Martin Phillips calls for positive recognition that barge building skills are still thriving

Martin Phillips has today posted a comment to our piece about the film of “The Quay”.   It appears of course on that post, but it is necessary to click on “Comment” in order to see it.    It deserves more prominence, so we repeat it in full here:-

“It is very sad that the landowner’s wish to develop the site has destroyed what had been developed at Standard Quay; however I feel that the coverage of this to date rather ignores reality of what has been achieved by the Thames barge and trad boat community in East Anglia.

It is depressing to read such statements as:  ‘A centre for ancient maritime crafts, the quay is a haven for the few dozen surviving Thames sailing barges.   But Standard Quay’s latest owner, a property developer, plans to turn it into a tourist trap with shops, restaurants and luxury houses….’

This publicity would give the impression that this was the last home of sailing barges and that the preservation skills of barge shipwrights and the home of barges has been destroyed for good by a property developer’s greed.

However this is simply a false picture. What had been achieved at Faversham in the comparatively recent past particularly around the rebuild of Cambria was great, and of course Tim Goldsack is still operating his business (albeit not at Standard Quay). The Iron Wharf is still thriving as are the regular Faversham barges Mirosa and Repertor and Lady of the Lea.

Why can’t someone make an optimistic film publicising the achievements of the TSBT (formerly the barge club) in keeping its barges sailing over the last 64 years, rebuilding two (Pudge and Centaur) WITHOUT Lottery support and taking thousands of people sailing? The Trust’s third hand/mate  training  has produced  about 8 of the current Sailing Barge masters (including myself). It has done so much good to preserve barges and helped to bring people into the  barge scene who go on to work on barges. Let’s celebrate this success please!

Maldon and the Blackwater are  home to a very active fleet of barges and two barge yard (Cooks and Blackwater Marina) with blocks and  2 drydocks operating. Then there is Andy Harman’s yard at St Osyth not to forget the Pioneer rebuild and all the smacks. TS rigging has a thriving trad boat business (rerigging the Cutty Sark for example) and there is a host of evidence that the area is a hot bed of traditional skills and specialist shipwrights, riggers, metal workers, a blacksmith and much much more all based around the rich maritime heritage of the area. Topsail Charters have built a successful business over a quarter of a century preserving a fleet of active barges carrying thousands of passengers a year and employing a group of skippers and mates.

Then there are the barges themselves and the unseen efforts and huge financial commitments of private owners that has produced the wonderful sight of beautifully restored and maintained barges like Marjorie, Adieu, Edith May, Lady Daphne, Repertor, Wyvenhoe,  Lady of the Lea and Phoenician and many others . Private owners are rebuilding barges like Melissa and Niagara, Ethel Maud etc, with more on the way and two new builds completed and more on the way.

I deplore the problems that have ruined all Brian Pain’s efforts to achieve a laudable goal but the picture is far from gloomy! Traditional skills are actually thriving in East Anglia and the fleet of barges and smacks is an often unpublicised gem. Where else in the UK  has a fleet of traditional craft in their home waters been preserved and transformed from cargo carriers and fishing boats to working and pleasure vessels?

Yes what happened at Standard Quay was bad for one person’s dream and destroyed his hopes for the future. I dare say it was undoubtedly bad for Faversham – but that is quite a big issue and no doubt many will debate what is best for the town and the use of its creek for many years to come. 

Let’s celebrate what we are really  achieving guys! Please can someone make a film to show what has been achieved and what a wonderful tradition we have kept going. Tell the public and above all encourage them to join in and come sailing on our wonderful craft.”

Martin has set out a view with which I certainly agree.   It does often seem that Maldon and the other places on the Essex and Suffolk coast are somewhat ignored by some leaders of the barge world.   As he says, there is a thriving barge community in East Anglia, with barge yards, wonderful craftsmen, and a fleet of magnificent vessels who call it their home. 

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Posted on 30/08/2012, in Barge People, Faversham, Maldon, Standard Quay and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I should have also mentioned David Patient’s yard at Fullbridge which has done so much to restore barges and is currently restoring lady Jean! TS riggings base Downs Yard Boatyard (Jim Dines) is a hive of trad boat restoration doing lots of work on Wyvenhoe for me this year too. Suffolk has a long barge tradition too and I think the work done by the Webbs at the yard at Pin Mill is great not to forget the restoration of Pin Mill Hard and its provision of new barge blocks.

    All these things are a fantastic achievement so lets start blowing the trumpet a bit more!

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  2. Glad to hear that the skills and facilities lost from Standard Quay survive and thrive elsewhere. Here in Kent too, since I finished making The Quay, there is cause for some optimism. The volunteer-run Faversham Creek Trust (favershamcreektrust.com) has done a fantastic job, starting an apprentice shipwrights training centre and campaigning for a working creek.

    A documentary celebrating the successes of the Thames Sailing Barge community in East Anglia and Essex would be a worthwhile initiative and would personally be delighted to see such a project commissioned. But that would be a very different film from The Quay, which was specifically about Standard Quay’s demise as a working yard. My (largely self-financed) film took more than a year to produce but with a running time of just 15 minutes, the final cut was really too short to encompass Thames barge centres elsewhere.

    It doesn’t seek to suggest however that Standard Quay was the only remaining barge yard, or that it’s loss has killed off these traditional skills in one fell swoop. That would be a false impression and an oversimplification. But I hope it does show, clearly and truthfully, what was lost there and lets audiences make up their own minds as to why.

    Please excuse the shameless plug but I’m working on a DVD release of The Quay for later this year which will include material not used in the short version. We shot some interesting interviews which put Standard Quay and Thames barges into a broader and more detailed historical context. I’ll post more info at http://www.thequayfilm.net and http://www.facebook.com/thequayfilm when the time comes.

    Thanks for your interest and I hope the Thames barge community everywhere continues to thrive.

    Richard Fleury
    Producer/director, The Quay

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  1. Pingback: Barge skipper calls for positive view of sailing barges and supporting facilities | intheboatshed.net

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