Blog Archives

A good day for an AGM

Very well attended SSBR AGM today at The Three Daws, Gravesend.   The room was full.

Chairman, Elizabeth Wood, had come to the end of her three year term of office, in which much has been achieved. She thanked all her fellow Committee members for their help to her and to the Society.

Secretary, John White, said that inquiries from people seeking information about barges on which family members had worked, etc, averaged two a week.   In addition, he was working on a book about the 4,500 sailing barges for which he held records.   It would probably be called something like The Barge Directory.   He was making good progress with it, but there was still much to do.   The earliest barge he had found was built in 1751.

Treasurer, Graham Dent, presented audited accounts for 2014, which showed a loss of £2,877, but this had been caused for good reasons.   There had been extra expenditure to mark our 50th anniversary year, and members had received free of charge two books, The Prowess of Charlie Fielder and Still in the Samphire, which involved printing and postage costs.    Excellent value for members.   Graham thanked Chris Snelling for examining the accounts.

Membership Secretary, Margaret Blackburn, reported that membership in 2014 totalled 421, so keeping us well above what had been our target of 400.   27 new members had joined in that year.   To date, in 2015, 369 membership subscriptions had been received, including 9 new members, so hopefully we would maintain our numbers and maybe increase them.

Charles Traill, Editor of the twice-yearly Mainsheet, said he was very grateful for the news and information provided to him by members and for photographs he was sent.   He thanked Margaret and Brian Blackburn for proof-reading and despatching the magazine.   Next year would see the 100th edition of Mainsheet published, and in the same year the annual Topsail publication would reach its 50th edition.   So something special would be needed.

As well as being Editor of Topsail, Richard Walsh co-ordinates other Society publications and keeps us informed about other barge publications.   Still in the Samphire by the late David Wood reflects the history of the Society gathered from Committee minutes and the recollections of David and other members, and had been published in 2014 to celebrate the Society’s 50th anniversary.   Also written by David Wood, (a long-serving Committee member), together with Richard Walsh, is The Prowess of Charlie Fielder.   It has received excellent reviews, including one by a distinguished reviewer who described it as “ground-breaking”.

The next Society publication, (currently being prepared), is the history of EJ Goldsmiths of Grays, the company which had the biggest fleet of sailing barges.   It is being written by Graham Dent and edited by Richard Walsh, with many pieces of information about both the fleet and the Goldsmith family continuing to be received.

Our Archivist, Don Wright, reported that 2014 had been a good year for the donation of photographs, manuscripts, books, etc, to our Archive at Fambridge.   More than 16,000 items had now been catalogued, with a further 4,000 partly done.   Don said that members were welcome to visit the Archive by appointment, and that anyone who wished to do so should contact him.

The next item on the Agenda was the election of officers and Committee members followed by the presentation of the Society’s three trophies to the winners for the year.

Richard Walsh was elected SSBR’s new Chairman;  Charles Traill was elected Vice Chairman;  the other members of the Committee were re-elected, to be joined by a new member, Linda Hoy.   Since the meeting, Tim Mileson has been co-opted to the Committee.

The trophy winners were:-

Half Model  –  Robin Neale for cataloguing the Charles Dance collection.

Colindell  –  Toby Lester and Linda Hoy for the restoration of sb Ironsides.

Deadeye  –  posthumously to the late David Wood for The Prowess of Charlie Fielder.

Chairman Emeritus, Tony Farnham, kindly donated a barge picture  –  a steel engraving  –  to be raffled for the Society’s funds. 

After a break for a welcome cup of tea, two films were shown:  a short dvd made by Robert Gillard of his father’s cine film of the 1966 Medway match, and one by Simon North about the restoration of sb Centaur.

See what you’re missing if you’re not a member!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Anniversary Thames Match attracts 16 Barges

It was a great achievement to gather 16 barges for the Thames Match on Saturday.   ThamesMatch2013 (DBrooks)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.

Barge Exhibition at Ware

Richard Walsh, SSBR Vice Chairman, writes:-

An exhibition entitled “From Ware to the Sea – The History of Sailing Barges”

Lady of the Lea taking part in the 2010 Thames Barge Match

Lady of the Lea taking part in the 2010 Thames Barge Match

opens at Ware Museum (SG12 9AL) on 6th May for 9 weeks.    I have pulled this together with the help of SSBR colleagues and others, in my spare time, when not organising this year’s Mark Boyle Memorial Thames Sailing Barge Match on 13th July, finishing at Erith for the first time in 117 years!

