|Lady of the Lea. Photograph by D. Renouf|
from the thamesbarge.org.uk website
Today Thames sailing barges, often recognizable from their red-brown sails, long low lines and lee boards, can be seen moored up on the downriver side of Tower Bridge, and within St Katherine's Dock are some fine examples that are chartered for events.
Thames barges came in a variety of forms, all variations of a basic theme, with the main differences lying in their hull construction and rigging. They were flat-bottomed and were designed for estuaries and coastal waters. Some of them were also hauled along canals. Their distinctive red-brown sails were made of flax and waterproofed against salt water with a mixture of red ochre, (which was boiled with tar, tallow and oak bark), and cod or seal oil. The cod gave the sails a browner appearance, the seal oil a redder colour). Most of the surviving Thames barges were built during the late 18th century and 19th century, when they were used for carrying an eclectic mix of cargoes around the country, including bricks, coal, grain, straw and timber, but their origins lie in the Medieval period and the later legacy of canal barges. Like other ships of the 19th Century wooden hulls were replaced by metal. They could handle a significant tonnage and were an important part of the country's cargo handling infrastructure until well into the 20th Century.
|A stumpy-rigged Thames Barge at Greenwich|
1890, Illustrated London News
Constructed in wood, Lady of the Lea was equipped with a tiller connected to the rudder and was originally stumpy rigged, meaning she had no top mast or top sail. The fact that she was stumpy rigged, a rig designed for barges that had to pass under the low London bridges, argues that she was in use on the Thames in London during her early years. She was built to a design based on canal barges because her intended use meant that she had to use a narrow canal passage at the gunpowder mills where she loaded and unloaded. Designated a War Department Sailing Barge, she was used to carry up to 500 barrels of gunpowder, as well as other armaments, between Woolwich Arsenal and Waltham Abbey. There is apparently a display at the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey showing her at work. She travelled on both open water, under sail, and canals, when she was horse-drawn.
|Lady of the Lea. Photograph taken from the |