A beautiful Summer's day in Essex. A perfect opportunity to go out on one of the old Thames barges moored at the quay in Maldon and take some photos. The boat was called HYDROGEN and was built in 1906. The days when Hydrogen carried her cargoes under sail in all weathers on the East Coast seem far from the balmy times enjoyed by her guests today. Built in 1906, she is the largest surviving wooden barge, a Coaster who’s fine lines and sturdy construction are a great example of the shipwright’s craft.
During WWII, Hydrogen was sent to the Clyde to work as a supply ship and around that time her engine was fitted. For the Queens Silver Jubilee, she joined the river Pageant as a motor barge, carrying a large golden lion on deck. Hydrogen finished in trade in 1976 and in the early 1980’s was bought by Bells Whisky and converted back to sail. Bells took her on an annual UK circumnavigation to promote their brands – so she became a regular visitor at many ports and became known as the “Whisky Barge”.
Many of the barges here have been lovingly restored by devoted owners and some are still in use commercially as charter vessels. The distinctive colour of the barge sails is due to a dressing of yellow ochre , cod oil (for waterproofing) and sea water.
The origins of the Thames sailing barge lie in the 17th and 18th centuries when flat-bottomed wooden craft evolved for use in the River Thames and its Kent neighbour the River Medway. They were used to lighter cargo from ships to the wharves along the banks of the rivers in the developing ports of London and Rochester.
In the past, Thames Barges would leave the Hythe carrying foodstuffs and bedding straw to London returning with cargos of horse manure for the district farms. Fishing vessels left their moorings by the bath wall in search of eels, place, sole, whelks and winkles in the estuary.
While Maldon sits proudly on a hill, the port is essentially at sea level. The Hythe, as the port is known, began life as a separate hamlet where the skyline is dominated by tower of St Mary’s Church.