Today we start a new series with a page called Barge of the Month.
Thanks to the agreement of Richard Walsh, who designed our source, we shall be using the splendid pictures and information from the SSBR Calendar which was published in 2017. We shall start with February’s barge, sb Niagara.
Niagara of London, Official Number 108373, built 1898 at Wivenhoe, Essex, for Augustus J Hughes.
We were delighted that Hugh Perks was able to come along to the SSBR Annual General Meeting this year, and even more delighted that he managed to get to the Medway Barge Match on 3rd June 2017.
As usual, he has taken some excellent pictures and was kind enough to let me have three of them for The Barge Blog. So here are Mirosa; Niagara and Edith May; and Edme.
Hugh Perks has kindly sent us these pictures of this year’s Pin Mill Match. It’s been a great year for Barge Matches.
First in Class A was Edme, below.
Here’s Mirosa (below) second in Class A.
And this is Xylonite, third in Class A (below).
First in Class B was Niagara (below).
And First in Class C was Ardwina (below).
It was a great achievement to gather 16 barges for the Thames Match on Saturday. It would always have been a special occasion as the 150th anniversary of the first match, but was made more special – and more poignant – by the sudden death at the end of last year of Mark Boyle who had re-started the matches in the 1990s and done so much to drive them forward. All credit then to the Committee who picked up the reins, (oh dear, we are into horse metaphors now!), and provided such a special 2013 match. Not least, mention must be made of Richard Walsh, our own SSBR Vice Chairman, who stepped in as Match Secretary.
The weather was lovely for spectators and those taking part, but the lack of wind at the start caused big problems. This year the match finished at Erith rather than Gravesend and the winners of the three classes were:-
Coasting Class – Cambria
Champion Staysail Class – Niagara
Champion Bowsprit Class – Edme
SSBR Committee member and Cambria Trust Secretary, Dave Brooks, has published an excellent report of the match on the Cambria website. As he says, he had defected for the weekend to Lady Daphne, but he can’t resist watching out for Cambria! Here’s the link to the report on the Cambria Blog. The splendid picture was taken by Dave Brooks.
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.
If you had been in the vicinity of Berry Wiggins Jetty on the river Medway today, 6 August 2012, you could have been forgiven for thinking that you were watching Reminder sailing. How wrong you would have been, for today Niagara made her welcome return to the active barge fleet. She slipped her mooring at Hoo and made her way out into the river in the late afternoon. All around thunder rattled and lightning flashed, but unperturbed the crew of the Niagara was determined to set sail.
Niagara was built of steel in 1898 by Forrestt of Wivenhoe, who also built Atrato and Wyvenhoe. Niagara was the biggest of the three barges by some 30 tons. Originally built for Augustus George Hughes of East Greenwich, she was sold to the Tilbury Contracting and Dredging Co Ltd of London in 1906, and by 1916 she was sold to John George Hammond of London.
By 1924 her owners were the London and Rochester Trading Co Ltd, and, after being requisitioned by the Ministry for War Transport, she was fitted with a 3 Cyl. Kelvin engine in 1940. After another spell requisitioned, she was sold in 1970 to William Mulcuck of Chatham who was her skipper at the time, and then in 1975 to Richard Twining of Battersea.
Niagara spent many years trading as a motor barge and her end was destined to be at a scrap yard, but her present owner, Peter Sands, acquired her in 2001 and set about returning her to sail. Almost unnoticed down at Hoo in Kent, Niagara slowly started to take shape. And today Peter finally saw his hard work pay off as the Niagara set sails for the first time in over 70 years.
For just over an hour the crew put her through her paces, even boldly sailing her into the creek for a triumphant sail by at Whitton Marine where her rebuild took place.
It was a pleasure to witness, and to my untrained eye she looked to be going quite well. It is hoped that she will sail in the Swale Barge Match on Saturday 11th August.
Well done to Peter and we wish you and Niagara well for the future.
An exclusive for The Barge Blog – words and pictures by Dave Brooks