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SYLVIA506 viewsThese coastal trading barges used to feed London. I have an old photograph of the Pool of London, absolutely full of them. The riverside warehouses which are now fashionable apartments used to be the city's granary.
The Thames Barge was an astonishingly efficient sailing craft. They had a capacity of up to about a hundred and eighty tons. The crew consisted of a man, a boy and a dog. It was said the dog's job was to bite the boy if he didn't move fast enough. With their shallow draft and leeboards, they could sail in waters where few other craft could venture.
There is a very pleasant pub at Snape, in Suffolk, called the "Plough and Sail", a name which neatly encapsulates the essence of the Suffolk agricultural economy until the advent of the large articulated lorry. It is well inland, up a narrow channel. The barges would work up it to the warehouse. The Snape channel was known to bargemen as one of the most difficult. Then they would load up with corn, slip down-channel, and sail through the narrow channels, or swatchways, that threaded between the many sandbanks of the Thames estuary, going where no other commercial craft would dare to go. If the channel had shifted and they ran aground, their massive timbers and immensely strong construction would save them until the tide rose again. Then it would be up the London River to discharge.
This model, the "Sylvia", was built for a descendant of the Shrubsall family, who were one of the most famous families of barge builders. He now lives in the U.S.A., and his model occupies an honoured place in his house.
(model by John Davies)
     
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