Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne, taken from original sources, Volume II

Ashton, John





THE River Thames was then a veritable ' silent highway,' in the sense of affording transport for passengers for short distances. In fact, the wherries then took the places in a great measure of our present cabs; and a cry of 'Next Oars' or 'Sculls,' when anyone made his appearance at the top of 'the Stairs,' was synonymous with 'Hansom' or 'Four Wheeler.'

Poor Taylor, the Water Poet, had, more than half a century before, sung the decadence of this highway, but it still fairly held its own, and was in great request. When Sir Roger went with the Spectator to Spring Gardens, Foxhall (that naughty place where the 'wanton baggage' of a mask tapped the old knight on the shoulder, and asked him if he would drink a bottle of mead with her, and where Sir Roger told the mistress of the house ' He should be a better Customer to her Garden, if there were more Nightingales, and fewer Strumpets'), he never dreamed of going any other way than by boat. He chose out the boatman with the wooden leg, and afterwards regaled him with the remains of their luncheon, to the waiter's astonishment.

Addison was writing a superfine paper 'for gentlemen, by gentlemen,' so he softens down the language for which the river was noted, and ignores the torrent of licentious ribaldry with which every boat greeted each other, and which was known as ' River Wit.' He certainly hints at it, but simply touches it, and then changes the subject. When Sir Roger,


in the kindliness of his heart and the forgetfulness of custom, bids the passing boats Good Night, he merely says, 'But to the Knight's great Surprize, as he gave the Good Night to two or three young Fellows a little before our Landing, one of them, instead of returning the Civility asked us what queer old Put we had in the Boat, and whether he was not ashamed to go a Wenching at his Years ? with a great deal of the like Thames Ribaldry. Sir Roger seem'd a little shocked at first, but at length assuming a Face of Magistracy, told us, That if he were a Middlesex Justice, he would make such Vagrants know that Her Majesty's Subjects were no more to be abused by Water than by Land.'

But Brown gives us the unadulterated slang, which cannot possibly be reprinted for general perusal-indeed, his whole account of the river, although it is far too graphic to be omitted, and it gives us certainly the best contemporaneous description we have, must be somewhat expurgated to fit it for modern tastes. 'Finding my Companion thus agreeable to my Humour, I steer'd him down Blackfryars towards the Thames side, till coming near the Stairs, where from their Dirty Benches up started such a noisy multitude of old grizly Tritons, in sweaty Shirts, and short-skirted Doublets, hollowing and hooting out Next Oars and Skullers, shaking their Caps over their bald Noddles, seeming as overjoy'd to see us, as if we had been Foreign Princes come out of stark Love and Kindness to redeem them and their Families from Cruel Popery and Slavery. I bawl'd out as loud as a Speaking Trumpet, Next Oars, and away run Captain Charon from the Front of his wrangling Fraternity, with a Badge upon his Arm, that the World might behold whose Slave he was, and hollow'd to his Man Ben to bring the Boat near, whilst the rest withdrew to their Seats, calling one another Louzy Rogue and Sorry Rascal, giving us a clear passage without further Molestation.

'Upon my Word, says my friend, I am glad we are past them, for this is one of the most ill looking Rabble, and from whom I had more apprehensions of Danger, than from any I have yet met with. 'Tis all, said I, but an Amusement, step into the Boat, sit down Watermen, row us up to Chelsea: No


sooner had we put off into the middle of the Stream, but our Charon and his Assistant (being jolly Fellows) began to scatter their verbal Wildfire on every side of them, their first Attack being on a Couple of fine Ladies with a Footman in the Stern, as follows.... One of the Ladies taking Courage, pluck'd up a Female Spirit of Revenge, and facing us with the Gallantry of an Amazon made the following return' . . Well! that awful piece of river chaff, which is still popularly supposed to arouse the ire of' bargees.' 'Who eat puppy pie under Marlow Bridge ?' was milk and water compared to the fearfully strong language this lady made use of, the mildest part of her speech being, 'talk not to a Woman, you surly Whelp, for you are fit for nothing, but like the Breed you come on, to crawl upon all four, and cry Bow wow at a Bear Garden.' And so on with every boat they met.

