We visited The Barge Tearooms at Maldon on Sunday as part of our family Christmas.
We hadn’t realized a charity rowing race would be taking place on the river in aid of RNLI, which meant there were large crowds both on Hythe Quay and all along the Promenade. It was a pretty miserable windy, wet day, and we were glad to get on board sb Hydrogen and into the tearooms. There were six of us; four scurried below into the warm, but two hardy souls stayed on deck. The cream tea was excellent, and so, apparently, was the cake. They even provide blankets and umbrellas for those who stay outside! Well worth a visit.
Because of the repairs which are taking place to the Quay there were only the three Topsail Charters barges present: sb Hydrogen, sb Thistle and sb Reminder. At Cooks Yard, sb George Smeed is now looking very smart;
still without leeboards, but two freshly painted specimens were lying nearby in the yard so could be destined for her. And sb Dawn was also there, wrapped up in her winter cover.
While we were there sb Kitty came back from a sausage-and-mash cruise and passed us on her way to Fullbridge where she is based at present.
My tourism event won the Essex award in 2010 and was a finalist in the Eastern Region, so I know what Topsail will have gone through to get as far as the national final.
Anyone interested in Thames sailing barges will be well acquainted with Hythe Quay at Maldon where they will always see Topsail’s charter barges.
Having got through to the national competition, Topsail Charters is one of five companies in the best small attraction category, and the only business from Essex out of the 75 finalists in all categories.
Stephanie Valentine, Managing Director of Topsail Charters, has said she is thrilled for the recognition of all the hard work of her fantastic team and the effort they make to give their customers the best possible experience.
Well done to Topsail Charters on a great achievement so far, and the very best of luck for the finals at an awards ceremony on 11th May.
You can read the whole story here.
First Peter Phillips sent us this picture, which shows Thistle with some visitors stranded on board. Apparently the children enjoyed it, but the adults were not too keen.
Then The Barge Tearooms posted some pictures showing that it can be difficult sometimes to get a cup of tea on a barge!
The Match was well advertised on the Quay and Promenade at Maldon, but it was disappointing that so few people were at either place for when the barges returned. Probably the time, the last one arrived at about 5.30pm, and the very cold wind by then put them off. Certainly, apart from The Barge Blog, there were only two people at the far end of the Promenade by the statue who knew what was happening.
Click here for the Results, courtesy of the Sailing Barge Association.
Peter Phillips writes: “Forget the first snowdrop/crocus/daffodil etc. Never mind the lighter mornings and the birds starting to sing at silly o’clock. The first signs of spring are now to be seen at Maldon Quayside with barge sails spread out for dressing and passing pedestrians and their dogs walking all over them!”
Photograph – Peter Phillips
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.
Lovely little film report on the BBC Essex site this week about Thalatta after her million pound restoration. She left St Osyth, dressed overall, to return to Maldon, which will be her base. She will be giving children a taste of barge life, where they will be sleeping in hammocks and each have their own sea chest.
Click here to watch.
Roger Newlyn sends us news that Pudge left Faversham last weekend, Sunday the 1st of April, following completion of the shipwright’s work, and she arrived back in Maldon on the evening flood tide. Work has now commenced on fitting out the restored stern section down below. Her gear was being lowered this weekend for routine maintenance, ready for the forthcoming season.
Meanwhile Good Friday saw Centaur rigging out alongside Pudge, preparing for her shakedown sail.
Busy weekend in the barge world.
Cambria left dry dock at Faversham yesterday, and here’s Repertor already on the way to take her place in the dry dock.
Meanwhile today more work is done on Cambria, and here’s Tim Goldsack working on her new bowsprit.
At the other great home of barges, Maldon, the Quay saw Kitty getting attention. JP Lodge says “…lowering down, sanding and painting the topmast truck, preparing to rig out and heave up maybe next weekend.”
Photographs by Dave Brooks