Steve Taylor has kindly sent over these photos from the Regent’s Canal – like many of us I suspect, he adds variety to the working day by strolling to the nearest body of water at lunchtime to watch whatever’s going on. (I’ll take a peek at the Thames myself when it comes to my turn.)
One day recently he hit gold – a working scene that could have been shot at almost any time in the past 150 years (if you ignore the welded seams of the lighter), followed one that belongs very much in the modern day.
‘As I’ve been working in Oxford Street I made my way to the Regents Canal and enjoyed a short walk during which I was cheered to see the waterway being used for a genuine practical – and commercial purpose. A building is being partially demolished and rubble is removed using a small steel lighter. This of course is eminently practical, since there is no street access to the rear of the property and no doubt the presence of a skip in the street would be inconvenient.
‘An added bonus was spotting a Banksy piece which can only have been executed from a boat – presumably at the dead of night? A walk along the canal is the perfect antidote to the drudgery of life in an office. The noise and fumes of London traffic are all left behind after a few paces along the towpath and it is hard to believe you are really in the middle of the big city!’
Click on the thumbnails for much larger images
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.
A Thames barge in the Swin, by Frank Mason. Click on the
picture for a bigger image
I’ve put this drawing of a Thames barge up this morning in honour of a group of pals who as I write are holidaying off the Essex Coast in the Thames barge named Centaur.
The sun’s shining and there’s a good breeze this morning, and needless to say, I’m envious, not least because in addition to sailing I know that there will be some great singing and music-making on board and ashore!
The scan comes from Vanishing Craft, written by F G G Carr and illustrated by Frank Mason. Writing nearly 90 years ago, Carr says this of barges: ‘It is hard to find a picture of the Thames without one or more of these beautiful vessels lending a touch of grace and colour to the scene. One cannot even think of the lower river without the barges, some under way, with their reddish brown canvas full and drawing and carrying them smoothly about their business, while others of their class lie at anchor with sails brailed up and waiting for the tide that sluices past their sides to turn in their favour.’
How times have changed. These days there are just a few barges still sailing compared with two thousand or more in Carr’s time. Still, I’m glad to report that we usually see at least one each time we sail on the North Kent Coast.
For more intheboatshed.net posts relating to barges click here.
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