Building Thames barges

My interest in family history was sparked by the stories my Grandma told me of the forest of masts she could see over the roofs when she grew up in Rotherhithe in the 1890s.  She was very proud of her father and brothers who built barges and lighters but she also told me more about how the family first started this occupation in Berkshire in the 18th century.

Every descendent of Robert Talbot has been told the story of how he and his brothers brought the family barge building business up to London from Berkshire on a stage coach.  Certainly there was a stagecoach route from Thatcham to London along the Bath Road and some time before 1799 Robert and Richard moved to London, as they were both married there in 1799.  There is no evidence of any other living brother accompanying them.  As Richard and his wife Elizabeth Jenkins do not appear to have had any children, Robert Talbot is seen as the founder of the barge building dynasty.

Robert and Richard were born in the beautiful village of Pangbourne, on the river Thames in Berkshire, the sons of John Talbot and Mary Ivey.  Their other brother Edward died in 1792 and their sisters married in Pangbourne.  Although there is no proof that John Talbot was a barge builder, there were other Talbots who built barges in Pangbourne at that time.  As yet no family connection to these other Talbots has been made.  After the death of Mary Ivey in 1795, John Talbot married Mary Kirton and had seven more children before his death in 1837 at the age of 92.

Robert Talbot married Ann Proud at St Andrew by the Wardrobe, near St Paul’s cathedral in 1799.  At first they lived in Shadwell, a crowded dock area between Limehouse and Wapping, but by the time of the birth of their second child, Thomas Talbot in 1804 they were living by the Thames in Fore Street, Lambeth.  Fore Street, as its name signifies lay on the foreshore of the river Thames.  It was a very busy area of boat builders, whiting works and potteries including Doultons, later Royal Doulton. 

By 1839 Robert had moved his barge building business to the up and coming boat building area of Rotherhithe Street.  It is probable that all their premises were rented.  Leaving Fore Street was wise, as by 1866 it was disappearing beneath the Albert Embankment.                               

Robert and Ann Proud had 8 children, before Ann’s death in 1830.  Robert married again twice; to Ann Richards, a widow, in 1833 and to Cricey Finley in 1848, the year before his death of Asiatic cholera.  Robert Talbot was buried in a graveyard on Lambeth High Street, near St Mary at Lambeth (The Garden Museum).  The stones were moved against the walls by 1950 and have since eroded but it is a peaceful park with a children’s playground.

Four of Robert’s sons, Thomas, Robert, Richard and Edward followed their father, becoming barge builders while Charles became a stationer and printer, with premises in Tooley Street. 

The barge building sons undertook 7 year apprenticeships with the Worshipful company of Watermen and Lightermen, and 16 members of the extended family became important officials of the Shipwrights company, including Edward James who was a liveryman of the Shipwrights company and a Freeman of the river Thames.  His uncle Edward L. Talbot was Master of the Shipwrights company in 1869, as was John William Talbot in 1880.
Lucy Talbot and Sons 1866
Rotherhithe in Victorian times, was a vibrant part of the Pool of London, teeming with Irish labourers, boat builders and sea captains.  The “Fighting Temeraire” sailed into port to be broken up here in 1838 and the Mayflower had set sail from Rotherhithe in 1620.  There were rope makers, sail makers and oar makers like George Henry Leggett.  Large quantities of timber were unloaded here.  Grain was unloaded into the flat-bottomed lighters made by the Talbots and other barge builders.  The wife of Edward James Talbot, Elizabeth Palmer Hopkins came from several generations of lightermen.

Later Richard Talbot (b. 1813) moved his barge building business to Caversham in Reading, returning to Berkshire where his wife had been born.  It was said that this was because so many of his children died in the unhealthy atmosphere of Rotherhithe.  Robert Talbot (b. 1828) based his business at Strand on the Green and Percy Sutton Talbot established his at Wood wharf, Greenwich.

This article first appeared in  in September2013.


  1. It seems we are distantly related. My ancestor was Charlotte Talbot, sister to Edward James Talbot. I would love to get in contact with you, I can't see a way to private message you on here.

  2. Hi Linda, lovely to hear from you. Charlotte is on my Ancestry tree which is public. You can email me at

  3. Do you have any Terry family members in your tree? my Terry ancestors were barge builders from Pangbourne, Berkshire. they moved to Greenwich, where they continued in the same trade. In my tree I have a Ruth Talbot, who married John Edney in Pangbourne 1828/29.

    1. Ruth Talbot was the daughter of John Talbot of Pangbourne and his second wife Mary Kirton. I descend from Robert Talbot who was the eldest son of John Talbot and his first wife Mary Ivey. See my email in my reply to Linda above.

    2. Thank you for the information.

    3. Hello, Christopher Fairs. I am the descendant of a long line of Terrys from northern Hampshire. I would be interested to know if we might be related.

    4. Hi Aaron

      Chris Fairs is my 2nd cousin. We both decend from James Tarry (1852-1904) from Pangbourne, Berks. Following an injury James Tarry moved with all his family to Greenwich, London around 1860 and the family carried on the barge building there. However when they moved the surname changed and all the family were henceforth known as Terry on all official documents.

      We have traced most of the Greenwich Terry decendants and I don't think any are from North Hants. However its an area quite close to Pangbourne so is always possible your Terry line decends from those Pangbourne Tarrys too.

    5. Hello, Pete.

      I have dated my Terry ancestry back to the late 16th century in Hampshire, specifically a village called Long Sutton. However, there were Terrys from all the surrounding towns and they pop up in the pipe rolls from time to time, from Farnham to Crondall to Fairleigh Wallop. If there is a connection between us it would predate Stephen Terry, builder of Hydegate House in Long Sutton (likely around 1563), and would so date from a time when spelling could be flexible.

      Sadly, records from those times are iffy. The real way to tell would likely be a yDNA test. Interestingly, there is a landholder from the time of Domesday whose holdings were quite close by, and whom I suspect may be the source of our name.

  4. My grandfather’s first wife, Martha Wakefield was the daughter of a barge builder in Pangbourne – George Wakefield 1825 – 1913. George had been born in Basildon, Berkshire and married Eliza Terry/Tarry of another barge building family, already mentioned in this discussion. Their son Charles Terry 1855 – 1929, who married another relative of mine (Adeline Mary Hunt from Compton) also became a barge builder and took his skills first to Henley on Thames and later to Battersea.

  5. my ancestors were also Barge builders on the Thames. Charles Buckeridge was at Bull Stairs ? Wharf, Blackfrairs Road. His son George, my great great grandfather was also a barge builder, living at 1 Belvedere Road Lambeth. This branch of the family was from Pangbourne, but others from Basildon

  6. On the 1851 census George Buckeridge is recorded at 1 Belvedere Road & 3 pages on my Lighterman ancestor William Hopkins is at College Wharf, Belvedere Road. Such a small world!