June 28, 2017
Once a common sight on the River Thames the Thames Barges were built to navigate the shallow waters of the river, it’s tributaries and small ports, their shallow draught and flat bottoms making it possible to stand offshore on the low tide mudbanks to load and unload when there was no jetty available. With a capacity for six working sails, operated by just two crew, and masts mounted in tabernacles to make it possible to lower them to ‘shoot’ the bridges whilst maintain headway the seaworthy barges traded around the British coast and as far afield as continental Europe with a variety of cargoes from building materials to gun powder.
The barge races series was begun in 1863 and is the second oldest sailing competition, after the Americas Cup, it continues to this day with the 110th race scheduled for May 2018. In their heyday at the turn of the Twentieth century there were over 2000 of the barges on the registry, this number has declined with the last barge trading entirely under sail registered in 1970.
This painting by Anthony Giles perfectly captures the strength and beauty of one of the Thames Barges whilst moored in the calm waters of the Swale Estuary, the body of water running between the Isle of Sheppey and the mainland and is available in the Gallery. It offers calm respite in our busy world and nostalgia for a bygone era.
‘The majestic beauty of a Thames Barge in full sail is a sight that always inspires me to paint. The red sails and dark timber hulls evoke an image of times past and will inspire artists for generations.’ Anthony Giles