Tag Archives: barges

Dutch barges on the Medway, near Allington


A photogallery stroll on the River Medway at Allington in Kent, including Dutch barges, a Thames barge yacht, various other craft and an Archimedes screw – I must visit with a larger camera some day, as it’s an impressive piece of machinery,

Charles Dickens the younger goes off on one

One of Whistler’s ‘nocturne’ series paintings dated 1872-5, including showing a lighter or dumb barge on the Thames in London. The image is from the Wikipedia

I’ve been greatly enjoying Dickens’s Dictionary of the Thames from its Source to the Nore published in 1885, and compiled by the famous Charles Dickens’ first son, also called Charles. It’s available free online here and here, as well as several other sources.

Writing is often about making an argument, and an argument well made can provide fine entertainment, particularly if they’re extended, draw in evidence from many sources and finally achieve the status of a good rant.

Charles Dickens’s Dictionary provides several of these and the following quotations about the geezers who manage dumb barges on the River Thames is one of the best.

Barges. – Although the extension of the railway facilities in the country through which runs the Upper Thames has has very considerably reduced the number of up-river barges, there are still many engaged in the carrying trade. That they are useful may be taken for granted; that they are possibly ornamental, may be a matter of opinion; that they are a decided nuisance when a string of them, under the convoy of a vicious steam-tug, monopolises a lock for an hour or so, admits of no doubt. And the steam tugs themselves are an abomination. They are driven along with a sublime disregard of the interests of persons in punts and small boats – in this respect resembling their more distinguished cousins, the steam launches – and raise a wash which, one would suppose, can be as little beneficial to the banks of the river as it is to the peace of mind of anglers and oarsmen. Nor are the manners and customs of their crews, or of their associates the bargees, such as to conduce to the comfort of riparian proprieters or pleasure seekers. Practically, they seem to have things all their own way, and to do and say just what they like. All that can be done is to give them as wide a berth as possible, and to be thankful, at all events, that there are not more of them.

‘Down the river – from about Brentford downwards, that is – the barges occupy a very different position; an immense amount of the enormous goods traffic of the Port of London being transported by their medium, and their numbers appearing to be steadily on the increase. They are of two kinds, sailing and dumb barges. These latter are propelled by oars alone, and drift up and down apparently at the mercy of the tide. The only use of the long sweeps with which they are provided is, in fact, to keep the barge straight and even this is difficult if not impossible in a high wind. They are quite incapable of getting out of the way, or of keeping any definite course, and as they bump about among the shipping and get across the bows of steamers, they are the very type of blundering obstructiveness, and an excellent example of how time is allowed to be wasted in this country. Crowds of them hang about the entrances of the docks and piers where steamers are unloaded, and the traffic of the river, always excessive, is becoming absolutely congested with them. The books of the Watermen’s Company, in which all barges solely engaged in the London Traffic are registered, showed in a879 a total of 7,000, and about 1,000 additions are made to the list every year. The number of barges leaving the London and St. Katherine’s Docks, on an average, in 24 hours is 100. In the same time 165 leave the East and West India Docks, 100 the Victoria Docks, and 150 the Surrey Docks. To these must be added the great crowd of dumb barges which go from wharf to wharf, and from ship to ship, without entering the docks at all. The consideration of these facts; a trip down the river in a steamboat; and contemplation of the miles and miles of wharves along the both banks, almost all of which are incessantly receiving and sending out goods by dumb barges; will satisfy any one that these barges are a very large factor in the difficult problem of satisfactorily regulating the traffic on the river. And it is not only that their numbers are enormous, and their mode of progress slow, uncertain and even dangerous to other vessels. It is provided in the [ThamesConservancy byelawsthat every dumb barge shall have one competent man on board, and that when they exceed 50 tons they shall carry at least two men. The competent men, as has been said, are in fact incapable of navigating their clumsy charges to any satisfactory result; but that is not all. The evidence of all sorts of river experts given before the the Traffic Committee is exceedingly unfavourable to the men. Mr C. A. Howard, district superintendent of the metropolitan police, gives them a singularly bad character. “In navigating they are the most indifferent class of men on the river,” he thinks. Mr Spicer, Trinity House pilot, is decidedly of opinion that dumb barges are the greatest cause of obstruction, and that they will very seldom get out ot the way or even put themselves straight, when hailed to do so. A great number of witnesses are of even a more decided way of thinking. “I invariably find the men in dumb barges neither obliging nor civil… “

And so on and so forth for some pages. To his allegations of churlishness and incompetence, Dickens adds the accusation of dishonesty, says that gross neglect of duty is rarely punished by suspension and argues that the Watermen’s Company’s monopoly position should be abolished in favour of open competition.

