The History of the Thames Sailing Barge Trust (TSBT)

The Trust was previously a private members’ club  ‘THE THAMES BARGE SAILING CLUB’, formed by a few enthusiasts who realised that they were witnessing the end of sail on London River ( the Thames ). Barges had been the workhorses of the river, trading into the estuary, around the coast, across the Channel and survived the 1939-45 war to become the last coastal sailing cargo vessels trading in the United Kingdom.

In 1948 the Club was formed with Frank Carr,  then Director of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich as its first Commodore. By 1963 the ageing club barge ARROW was replaced by ASHPHODEL and the Club was given WESTMORELAND


In 1968 PUDGE was acquired straight out of trade as a motor barge

pudge motor barge 1957.jpg

Pudge as a motor barge in 1957

The members converted her back to sail and later acquired the one time charter barge CENTAUR. A lengthy restoration and rebuild of CENTAUR was carried out.  The Club evolved into a small shipping company run, crewed and maintained  by volunteers.

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. Members undertake much of the routine maintenace of the barges and the club has trained many of its volunteer Skippers and Mates to carry on the traditions of  the ‘Sailormen’.

The Club transformed itself into a Charitable Trust in 2003 and as the TSBT continues to be run by volunteers.

with thanks to David Wood

For a full history of the TSBC , refer to the ‘The Golden Chaffcutter’ by David Wood, available from our book sales officer – HERE.

Pudge, Arthur Ransome and ‘Coot Club’


Coot Club is the fifth book of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series of children’s books, published in 1934. The book sees Dick and Dorothea Callum visiting Norfolk Broads during the Easter Holidays, eager to learn to sail and thus impress the Swallows and Amazons when they return to the Lake District later that year. Along with a cast of new characters, Dick and Dorothea explore the North and South Broads and become ‘able seamen’.

The Callum children spend their Easter Holidays in Norfolk with a family friend, Mrs. Barrable, who is staying on a small yacht called the Teasel, moored near the village of Horning. There they encounter the Coot Club, a gang of local children comprising Tom Dudgeon, twin girls ‘Port’ and ‘Starboard’ (Nell and Bess Farland), and three younger boys — Joe, Bill and Pete (the Death and Glories).

A noisy and inconsiderate party of city-dwellers (dubbed the ‘Hullabaloos’ by the children) hire the motor cruiser Margoletta and threaten an important nesting site (one of many monitored by the Coots) by mooring in front of it. Despite warnings “not to mix with foreigners”, Tom stealthily loosens the Margoletta’s moorings to save the nest and hides behind the Teasel to save his father’s reputation. Mrs. Barrable does not give Tom away to the Hullabaloos and instead asks him to teach the Callums to sail.

Tom, Port, and Starboard join the crew of the Teasel, and together with Mrs. Barrable and her pug William, the children teach Dick and Dorothea the basics of sailing up and down the Broads. Dick shares the Coot Club’s keen interest in the local birdlife, and Dorothea uses the voyage as fodder for her new story, “Outlaw Of The Broads” based on the Hullabaloos vow to catch Tom. They chase the crew of the Teasel all over the Broads, eventually managing to crash the Margoletta in the perilously tidal Breydon Water— necessitating a dramatic rescue by the Coots.                                                             

Welcome of Rochester is a fictional Thames Barge that appears in Coot Club .
In Coot Club we get a good description of the Welcome’s cabin, engine and domestic arrangements, as well as indications of her sail plan and sheer size.

In 1933 Ransome saw the barge Pudge of Rochester at Beccles. Pudge belonged to the London and Rochester Trading Company. Whilst writing Coot Club, Ransome wrote to the company to check his facts concerning barge traffic to Beccles.

As described in Coot Club, at this time barge traffic was still common throughout the Thames Estuary and further afield, with trips along the channel and across the North Sea commonplace. By the 1930s many barge owners were beginning to fit engines to their vessels. However, as Ransome describes, these were expensive in themselves and treated very much as auxiliaries; sail remained their primary power.

pudge dry dock

TERRY O’SULLIVAN tells us more :

Our Arthur Ransome connection

Arthur Ransome was born in 1884 in Leeds, and died in 1967, having lived a very interesting life. He was a war correspondent in the first Word War, and hence travelled widely in Russia, China & Egypt.
He wrote books about Russia, but is probably best known for his ‘Swallows and Amazon’ series of children’s books written between 1930 & 1945. They are still very popular today, and there is even an Arthur Ransome Society that has regular meetings and promotes his work.
Author Christina Hardyment has also written a book called ‘Arthur Ransome on Captain Flints Trunk’. Her book gives a great insight into how Ransome gathered information, and planned out his plots. Ransome used to cruise the area’s where his plots were to be, gathering all sorts of data even before a plot was a seed in his mind.
Christina H tells us that one such cruise was in May 1933. This was with his neighbours from the Lake District, the Kelsalls. He was on his own boat ‘Fairway’, and the Kelsalls on their boat ‘Welcome’. This particular cruise was on the Norfolk Broads as he had wanted to base a story there.
They sailed down to Yarmouth across Oulton Broad exploring south westward.
Arriving at Beccles, they moored alongside a Thames Barge, which was non other, but our ‘Pudge’. Whilst moored there Ransome talked to the Skipper, and his wife. The conversation must have impressed him, as Christina H tells us that Ransome later wrote a letter to the LRTC  ( London & Rochester Trading Company, Pudge’s owners ) to ask which bridges Pudge might have passed under, and the type of cargoes she might have carried. They apparently replied that she would have carried Corn or Malt, and used the New Cut.
In April 1934 Ransome cruised the Broads again researching the story in his head. The book that he eventually wrote incorporating a Thames Barge Was ‘Coot Club’, and the Barge was called ‘Welcome of Rochester’.
The characters who hitch a lift on the Barge are twin sisters Nell & Bess Foreland nicknamed Port & Starboard. They are in pursuit of their friends who are aboard the yacht ‘Teasel’, and find them at Beccles.
‘Welcome’ is being sailed by the Skipper, Mr Whittle, the Mate Mr Askins, and the Skippers wife.

As the story continues the twins are invited below deck, and spend the night in the Skippers cabin. In ‘Coot Club’ Ransome describes parts of the cabin, and mentions the engine.
We do not have any info on Pudges cabin, as it was dismantled early in the ownership by the club. What Ransome describes gives us a tantalising view of what it might have been like. In the story Mrs Whittle explains to the twins that her husband treats the engine like his darling, and explains that it has taken away part of the original cabin. Mrs whittle opens a door at the bottom of the cabins steps that opens into an inner sleeping cabin with two bunks and a small table with a lace cover on it. Ransome also describes how she puts a red tablecloth on another table that when not in use, can fold away against the engine room wall.
As Ransome was very careful in his research it would seem likely that what he describes in ‘Coot Club’ is a fairly accurate description of what he saw when he went aboard Pudge in 1933. Pudge would have only just been fitted with her first engine, and the skipper would have no doubt wanted it kept clean and smart as described in the story. This engine was smaller than the Kelvin K3 66HP that was in her when the Club bought Pudge, and hence would probably have seen less use, as hinted at in the story, than in later years with the larger engine, and her rig reduced. Also spending money on fuel would reduce the profit.
Places mentioned in the story are Rochester Bridge, Rotterdam in Holland, and ‘The London River’ the sailormans name for the Thames.
So there you have it. Our Pudge inspired a much loved author to include a Thames barge in his popular stories, and adds a little more to her charm.

T.O’Sullivan May 2010       With thanks to Don Baines for the lead & book loan.