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?’

Faversham Creek Trust launched to revitalise historic waterway

Faversham Creek Trust leaflet

The Faversham Creek Trust launched yesterday will ‘work with both local and national government to regenerate shipbuilding and marine activity, creating a vibrant, revitalised working creek and skilled jobs for local people’.

That sounds like good news to me – if the council and landowners allow the new trust to achieve its aims.

A press release issued by the trust puts it this way:

‘Dedicated to protecting and promoting Faversham’s centuries-old maritime industry, the trust intends to reverse the recent decline in the creek’s fortunes for the benefit of the whole town, which is an ancient Cinque Port 10 miles west of Canterbury.

‘The trust has invited creekside land owners and operators to participate, and has produced a colour brochure detailing the creek’s history and its importance to the town. It sets out plans for a successful, sustainable future for this tidal link to the Thames Estuary, guaranteeing real employment and training opportunities.

‘The trust is asking the local authority, Swale Borough Council, to commit to protecting Faversham’s heritage and has plans in place to raise funds once the future of significant creekside sites can be secured.

‘The launch of the Trust comes at a time of widespread public concern for the creek’s future: in particular, the immediate threat to traditional boatbuilding jobs at Standard Quay. Around 1,000 people have already signed an e-petition to the council, calling for the quay, a national centre for sailing barge repair on the site of the famous Goldfinch shipyard, to be protected from inappropriate development.

‘Faversham is practically the last stronghold of the world-renowned Thames sailing barge. Safeguarding one of the town’s last surviving pockets of creekside maritime industry is an urgent priority for the new trust. But its scope and ambition extend much further.’

Trust spokesman David Gwyn Jones said that current proposals to allow the historic listed buildings on Standard Quay to be used for restaurants and shops would deny them to the maritime users and barge repairers on the waterfront.
‘We are not opposed to house building or business development,’ he said, ‘but new housing has already encroached upon much of the creek. Other sites are suitable for development which do not threaten the marine heritage of Faversham and its people’s jobs.

The trust’s plans include include:

  • creating more than 50 new jobs
  • bringing the swing bridge and creek basin back into proper use and resolving the present silting problems
  • new facilities, including slipways, dry docks, a dinghy building school, a blacksmith’s forge, a marine engineering workshop, and a museum
  • creek festivals and sailing events

Faversham’s a great place, but just think what it could be if this new trust gets it’s way!

Refurbished Thames barge Edith May at sea and sailing well

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Thames sailing barge Edith May

Edward Gransden has kindly been in touch with these photos of the Thames sailing barge named Edith May, which has this month been sailing for the first time in ten years or more. Here’s what he says:

‘Please find attached a couple of photos from our first sail. We are intending to charter with individuals and groups up to 12 throughout the summer, operating from Lower Halstow, Chatham and Queenborough.

‘Having spent the past 10 and a half years restoring her, it was a great thrill to be able to take her out sailing for the first time, with her performance proving very pleasing. The Swale Match in August will be the first chance we get to see if she has retained the pace she was once renowned for!’

Thanks Edward! Any time you have photos and stories to share let me know.

It happens that we were over at Lower Halstow this weekend, and found the Edith May in the dock looking very smart. I took some shots with my camera phone – but I’m damned if I can get them out. It’s a better camera than you might think, but the connections and software make me curse!

Here’s an earlier post featuring the Edith May, and here’s a link to the Edith May website.