Born and growing up in Battersea, the Thames was only a few streets away and as kids we often found ourselves on the foreshore. It was our place for adventure, skimming stones, eel spotting and playing pirates aboard a skeletal remains of a barge, all in the shadow of St Mary’s Church where my parents got married.


Joseph Charles Taylor (l.) with his brother James Jarvis William Taylor (r.) Lighterman, and his cousin George Jarvis Taylor (f.) Lighterman.

My Grandad lived with us and he had a certain style of whistling and on asking, he told me that it was a Lighterman’s Call he got from his Uncle Jim, a Lighterman.

Fast forward a few years and I still have a close relationship with the river, as a volunteer with the Thames Discovery Programme. I have recently started researching my family and am focusing on the Taylors (Mother’s maiden name). For the past couple of years, I’ve spent countless hours at the London Metropolitan Archives, Guildhall Library and planned visits to the Docklands Museum and the Waterman’s Hall.


Marriage certificate for Joseph (Charles) Taylor and Emily Lewis 1901, showing James Jarvis Taylor’s occupation as a lighterman

I have gathered numerous marriage and birth certificates, census’s, electoral registers and binding/freedom apprenticeship records. My third Great-Grandfather, Jarvis Dudley Taylor, 1808-71, a Lighterman had 4 sons, 4 nephews and 1 great nephew, including himself totalling 8 Lightermen and 2 Postmen.


Joseph Taylor bound his son George Jarvis Taylor as an apprentice lighterman

Amongst my findings, was one of J. D. Taylor’s sons, Joseph Taylor, a Lighterman, living at 73 Stamford Street, Marsh Ward District, Lambeth between 1890 and 1904. He had 5 children by two marriages, his first wife Harriet sadly died in 1878 and was soon remarried to Elizabeth. One of Joseph’s sons was George Jarvis Taylor from his first marriage, who followed in the tradition and was apprenticed as a Lighterman by his Father, Joseph’s youngest son by Elizabeth became a Postman.

Whilst meticulously searching, I came upon an interesting article on the Museum of London website titled The broken sword and the vanishing bridge by John Clark. Whilst reading, I realised to my surprise and delight that the Lighterman that found the 9th/10th century Anglo Saxon sword and had written the accompanying letter was in fact my third Great Uncle!


I contacted the Museum of London and arranged a visit to view the sword and letter. I met the very helpful Hazel Forsyth and was taken to the reserve collections department as the sword is currently not on display. I was pleased that its condition was better than the black and white photo suggested. Even more exciting was the good condition of the letter in the Museum’s archives section, an extra bonus was that there was more written information on the reverse for me to research. Since my visit, I have been in contact with John Clark and he has kindly been very helpful.

Dear Sir

The sword was found on July 17th 1897, at very low tide near the north pier of Vauxhall Temporary Bridge, opposite Taite Picture Gallery Millbank Westminster. In consequence of building the above bridge, the rush of tide between the piles caused the foreshore to wash away about 12 inches at the spot where the sword was found, part of the handle was visible the other portion was laying flat on the ground slightly covered with ballast

yours respectfully

J. Taylor


Now, I’m interested to know why and what Joseph Taylor was doing when he found the sword. I have already discovered that the central span of the Vauxhall Temporary Bridge was made at the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company. It was driven upriver using a converted Greenwich ferry with lighters helping to steer the central span into position.

Was Joseph Taylor part of the lighter team helping with the installation of the temporary bridge? This is my next line of research, and I’m looking forward to it.