The exhibition conveys a brief history of the genre; details spritsail barges built in Ware; looks illustratively at ownership, crews, destinations and cargoes; the Henry Dodd Barge Match history; the anatomy of a barge; a 1:24 scale model of SB Kathleen with her history time-line in words and pictures; barge construction and sail making with the tools of both these skills on display; and the model of SB Lady of the Lea from the London Canal Museum.

Ware Museum is an independent museum run by volunteers and supported by Ware Town Council, East Herts District Council and the Ware Society.          Entry is free but a donation of £2.00 is suggested.

Ware Museum,   The Priory Lodge,   89 High Street,   Ware,   Hertfordshire,   SG12 9AL.

Opening times:-       Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday     from 11.00am to 4.00pm.

                                   Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays                  from 2.00pm to 4.00pm.

Tel:   01920 487848        Registered Charity No. 295169

Poster for the Thames Barge Match

Here’s the poster for the 2013 Thames Barge Match.   The match is special for 2013 THAMES MATCH POSTERtwo reasons.   First, it is the 150th anniversary match, the first being held in 1863.   Second, it is entitled The Mark Boyle Memorial Thames Sailing Barge Match in memory of Mark who revived the event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of V.E. Day in 1995, had been its driving force ever since, and whose sudden death at the age of 55, just before Christmas, shocked and saddened the sailing barge community.

So, let’s make sure the match has a great turnout of followers and shore watchers to make it even more special.   Incidentally, SSBR’s own Vice Chairman, Richard Walsh, has become Acting Secretary of the Match and taken on the task of running the 2013 event.

Mark Boyle (1957 – 2012)

The sailing barge world was stunned by the recent news of the death at age 55 of Capt Mark Boyle, Mark Boylethe organising secretary of the Thames Sailing Barge Match, since it was revived by him to celebrate the 50th anniversary of V.E. Day in 1995.  

Mark’s love of sailing barges was kindled by the gift of a model kit when he was a child.   He built the model and was later taken to Maldon, Essex to see the real thing.   To his disappointment he realised that his model was full of inaccuracies, and on returning home he set about putting it right!  

Mark was a gifted historian with a wealth of knowledge on subjects as diverse as sailing barges and the Spanish Peninsular War.   He was also a talented author, writing articles for magazines about the sailing barges and his experiences afloat, having ‘gone to sea’ in his teens in the coasting trade aboard ex. ‘sailormen’ by then trading under power alone.   Through later years he crewed aboard the charter and hospitality barges that plied the coast, gaining his Sailing Barge Master’s ticket in 1987.  

Not content with working aboard the last of the trading barges, Mark developed his shipwrighting skills which have left their mark on many of the genre.   These include the Cabby, Dawn and, most recently, the magnificently restored Cambria to which he applied his talent and satisfied his barge preservation aspirations at the same time.   He recognised that for the restoration movement to have lasting relevance, it is equally important to preserve the environment of the sailing barge.   Sadly, the wharves and bargeyards have fallen prey to much questionable re-development, but Mark realised the equal importance of the ‘on the water’ activities, and saw an opportunity to contest the Championship of the London River again through the conduit of a revived Thames Sailing Barge Match.   

The enormity of the task before him in restoring this, the original barge match, to its rightful place in the sailing barge calendar would have scuppered many a capable organiser.   In the wake of the success of the 1995 race, there was an appetite for more.   Mark sought out the families which had played their part 100 and more years ago, with the result that the iconic names of sailing barge owners Everard, Clarabut and Goldsmith became associated with the Match once again.   The outcome of his effort and commitment is evidenced by the current series being the longest ever continuous revival of the race since its founding by Henry Dodd in 1863.  

The sailing barge fraternity has lost one of its stalwart supporters and his passing will have a significant impact in many ways.   The Thames Match committee has met and decided to continue with the organising of this year’s event, the 150th anniversary of the first, which will take place on Saturday 13th July and be known as The Mark Boyle Memorial Thames Sailing Barge Match in honour of his vision and dedication to a sailing contest almost as old as the America’s Cup.

(This tribute to Mark Boyle was written by Richard Walsh, who is Acting Match Secretary for this year’s Thames Match.   It is reproduced from the Thames Barge Match website, where the photograph of Mark also appears.) 


Frank Thompson – RIP

We have more sad news to record, with the death suddenly on Boxing Day 2012 of Frank Thompson, after a very brief illness.

Frank, who lived in Layer-de-la-Haye, was 92.   He was a member of SSBR and often contributed to Topsail and Mainsheet.   He and his wife, Kathleen, sailed on many barges in the days of trade, particularly  with the late Stan and Chick Yeates on board sb Glenway.

