Tag Archives: Thames Estuary

A film history of Thames Estuary gravel carriers Prior’s

This is a beautifully made film history of Prior’s – their small gravel-carrying ships are a familiar sight for anyone sailing the north side of the Thames Estuary.

My thanks to Paul Mullings for the link.

Here’s a photo of one of Prior’s vessels that I took earlier this year.


Business plan for boat moorings and maintenance at Faversham Creek would be in surplus after four years

Standard Quay, Faversham

A business plan examining the financial feasibility of developing repair and maintenance of traditional vessels in Faversham Creek has concluded that a net present value of £560k could be achieved over 15 years after including all costs.

The project would lead to 10 new full-time jobs and would be be in substantial surplus in its fourth year, says the report, which was written by a group of business-minded individuals follows a request by Faversham Town Council for an assessment of this kind in support of the local neighbourhood plan.

Achieving these benefits would be dependent on public support and funding, including providing a new opening bridge however.

The authors conclude that the Thames from London to its full outer estuary includes some 51 Thames sailing barges, 170 Dutch/motor barges and approximately 533 smacks and other traditional vessels, and that in business terms restoring, refitting and maintaining these vessels amounts to a turnover of £6m a year, with a significant secondary revenue from moorings.

They concluded that Faversham should be able to attract 18 per cent of the available Thames barge work, 10 per cent of Dutch barges and 7 per cent of smacks, which would require three extra dry docks to be available for mainstream repair, and maintenance along the tidal Creek and light maintenance and general moorings elsewhere.

The predicted annual income including from mooring fees is £700k gross, or £200k net of operating costs – which it is thought would lead to 10 additional full time jobs in the town.

Some £1.3m of capital expenditure would be required, including £860k for an opening bridge and sluices £280k for quay structures, £50k for initial dredging and £140k for dry docks and other equipment – and if the Council were to invest in an opening bridge, the report argues it would be feasible to raise the remainder from bank loans and private investment.

Read the report here.

1940s and 50s barge crewman and skipper Jimmy Lawrence tells his story

Jimmy Lawrence barge skipper talks on Southend Pier 7

Jimmy Lawrence has fabulous recall of his days sailing on barges in the 1940s and 50s, and has an entertaining way of telling stories about those times. So when we heard that he was going to be talking on Southend Pier as part of the Southend Barge Match last week, we took the opportunity to hear him again.

It was only a shame that there weren’t more people – but Jimmy tailored his talk to the interests of the smallish assembled party of mainly sailing barge racing crew.

It was fun too to travel on the little railway that runs along the pier – at more than a mile long, it’s a considerable feature of that bit of coast.

Here’s one of his stories from the time when he got his first job as third hand on the sailing barge Gladys, which is now a wreck on Deadman’s Island, on the north bank of Stangate Creek. The third hand’s job was not a great one in many ways, not least for an experienced young man who was the butt of a lot of the older men’s jokes, some of them gentle and some less so.

Third hands were also expected to act as cook, and so the skipper might shout ‘Put plenty of salt in boy and pr’aps they’ll cry their bloody eyes out!’ or ‘He couldn’t cook hot water, not without burning it he couldn’t.’

‘This was just after the war and there was no lights on the Thames Estuary at all and it was ever so dark, and you just come down to the skipper’s knowledge, his compass and the leadline. It weas marked at every fathom and you had to call them out properly… You couldn’t just say ”two fathoms skip”, it’d have to be ”by the mark two”, or ”and a quarter two” or ”less a quarter two” with everything done ever so promptly.

‘As third hand you’d start to worry because if the barge went aground, you knew it would be your fault and you’d get a kick up the arse. When it got to ”and a half one” you’d get really worried.

‘The skipper would start making out he was a bit nervous too and he’d call out ”What’s the bottom like boy?” and you’d have a look [at the tallow at the bottom of the line] and you’d say ”Just soft mud skip.”

”You sure boy? It should have some grit in it. Lick it boy lick it!”

”It’s soft mud skip.”

”Right he said. We’ve brought up just by that bloody sewer outfall.”

I’m pretty sure there aren’t too many like Jimmy still around, so I hope someone somewhere is getting it all down!

Btw, there are instructions on how to use a lead line here.