Built in 1922 by London & Rochester Trading Co., Pudge is a Thames sailing barge with a hull construction of pitch pine on oak with a flush deck, the steering wheel on a ‘short spindle’ without the usual raised cabin top. Originally spritsail rigged with bowsprit an auxiliary oil engine made by The Bergius Co.Ltd of Glasow was installed in 1932. Pudge is one of the last wooden barges to be built, (although further barges were built of steel)
Her working life as a cargo carrier was interrupted in spectacular fashion by the Second World War when she was requisitioned in May 1940 whilst in Tilbury, drafted to Dover and thence to Dunkirk to aid the evacuation. Three barges including Pudge were taken in tow by a tug and crossed the Channel under cover of darkness. As they reached the beaches at Dunkirk an explosion lifted Pudge out of the water and, in the words of her skipper, “she came down the right way up”. She took onboard survivors and set off for England, picking up a tow from a tug on the way, to arrive safely back at Ramsgate. Pudge is one of only four of the Dunkirk Spritsail Barges that survive. Pudge is a member of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships and is entitled to fly the flag of St. George.
She then resumed her normal trade into and from London docks, Ipswich and the Medway ports with grain, cattle cake, fertilizer, etc. until her last freight of pineapple juice in 1968 when she was bought out of the trade as a twin hatched motor barge by the Thames Barge Sailing Club. Re-rigged by members for summer weekend sailing and chartering and winter maintenance based at Maldon she was re-engined in 1990 after her passage to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dunkirk.
The TSBC evolved into The Thames Sailing Barge Trust in 2003, and Pudge has continued to run charter trips with the aim of preserving and teaching the skills needed to sail and maintain the traditions of the working sailing barge. A staged programme of renewal began in 2005 at Maylandsea with a rebuild of the bows, progressing to the deck and stern as finances permitted with a return to sail in 2007. Restoration work continues to maintain her fitness for charitable sailing work. We are currently trying to raise £350,000 towards the renewal of all her hatch, deck and associated timbers and hope to start this work in 2015.
In June 2012 Pudge was present at the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant on the Thames as part of the ‘Avenue of Sail’.
For an in depth technical article on barge construction and the complexity of Pudge’s first stage of restoration in 2003 click here