In the eighteenth century the watermen ran ferries to and from London and across the river. They supplied vessels moored off Gravesend with food, water and other stores, while the ships waited to clear customs. Then, in the first decades of the nineteenth century, life on the river began to change. New paddle steamers replaced the traditional ferries.
The watermen found some work rowing the passengers ashore, until piers were built. New wet docks were built in London, where ships could load and unload at the quayside. The main Customs office was transferred to London in 1825. Many ships then only anchored at Gravesend to wait for a pilot. Many watermen were put out of work.
“Gravesend Library has a large collection of books and other materials on all aspects of the Thames in its Thames Collection (which is part of the Local History collection). Please ask staff for details.”