Stills from the film Red Sails
Last night Julie and I finally grabbed some time to watch Mike Maloney’s splendid Red Sails film on DVD. I can report that it’s a cracker.
The new footage is wonderful, but the old footage Mike found is really something, not least because it reveals so much. I thought I’d read enough to know a little about these old working boats but had no idea, for example, that when they were loaded with bricks they were brought on board by hand, in small numbers by each man.
Again, I hadn’t realised that Conyer and Halstow had been such busy centres for the brick trade, and I’d forgotten if I ever knew it that the ‘rough stuff’ hearth ash brought down the estuary by the barges was mixed with clay to make the bricks. Presumably that’s what makes the dark markings that make the characteristic London brick so handsome.
The footage also of the old barge skippers Jimmy Lawrence and Don Satin adds to the value of the film – we’re so lucky it has been made at a time when there are still old barge skippers around to be interviewed. Needless to say, they’re both excellent value in this film – having seem Jimmy Lawrence telling his stories before I knew what to expect, but Don Satin’s a great find, for me at least.
I’d like also to thank Mike Maloney for taking the trouble to include some good, useful stuff about the last of the barge skippers Bob Roberts, including his role as a singer of old and traditional songs. This aspect of Roberts seems often to be neglected by enthusiasts for these old boats, and I think it’s a great shame. I remember him singing years ago, and it will probably surprise some readers that I sometimes take singer friends over to Faversham to show them the Cambria, as a kind of pilgrimage.
Red Sails, the new film about the story of the sailing barges, is available on DVD from the Countrywide Productions website.
Red Sails, the new film about the story of the sailing barges made by Mike Maloney, is now available on DVD from the Countrywide Productions website following a public screening last week.
I’m looking forward to receiving my copy and will write about it shortly – but I’m expecting a lot, given the welcome it has received:
- Many congratulations on the magnificent film. I think the applause at the end expressed everybody’s sentiment – William Collard – project manager, Cambria Trust
- Bob and I – and many other people I talked to afterwards – thoroughly enjoyed Red Sails. It was well researched, beautifully filmed and put together. The film is a valuable contribution to the understanding of the Thames Barge – Lena Reekie
- I was very impressed by the film and treatment of the subject. It ‘reached’ me and I thought that the treatment of Jimmy Lawrence and Bill Collard was very effective in binding the film sections together – Phil Latham, ex-mate of the Cambria
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.