Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
No. 135 Rotherhithe Street is an attractive Victorian Grade II listed building. There is a plaque on the side of the building placed there by the LDDC that states the mid nineteenth century building had been occupied by barge builders and repairers Charles Hay & Son, a company established in 1789. Charles Hay died in 1868 aged 78 which means he was born in 1790, so it’s fair to suggest that the company was initially built up by his father Francis Theodore Hay who, though of humble origins, by hard work and determination, owned his own barges and became the first Master Waterman in 1827. It was estimated he left more than £100,000 and was a man some standing within the community.
Reproduced below is Francis Theodore Hay's obituary that appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine at the time of his death aged 70 in 1838 that gives a fuller picture of his life.
“Francis Theodore Hay, Esq, was a member of the Courts of Assistants of the Watermen’s Company, and was the first Master of the Company on its incorporation by Act of Parliament in the year 1827. In early life he was a waterman employed in a very humble capacity on the river, and, by his industry and perseverance, became a Master-lighterman, and barge-owner, and ultimately realised a large fortune. Although for many years past, he had lived at his seat at Hayes, he had, until a very recent period, taken an active part in business. He was one of the Queen’s watermen, an office more of honour than emolument, and, in the capacity of King’s Waterman during three preceding reigns, had the honour of frequently rowing King George III and Queen Charlotte, George IV, and his late Majesty King William IV and Queen Adelaide. He was a strong, robust man of herculean frame, and his death was brought on by sudden exposure to the cold three weeks before, after taking a warm bath at an hotel in London; after which he rode down to Hayes in an open chaise. Mr Hay was a staunch conservative and so universally esteemed in the parish of Rotherhithe, where his benevolence and excellent qualities had endeared him to all classes, that the houses and shops of the principal inhabitants and tradesmen were closed during the whole for the day of his funeral, which was met by the rector, churchwardens, overseers, and a great number of the principal merchants, ship-owners, and other influential inhabitants of the parish, as well as by the poorer classes, all anxious to pay the last sad tribute of respect to the remains of a worthy and kind-hearted gentleman. The great bulk of the deceased’s property, amounting, it is said to be upwards of £100,000 which he acquired by a long life of industry and frugality, unaccompanied by parsimony, will fall into the possession of Charles Hay Esq, his son and heir, of Prince’s Street, Rotherhithe…”
The obituary goes on to say that Charles Hay had inherited all the good qualities of his late father. Charles too was one of the Queen’s Watermen, and a Member of the Court of Assistants and had been the Master of the Waterman’s Company in 1836. The barge building and repairing company was large and successful during his time in charge. When Charles died, his son, called Francis Theodore after his grandfather, took over the business but, as he lived in France for many years, the business was put in the hands of two managers. He died in 1906 aged 84.