But notice what he says about the men working sailing barges:

It is a singular fact, not unnoticed by the [Traffic] committee, that whereas the men who work the dumb barges are very ill spoken of in almost every quarter, and excellent character is given to the men who navigate the sailing barges further down the river. These men have no monopoly, and are exposed to free and open competition. They are, according to the almost unanimous evidence of skilled witnesses, pilots and so forth, skilled and careful navigators, and have gradually got into a custom of “give and take” with the steamers, which greatly facilitates the working of navigation rules.

Sometime, I’ll follow this up with 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.

Traditional steel Dutch dinghy and Forest & Stream skiff compared


pam w skiff

pram w skiff halftotal Pram dingi w Cadeau and Seneca BILD0318

Dutch dinghy and steel-built Forest & Stream skiff

Over in Holland, Hans-Christian Rieck has taken these photos of a traditional steel-built Dutch dinghy of a type often used as tenders to steel-built barges and other craft. They’re strikingly curvaceous little boats, given that they’re made from plates of sheet steel, particularly when compared with the steel-built Forest & Stream skiff seen in the background.

The F&S skiff is being smoothed with filler prior to being painted and having its woodwork fitted. I will be fascinated to hear how this boat works – and I trust it does work well in steel, as it will presumably have a theoretical life time of 80 years or more. I’m pretty sure it will be fine, by the way – it’s clearly greatly scaled up from the 12ft ply dink I drew some ten years ago no, and that will no doubt compensate for the extra weight of the hull. I’d like to take a trip to see it once she’s in the water if that’s ok please Hans-Christian!

Hans-Christian’s workshop trains youngsters in the metalworking skills, and the steel dinghy belongs to the Graf Ship Association - it is destined to be cleaned and refinished.

Here are some earlier images of the F&S skiff, and of a ship, the Jantje ready to be transported to Nordhorn after being sandblasted and sprayed.

skiff starboard2 Skiff total forward buoyancy2


The steel-built Forest & Stream skiff makes further progress


Skiff turned over

Total with 5 m motor punt behind Fore Bulkhead for buoyancy aft bulkhead 2

Over in Germany, Hans-Christian Rieck has written  with news and photos of the steel-built Forest & Stream skiff he’s making with some unemployed kids.

I should explain that steel-built dinghies are common on the German and Dutch coasts, and that many sea-going and coastal barges are equipped with them.

Here’s what he says:

‘Hello Gavin,

‘As you can see in the pictures, the boat is now in her normal upright position and we are starting the interior work. You can see the bulkheads for the bouyancy are in place and are awaiting welding. The frames are still with their metal profiles which keep them at the right distance, but the welding will soon be over and they will then be removed.

‘I think within the next two weeks the metalworks wil be over an then the painting an the woodwork will start.



The boat behind the skiff is a 5m motor punt project completed some time ago.

Thanks for the photos Hans-Christian!

For more on the Forest & Stream skiff and for the free plans Hans-Christian is working with, click here.

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What it’s really all about…


Out to sea

Barge boat Barge boat 2 Red sails

Smack 3 Smack 2 Smack

Click on the images for much larger photos. The one at the top
makes a particularly fine background – click on the thumbnail,
then click on your right mouse button when the large image loads

We’ve just got back from a blissful weekend’s sailing around the Swale in our little Ian Proctor-designed Prelude, and here are some photos to prove it. From the top: an unknown yacht making her way seaward at low tide in the morning light; two shots of a boat belonging to one of the local sailing barges (there are two shots because one reveals something about its hull form – for more more on barges, click here); an unknown yacht rides the afternoon tide; three shots taken by Julie of a smack at Tester’s yard at the mouth of Oare Creek.

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The Albert Strange Association offers a grand day out, sailing by barge from Maldon




The Albert Strange Association folks have had a brilliant idea for their annual meet – offering those who are interested the grandest of grand days out.

They’re offering up to 12 interested souls a day’s sailing aboard their own Albert Strange-designed boats, together with sailing and accommodation for a couple of nights aboard the the Thames barge Wyvenhoe – and all for the very reasonable price of £120 a head to cover the barge hire.

It all takes place on the 4-6th September, and for guests it all begins with boarding the Wyvenhoe at Maldon.

Get the information from the Albert Strange Association website.