Object of the Month – November 2013

November 2013 - Amalgamated Society of Watermen, Lightermen and Bargemen banner

The Amalgamated Society of Watermen, Lightermen and Bargemen (ASWLB) was a trade union formed in 1889, and represented the men who worked on the inland waterways of Britain, especially on the River Thames.  The People’s History Museum holds a number of banners from various branches but this one is particularly unusual.  The figure painted in the centre is the finely named and finely whiskered Admiral Bedford Clapperton Trevelyan Pim, MP for Gravesend from 1874-80.  The foliage on the left is oak to symbolise strength and on the right is laurel, the ancient symbol of victory.

It was not unusual for banners to feature figures respected, even idolised by that union.  Traditionally though these were leading figures of the left, or union leaders past and present. At other times it might include figures who have supported the union.  The museum has another Waterman and Lighterman banner that features Cardinal Manning, who had supported those participating in the Great Dock Strike of 1889.

Needless to say it is unusual for both Conservative MPs and Admirals to appear on banners. Precisely why the ASWLB honoured Pim by including him on theirs is sadly unclear.  Possibly he supported their ancient rights on the river.  He certainly argued that the Watermen and Lightermen’s Guild should be the head authority on the River Thames, an idea that surely the union would have approved.

We know the banner was produced after 1895 because on the banner’s reverse (see below) is an image of Tower Bridge in London which was completed in that year.  Given that Pim died in 1886, and the union decided to put him on a banner nine years later we get some idea of the esteem in which the union held him.

The Pim banner is over three meters long and two meters high.  Unfortunately (as you can see) it needs some conservation work before it goes on display.