Blog Archives

Gravesend again – having a whale of a time!

Benny the whale at Gravesend

It’s clearly a Gravesend week.   Two days ago we highlighted the coming auction of West Street Pier in the town.   Some barge people have since suggested it would make a good base for Thames Sailing Barges  –  lot of money, lot of work needed, as ever with barges.

Now today there is an article in The Times about that whale which came for an autumn holiday in the Thames at Lower Hope Reach, and liked it so much it stayed around the area for several months, even being seen off Gravesend Promenade.   Although nobody knows whether it is male or female, it was christened Benny by local people and seems to have contributed considerably to the town’s economy.   Postcards, mugs, fridge magnets and cuddly toy whales appeared in the shops, and there was even “Bennie’s Ale” at one of the pubs.

When we went over on the ferry for the SSBR Committee meeting at the marvellous Three Daws last autumn we all had our eyes peeled but didn’t have the luck to see Benny.

The last sighting was January 6th and even that is just a maybe.   Has Benny gone?   Did it decide the Thames in December was not the place to be?   Gravesend businesses hope not.   They hope Benny may be in the outer estuary, or if it has gone that it will come back again.   They say Benny had adapted well to life in the river and was happy.

For the sake of all those Benny fridge magnets, they hope to see the whale again.

Read the story here.

Alexander von Humboldt II has a follower

Today the German sail training vessel, Alexander von Humboldt  II, came down river having spent the weekend in London.   This magnificent ship used to have green sails but is now all in white.   Here’s a picture of her coming down river, but who’s that following her?   And here’s a picture of the Gravesend pilot boarding her.  

The fools’ hippo!

Here’s a good April Fool’s Day post  –  A hippo swimming in the Thames.

Click here to read the story and see the video.


Alex talks about his London River

The Visit London tourism site has a very nice film about the river, fronted by Alex Hickman who is a Thames Waterman and Lighterman now working as a Pier Controller for London River Services, part of Transport for London.

No mention of barges in particular, but a man with a real love of the river, its history and working on it today.

Here’s the link.

Cement barrels loaded at Tunnel Jetty

My local newspaper, the Thurrock Gazette, has a weekly column called “Down Tunnel Cement & bargesMemory Lane”, which is written by my good friend Jonathan Catton, Heritage & Museum Officer of Thurrock Council, or, in my terminology, Curator of Thurrock Museum.   Each week I clip out Jonathan’s piece and put it in a Box File, but often don’t get a chance to read it for some time.

I’ve just been catching up on them, and found one from February of this year about Thurrock’s cement industry, particularly Tunnel Portland Cement.

It includes a picture which Jonathan had taken from the front cover of one of the company’s souvenir catalogues from the 1930s.   It shows the Tunnel Jetty on the Thames with several sailing barges, one of which is being loaded with barrels of cement. 

Sorry the quality is not good as it is a scanned-in news cutting. 

Tricia Gurnett

Cambria and Waverley at Gravesend

Photos of the paddle steamer Waverley, when she was doing trips on the Thames with Waverley at Gravesend 2012last year, have just been published on the vessel’s Facebook page.   Amongst them is this terrific one showing Waverley and sb Cambria on either side of the new pontoon at Gravesend.  

When Waverley came into the pontoon for the first time, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a brass band playing on the pier, I was on board Cambria with Dave Brooks and Rob Bassi.   We had been expecting quite a few Waverley passengers to visit Cambria and were all ready to show them round.   In the end only two were given permission to disembark from the paddle steamer and come on board, and they were only allowed five minutes.   A high speed tour took place!  

Still it was great to see these two ladies of the sea side by side, and a stirring sight when those huge paddles turned and Waverley continued up river.  

A low opinion of dumb bargemen from the great writer

I often read and enjoy In the Boat Shed, the blog which Gavin Atkin writes, but I am grateful today to Edith May Trading Company for alerting me to a new post from Gavin about the respective merits of “dumb bargemen” and sailing bargemen in the time of Charles Dickens.   It’s fascinating to read Dickens’s extremely low opinion of the dumb bargemen, and Gavin promises a future post on “his equally determined rant against the selfish and stupid operators of steam launches, which are clearly the Chelsea tractor and jetski drivers of his time.”

Here’s the link to In the Boat Shed to see the whole article.

Sails sparkle as the Tall Ships go up river

Heard quite by chance that a flotilla of 14 tall ships was going up river from Tilbury.    They are to provide short sails on the Thames in London during the Olympics under the banner Sail Royal Greenwich, and gourmet catering is promised plus a view of all the London sights.

Normally when I go to Tilbury Landing Stage for such an event, there are only a few hardened watchers there, but this morning, driven no doubt by the school holidays and the excellent weather, it was packed.   People everywhere;  the ferry passengers had a great view;  and over there at the new Gravesend Town Pier pontoon was a lady I thought I knew  –  a grey and black lady with fresh paint.   Cambria back ready for the Thames Match on Saturday.

The tall ships were moored at Tilbury Landing Stage overnight, and took passengers on board this morning, who, we were told, had been brought down river by Thames Clipper.   They left the landing stage under motor, but soon the sails began to unfurl.  

Then, on a sparkling sunny morning, they formed up  into a wonderful stately parade of sail for the journey up to Greenwich.    Standing on the landing stage, unfortunately I was facing straight into the sun so the pictures I took are darker than the beautiful day would have suggested.

Once the sails had disappeared  behind Tilbury docks, I raced by car back to Grays and down to the riverside by the old Wouldham works.   I missed the frontrunner, but was in time to see all the rest as they came past.   It was low water, so they had to be right in the middle to pick up the channel.   And luckily the huge Cobelfret ships stayed well back until the parade had passed.

Then they were gone.   The Sail Royal Greenwich website here tells you all about what the ships will be doing, and also mentions that today’s sail had to be curtailed.   They were not allowed to go right to Greenwich for security reasons, presumably Olympics security.   A friend tells me it was disappointing earlier as the river front at Greenwich was packed with people who had come to watch, but the ships had to turn back.   Tonight though they eventually made it to Greenwich. 

(Words and pictures – Tricia Gurnett)

The Pageant, the barges and some pictures

The Flotilla passes barges moored either side in the Pool of London

The highlight of recent weeks has to be the Queen’s Diamond

Jubilee Pageant on the Thames, where a considerable number of Thames barges took part.   They were in the Avenue of Sail between London Bridge and Wapping rather than in the Pageant itself because they are too tall to go under any of the bridges higher up.

It was an exciting time for those lucky enough to be on board the barges during the Pageant, or those who helped sail them up to the Pool of London.

I have to say that I was disappointed that the Thames sailing barges got so little mention on TV or in the press.   After all, the Pageant was on the River Thames, and they are the boats specially designed for the river and which for so many years carried goods to and from London by river.   I hate criticizing what the Queen was doing, or what her advisers had her do, but I had hoped that when the Royal Barge came under Tower Bridge she would continue right to the end of the Avenue of Sail, and then come back to HMS President.   As it were, the Queen reviewing the Avenue of Sail.   It seems a bit pointless having an Avenue of Sail if the principal person is not going to sail through it.     I hope the barge crews didn’t feel too disappointed.

We have established a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant album in our Gallery on Flickr.   Go to the Gallery page, click on the link, and you will see the QDJP folder.   There are only a few pictures on at the moment, but we shall be adding to them regularly.   Incidentally, if any of the barges which took part would like to send us their pictures, we will be happy to include them.    Send them to us at:-

(Tricia Gurnett)

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