'After rowing for some time, we had arriv'd at that Port to which we had consign'd our selves, where we quitted our Boat, and offering old Charon Three Shillings, he swore he would have a Crown; but having the printed Rates in my Pocket, I was forc'd to lug out my Oracle before the Freshwater Looby would be convinc'd of his Error; and withal told him, Had it been in London, I would have carry'd him before my Lord Mayor, and have had him punish'd, for making, contrary to Law, so unreasonable a Demand. With that he takes the Money, and putting off his Boat, gave us a notable Farewel after the following manner-viz. You're a Couple of Niggardly Sons of -- ; I care not a -- for my Lord Mayor; the Rogue that printed that Book; take you for a Book-learn'd Blockhead; and confound him that taught you to read; and so we parted.'

Misson says, 'The little Boats upon the Thames, which are only for carrying of Persons, are light and pretty; some are row'd but by one Man, others by two; the former are call'd Scullers, and the latter Oars. They are reckon'd at several Thousands; but tho' there are indeed a great many, I believe the Number is exaggerated. The City of London being very long, it is a great Conveniency to be able sometimes to make Use of this Way of Carriage. You sit at your Ease upon Cushions, and have a Board to lean against; but generally they


have no Covering, unless a Cloth, which the Watermen set up immediately, in case of Need, over a few Hoops; and sometimes you are wet to the Skin for all this. It is easy to conceive that the Oars go faster than the Sculls, and accordingly their pay is doubled. You never have any Disputes with them; for you can go to no Part either of London, or the Country above or below it, but the Rate is fix'd by Authority; every Thing is regulated and printed.'

This, then, is a sample of the social amenities as then practised on the river, and the following are the

From London Cridge to Lime House, New Crane, Shakwell Dock, Bell Wharf, Ratcliff Cross.1-
To Wapping Docks, Wapping new and old Stairs, the Hermitage, Rotherhith Church Stairs63 
From St. Olave's to Rotherhith Church Stairs, and Rotherhith Stairs63
From Billingsgate and St. Olave's to St. Saviour's Mill63
All the Stairs between London Bridge and Westminster63
From either Side aboce London Bridge to Lambeth and Foxhall16
From Temple, Dorset, and Black-fryers Stairs or Pauls Wharf to Lambeth84
Over the Water directly between Foxhall and Lime house41
From London toWh.F.s.d.Com.
Rays or Greenhith4.-9
Purfleet or Erith3.-6
Greenwich, or Deptford1.63
Up the RiverWh.F. s.d.Com.
Chelsea, Battersey, Wandsworth1.63
Putney, Fulham, Barnelms2.-4
Hammersmith, Chiswick, Mortlack2.66
Brentford, Isleworth, Richmond3.66
Hampton Court6.01-
Hampton Town, Sunbury, Walton7.01.-
Weybridge and Chertsey10.01.0

The river, too, was naturally the place for picnics and pleasure parties--although they were by no means so magnificent as the following [2]  'I took five Barges, and the fairest kept for my Company; the other four I fill'd with Musick of all sorts, and of all sorts the best; in the first were Fiddles, in the next Theorbo, Lutes, and Voices. Flutes and such Pastoral Instruments i' th' third. Loud Musick from the fourth did pierce the Air; Each Consort vy'd by turns, which with most Melody shou'd charm our Ears. The fifth the largest of 'em all was neatly hung, not with dull Tapistry, but with green Boughs, Curiously Interlac'd to let in Air, and every Branch with Jessemins, and Orange Poesies deckt. In this the Feast was kept.'

These pleasure barges were more or less ornate, and varied from the ordinary boat, with a tilt of canvas or green boughs to very elaborately carved and gilded ones. The last remaining, in our time, were the State barges of Her Majesty, the Trinity Barge, and the Lord Mayor's and City Companies' State barges. The recollection of the water pageant, on a sunshiny Lord Mayor's day, will never be effaced from the memory of those among us who are old enough to have seen it. It was one of the prettiest sights I ever saw; and a few of these barges may still be seen, utilised at Oxford as College Club boats.

Misson says of barges, 'They give this Name in England to a Sort of Pleasure Boat, at one End of which is a little Room handsomely painted and Cover'd, with a Table in the Middle, and Benches round it; and at the other End, Seats for 8, 10, 12, 30 or 40 Rowers. There are very few Persons of Great Quality but what have their Barges, tho' they do not frequently make use of them. Their Watermen wear a Jacket of the same Colour they give for their Livery, with a pretty large Silver Badge upon their Arm, with the Nobleman's Coat of Arms emboss'd in it. These Watermen have some Privileges, as belonging to Peers; but they have no Wages, and are not domestick Servants: They live in their own Houses with their Families, and earn their Livelihood as they can. The Lord Mayor of London, and the


several Companies, have also their Barges, and are carry'd in them upon certain solemn occasions.'

Moored opposite Whitehall was a very large barge with a saloon, and promenade on the top, called the Folly, and this was a favourite place of entertainment. It was a fashionable resort in Pepys' time. He says, 13 Ap. . Spent in the Folly 1s.'; and Queen Mary and some of her attendants paid it a visit. In Anne's reign it was used as a coffee-house, but it no longer was extremely fashionable, as the company was very mixed. As D'Urfey sung:-

When Drapers' smugged apprentices,

With Exchange girls mostly jolly,

After shop was shut and all,

Could sail up to the Folly.A Touch of the Timas.


'Pray, says my Companion (pointing to the Folly), what noble Structure is that floating upon the Water? I have often heard of Castles in the Air, and this seems to me to be a kind of an Essay towards such a windy Project. That Whimsical piece of Architect, saidI, was design'd as a Musical Summer House for the entertainment of Quality, where they might meet. . . But the Ladies of the Town, finding it as convenient a Rendezvous for their purpose ... drove away their private Enemies, and entirely possess'd themselves of this moveable Mansion, which they have occupied ever since, very much to their advantage. . . We no sooner enter'd but we had as many Ladies staring us in our Faces, as if we had been either handsom to admiration, or


ugly to a Miracle . . . some dancing as they mov'd, to show the Airyness of their Temper; some ogling the Gallants, and others crowded into Boxes like Passengers into a Western Wherry, sat smoaking their Noses, and drinking Burnt Brandy, to defend their Stomachs from the chill Air upon the Water. . . . In short, it was such a confused Scene of Folly, Madness, and Debauchery, that we step'd again into our Boat without Drinking to avoid the Inconveniences that attend mixing with such a Swarm of Caterpillars, who are always dangerous to the Unwary, and destructive to the Innocent.' [4] 

The ordinary freight barges were, both as to build and rig, extremely similar to those of the present day, and there was one passenger and freight sailing boat which went to the then Ultima Thule of a Londoner's experience-the Gravesend Tilt boat-of which we have an interesting reminiscence in the

'Rates for Carrying of Goods in the Tilt Boat between Gravesend and London [5] 

An Half Firkin-I
An Whole Firkin-2
An Hogshead2-
An Hundred Weight of Cheese, Iron, or any Heavy Goods-4
Sack of Salt, or Corn, Ordinary Chest, Trunck or Hamper-6
Every Single Person in the Ordinary Passage-6
The Hire of the Whole Tilt Boat226

There was a horse ferry (from whence the name Horseferry Road) between Westminster and Lambeth for passengers, horses, coaches, etc. The rates were

For a Man and Horse-2
For a Horse and Chaze1-
For a Coach and 2 Horses16
For a Coach and 4 Horses2-
For a Coach and 6 Horses26
For a Cart Loaden26
For a Cart, or Waggon each2-

Whilst on the subject of the river Thames, mention of one of its tributaries, the Fleet Ditch, should not be omitted.


Taking its rise in Hampstead, it meandered along, until it fell into the river at Blackfriars, where it formed a wide and shallow mouth called a Fleet, which was once of such extent that ships of considerable burden could get up it some little distance. In Anne's time, however, it had become a black and fetid sewer. Nobody had a good word for it. Gay never mentions it without abuse.

Or who that rugged Street would traverse o'er,

That stretches, O Fleet Ditch, from thy black Shore. Trivia.


If where Fleet Ditch with Muddy Current flows.

Ward says, 'from thence we took a turn down by the Ditch side, I desiring my friend to inform me what great advantages this Costly Brook contributed to the Town, to Countervail the Expence of Seventy four Thousand Pounds, which I read in a very Credible Author was the Charge of its making: He told me he was wholly unacquainted with any, unless it was now and then to bring up a few Chaldron of Coles to 2 or 3 pedling Fewel Merchants, who sell them never the cheaper to the poor for such Conveniency: And as for those Cellers you see on each side, design'd for Warehouses, they are render'd by their dampness so unfit for that purpose, that they are wholly useless, except for Lightermen to lay themselves in, or to harbour Frogs, Toads and other Vermin. The greatest good that ever I heard it did, was to the undertaker, who is bound to acknowledge he has found better Fishing in .. a muddy Stream, than ever he did in clear Water.'


[2] The Lying Lover, ed. 1704.

[4] A Walk Round London and Westminster.

[5] An Useful Companion