Both Richard Walsh and John White heard from Frank just before Christmas when his notes were full of news.   Indeed, he gave John a few additions for The Sailing Barge Compendium.

The funeral will be on Monday 14 January, at 12.30pm, at Colchester Crematorium.   All are welcome at the service, where Jimmy Lawrence will be performing the shanty Happisburgh Light, and afterwards at the Donkey & Buskins pub, Layer-de-la-Haye.

Jack Beazley, model-maker and photographer, RIP

We heard today that Cyril Charles Beazley, (known as Jack), sadly died on 24th October at the age of 82.   Jack, who lived in Dagenham, recently had a major operation lasting nine-and-a-half hours.

At the May 2011 Annual General Meeting of SSBR Jack Beazley was awarded the Half Model Trophy in recognition of his support to the Society in providing barge photographs and of donating the CC Beazley Collection of Photographs and Negatives to the SSBR Archive.   Unfortunately Jack was not able to be at the meeting to receive the Trophy so Richard Walsh accepted it on his behalf.   The photograph shows SSBR Chairman Emeritus Tony Farnham presenting the Half Model to Richard.

This year, of course, the Half Model needed to come back for its new recipient, so I went to visit Jack at his Dagenham home in June in order to collect it, and sure enough I was given more photos and negatives for the Archive.  

That day I was on my way to the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge at Chingford for a meeting with the Curator, and had allowed half an hour to be with Jack.   In fact, I missed my meeting completely as I spent well over an hour with him.   He asked if I would like to see his models and showed me where he works on them.   He was currently working on a model of Cutty Sark, and showed me the very fine thread he was using for the rigging, all the plans and tools, and so on.   As well as ships, he had made splendid models of railway engines, and over the years had won awards for his model-making.   He also had a collection of clocks.  He visited boot fairs and bought old clocks, removed and restored the mechanisms, researched the type of wooden case each clock should have, and then made it.   Some of them were large striking clocks with a pendulum, and he told me that his neighbours sometimes complained about the noise of the striking in the night!

Jack Beazley was a fascinating character and I am so glad I had the chance to meet him. 

(Words and picture – Tricia Gurnett)

Trojan’s end – a building accident and the Olympic legacy

Back in the early part of the year the SSBR Committee heard reports that the sb Trojan, which apparently had been abandoned on Leigh Marshes, had been removed by Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and destroyed.   We learnt of this through a story that a man had been injured by the fall of a steel wall, although strangely there was no mention that the steel wall in question was part of the hull of a Thames sailing barge  –  not your everyday building accident!

Everything then went quiet, but yesterday a report appeared on “The Echo” newspaper’s website, headed “Southend Council removed and destroyed Thames Barge it says was falling into a dangerous state”.

It seems that the diligent David Hurrell had been at work and had revived the story, (please contradict this if that is not the case, David).

Southend Council is being reprimanded for not taking steps to establish the history of the vessel and its importance in the story of Thames barges and the river.   Trojan was moored at Leigh’s Two Tree Island, and was the former headquarters of the Leigh Motor Boat Club.   She had been a feature of Leigh Marshes for more than 20 years.

David is quoted, as an SSBR member, as being disappointed Council officials did not give somebody the chance to restore the barge.   He said: “She would have made a really good restoration project but Southend Council decided to destroy it”.  

The article goes on to quote SSBR Vice Chairman, Richard Walsh, who said the barge was the last  survivor of a group of eight boats built to carry 180 tons of cargo on the Thames.   Richard went on to say,  “Her demise is a serious loss to our maritime heritage;  a loss with no obvious serious attempt by the Council to establish its importance nationally and its local trading history  relevance.”

Here’s the link to the full story.

Meanwhile on his own blog, as ever, Nick Ardley gives us some information about Trojan and some pithy comments:-   “The Olympic Legacy came to the heart of the Thames estuary recently… Southend Council have destroyed a historic vessel, it is reported, in the name of beautifying the waterfront for visitors who might wander along the sea wall to the south of Leigh rail station. ……………………………… Southend had a barging heritage, once.   It purports to be a ‘seaside town’;  its maritime past helped in its rise as an entity rather than remaining the east end of Prittlewell.   Maybe, Southend could have had a real Olympic Legacy … their very own barge … taking local school children afloat around the Thames basin … following the local trade routes…   Wow, wouldn’t that have been something to shout about.   Don’t be stupid…..”

%d bloggers like this: