Ships we See: Frank C Bowen on Thames barges

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Frank C Bowen’s 1920s book Ships we See includes this chapter on Thames barges. He makes a number  of entertaining observations:

‘In the coasting business a barge captain reckons he is loaded when a robin can drink of his decks.’

‘In the old days on the Thames very few of the barges had the straight stem which is now general, but were fitted with a sloping flat bow like a lighter. Officially they were the swin-mouth type, but on the river they were more generally “shovel-nosed”.’

And he also has a good story about the relationship between captain and mate:  ‘there is a traditional story of each filling in the log for his watch. The captain in a fit of righteous indignation, finished up his information  with the item “Mate drunk.”‘

‘Immediately there was a storm of protest which the captain silenced by a straightforward question. Put that way, the mate assented somewhat ruefully that he was and the entry stood.

‘But the entry for his watch finished with the item “Captain sober.” And the skipper was righteously indignant at it.

‘”You were sober, werent you?”

‘”Of course I was.”

‘”Then the entry stands.” And stand it did.

‘All sorts of stories of this sort could be quoted about the barge hands, but taking them all in all they are a fine crowd who deserve far more respect than they get.’

For more posts relating to Thames barges, click here.


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