Griff Rhys Jones meets gunpowder barge Lady of the Lea on London’s other other river

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GRJ on the Lea

TV presenter, TV clown and old boat enthusiast Griff Rhys Jones’ series Rivers this week follows the River Lea.

If the Thames is also known as the London River and the Medway is often called London’s Other River, then the Lea must at least claim to be London’s Other Other River.

True to the form of the other programmes in the series it included some fabulous photography interspersed with some comical rubbernecking by GRJ and some interesting historical stuff – and I have to say it was easily the most interesting of the series so far.

I lived for years on the banks of the Lea and frequently used it to travel around – though by bicycle on the towpath in those days rather than by boat, but the programme makers introduced me to several aspects of the river that I hadn’t known anything about, including the large gunpowder works on its banks and the barges that used to carry the dangerous stuff away.

Anyway, the programme included a jolly sequence in which the last remaining gunpowder barge (and incidentally, the last sailing barge to be launched in the heyday of barge building), the Lady of the Lea, came up the river for the first time in a decade, and then had some trouble turning around in the river, which we learned is silting up slowly.

There are a couple of links to share one shows a nice photo of the old boat, while the other gives her main details.

If you’re in the UK, the River Lea episode will be available on the BBC iPlayer for some days to come.

5 thoughts on “Griff Rhys Jones meets gunpowder barge Lady of the Lea on London’s other other river”

  1. I saw the programme about the River Lea hosted by Griff Rhys Jones and was most impressed by the Lady of the Lea barge. Does the owner conduct sight-seeing tours on the Lady? If so, my sister would be very interested as we are travelling to the UK late this year and would like to sail by barge in a canal or river that uses locks.

  2. A little bit of history as we too were delighted to see this tv program and the Thames sailing barge. My father, Ivor Cantle, an engineer, bought "The Lady of the Lea" around 1950 when it was an open barge and converted it into a cosy home for his family. Moored at Birkhamstead, near Tring, it was my home for the first 4 years of my life, until they sold it as they could then afford a house. Each year, Ivor took the barge down to London for slipping and refouling of the hull. The journey of course being through the many locks along the canal, so it was a tedious voyage. Throughout his long life Ivor had many other yachts and boats but the "Lady of the Lea" was unique and held special memories. A few years ago, he viewed the barge in its restored state via the internet and was delighted by the work that had been carried out. Consequently on a trip to England, my daughter visited Faversham and viewed the barge.

    Coral – Balgowlah Heights, NSW, Australia

  3. The Lady of the Lea did moor briefly at approx. 3 Birkhamstead locations but stayed about 5 years at a mooring at Cow Roast, between Birkhamstead and Tring- the postal address was ‘near Tring, Herts’. Coral Johnson is my younger sister

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