The Thames Sailing Barge Trust which is based in Maldon, Essex on Hythe Quay reaches an important anniversary this year by having been in operation for 75 years.
The Trust was originally the Thames Barge Sailing Club, which was the brainchild of a solicitor, a sometime engineer and wartime seaman, Hugh Vaudrey, who in 1947 coerced some Greenwich residents to join him in his ambition to sail a sailing barge and form a barge sailing club. The most important of these residents was Frank Carr, the Director of the National Maritime Museum.
Frank Car was the author of “Sailing Barges”, published in 1931 and his name gave the idea of the club some credibility and it was decided that the Maritime Museum would be the club’s address. After a few initial meetings in 1947 it was decided to foster the practice of sailing working craft, maintain one or more Thames sailing barges in commission on London River for weekend sailing at a nominal cost, to preserve drawings, plans, prints, photographs and models of these working craft.
After a couple of meetings with interested parties it was decided to constitute the Thames Barges Sailing Club at a meeting on the 6th March 1948.
The Club’s first barge was Spurgeon which they chartered for four months from June 1948. Subsequently the Club owned the sailing barges Arrow, Asphodel, Westmoreland and currently the two sailing barges Pudge and Centaur which are based at Maldon.
For many years the Thames Barge Sailing Club have unusually owned and operated two sailing barges just as the Trust does today. The current barges Pudge and Centaur are on the National Historic Ships Register and are both recognised as Dunkirk Little Ships. Centaur did not make it to Dunkirk, but Pudge managed to help save the lives of 160 French and British soldiers.
The Thames Barge Sailing Club became The Thames Sailing Barge Trust a charitable Trust in May 2003 to assist with the raising of funds through grants and donations to keep both barges sailing.
The Trust exists to preserve its two Thames barges in sailing condition for the benefit of the public and to pass on the skills required to sail them. The Trust has recently been awarded a grant from Trinity House for its training scheme, and it also works with both adult and children’s groups to teach them about these historic vessels and their part in maritime history.
This year we see the completion of a 5-year project to restore and refit Pudge which has been partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. She will be sailing from Maldon by the end of April.