Pudge – A Survivor
The Thames sailing barge Pudge is 100 years old this year. She is regularly moored in Maldon and will be a familiar sight for visitors to the Hythe. Over the summer she can usually be seen sailing along the East coast rivers, the Thames and Kent coast. Anyone can join her on these voyages.
Pudge was built in 1922 for the London & Rochester Barge Co. Ltd. Although no record of her launch has been traced there are local memories of the ceremony being performed by a director’s daughter whose family nickname was “Podge”. James Broom, who was to be her first Master, objected to sailing a barge named Podge, and in a spirit of compromise the vessel was named Pudge.
There are no records relating to the cargo Pudge carried during her first year in trade in 1922 but it is likely to have been either linseed or cotton seed for the mills of British Oil and Cake Mills (BOCM). On 15th January 1923 William ‘Bill’ Watson from Barling was appointed Master. Before taking command of Pudge, Bill Watson had been in London & Rochester’s Sir Richard. He was to remain as master of Pudge for 27 years until he retired in December 1949. Bill kept a record of all the cargoes that Pudge carried and it is clear that oils seeds were a very common cargo even during World War II.
However the war also became an important time in Pudge’s history as she was requisitioned by the Government to be one of the ships that were to take part in Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Forces from the beaches at Dunkirk. Pudge survived being sunk after the tug St. Fagan, which was towing her across the channel, took a direct hit and sank immediately taking two other sailing barges with her. She proudly flies the flag of a Dunkirk Little Ship to this day.
In her trading years Pudge had a number of escapes. In November 1938 she survived a fire on board near Deal in Kent; in 1939 she sank in the Thames Estuary whilst on route from London to Newport, Isle of Wight after a collision with the SS Lapwing; in August 1960 as a motor barge she needed assistance from the Margate life boat after engine failed. Continuing bravely on after war and accident is why we have titled her book ‘Pudge – a Survivor’
In the 1950’s she became a motor barge and continued to trade until 1968 when she was purchased by the Thames Barge Sailing Club, (now the Thames Barge Sailing Trust) for £750. The members of the Thames Barge Sailing Club converted her back to sail. With the closure of the London Docks in 1982 the Club sought a new base, leaving the London River for Maldon on the River Blackwater.
Since her ownership by the Club and Trust she has undergone many periods of restoration with much of her wooden hull having been replaced. The majority of this work has taken place in and around Maldon with the services of local shipwrights.
In 2019 the Trust started the latest phase of her restoration which will see Pudge sailing for many years to come. The Trust raised £738,000, through grants and donations, for Pudge to receive new decks, beams, ceilings, carlings and a below deck refit. £328,000 of this came from the Lottery Heritage Fund.
On the 13th July Pudge celebrated her 100th birthday. The Trust have also written a book about Pudge’s history ‘Pudge – the Survivor’ and this will be launched on the 13th July on the Quay at the Hythe, Maldon. The book has nearly 300 pages and over 200 illustrations and is in hard back. Copies will cost £22.95 plus p&p of £5.00. They can be obtained by contacting John Rayment, Thames Sailing Barge Trust by calling 07587 141054 or by visiting our website, www.bargetrust.org/shop or from Chaffcutter Books at www.chaffcutterbooks.co.uk.