Barge skipper calls for positive view of sailing barges and supporting facilities

The relaunching of Bob Roberts’ barge Cambria at Standard Quay following repairs

Skipper of sailing barge Wyvenhoe Martin Phillips has called for a more positive view of sailing barges and the yards and skills that maintain them.

His comments appear on a weblog published by the Society for Sailing Barge Research, and follow wide publicity surrounding the loss of Faversham’s Standard Quay as a centre for the work. This includes the powerful film The Quay about the issue, made by Richard Fleury and Simon Clay.

(See the Comments link below for Richard’s response to Martin Phillips remarks.)

Campaigners have seen the loss of Standard Quay as a centre for barges as part of a wider trend, in which water-front areas have been developed for housing, restuarants and other non-maritime businesses, and so are no longer available for maintaining traditional craft.

However, Mr Phillips says we should not forget that barges and the yards that maintain them are thriving in Essex and Suffolk.

‘It is very sad that the landowner’s wish to develop the site has destroyed what had been developed at Standard Quay; however I feel that the coverage of this to date rather ignores reality of what has been achieved by the Thames barge and traditional boat community in East Anglia.’

‘Why can’t someone make an optimistic film publicising the achievements of the Thames Sailing Barge Trust (formerly the Barge Club) in keeping its barges sailing over the last 64 years, rebuilding two (Pudge and Centaur) without National Lottery support, and taking thousands of people sailing?

‘The trust’s training has produced about eight of the current sailing barge masters, including myself. It has done so much good to preserve barges and helped to bring people into the barge scene who go on to work on barges. Let’s celebrate this success please!’

Mr Phillips said Maldon and the Blackwater are home to a very active fleet of barges and two yards (Cook’s and Blackwater Marina) capable of working on barges, with blocks and two dry docks operating, and that there is also Andy Harman’s yard at St Osyth.

Topsail Charters has built a successful business over a quarter of a century preserving a fleet of active barges carrying thousands of passengers a year and employing a group of skippers and mates.

‘There is a host of evidence that the area is a hotbed of traditional skills and specialist shipwrights, riggers, metal workers, a blacksmith and much much more all based around the rich maritime heritage of the area. Traditional skills are actually thriving in East Anglia and the fleet of barges and smacks is a gem. Where else in the UK has a fleet of traditional craft in their home waters preserved and transformed from cargo carriers and fishing boats to working and pleasure vessels?’

2 thoughts on “Barge skipper calls for positive view of sailing barges and supporting facilities”

  1. Glad to hear that the skills and facilities lost from Standard Quay survive and thrive elsewhere. Here in Kent too, since I finished making The Quay, there is cause for some optimism. The volunteer-run Faversham Creek Trust ( has done a fantastic job, starting an apprentice shipwrights training centre and campaigning for a working creek. And shipwright Tim Goldsack has relocated to Oare and not moved his business out of the county as some had feared.

    A film celebrating the successes of the Thames Sailing Barge community in East Anglia and Essex is a tremendous idea. I’d personally be delighted to see such a project commissioned. But that would be a very different film from The Quay, which was specifically about Standard Quay’s demise as a working yard. With a running time of just 15 minutes, our film had to focus on Standard Quay’s story alone.

    It doesn’t seek to suggest however that Standard Quay was the only remaining barge yard (although it was certainly a very important one), or that it’s loss has killed off these traditional skills in one fell swoop. But I hope it does show clearly and truthfully what was lost there and allows audiences to make up their own minds as to why.

    Please excuse the shameless plug but I’m working on a DVD release of The Quay for later this year which will include material not used in the short version. We shot some interesting interviews which put Standard Quay and Thames barges into broader historical context. I’ll post more info at and when the time comes.

    Thanks for your interest. Let’s hope the Thames barge community continues to thrive and Standard Quay’s story is not repeated elsewhere.

    Richard Fleury
    Producer/director,, The Quay

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