.
As docks provided berths for ships and allowed for the transfer of goods from ship to land directly, the lightermen saw their jobs under threat.
However, they secured the "free water clause" in the West India Dock Act of 1899.
This meant they could continue to ply their trade within dock areas without being charged. Ships looking to avoid dock charges would stay out in the river and allow the lightermen to do their work, taking stock to wharves and depriving docks of revenue.
Lobbying by dock owners for a change in the law failed and the "free water clause" survived in legislation. However time, rather than tide, did for the calling which died with the docks in the '60s.