SB Lady of the Lea

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lady of the Lea stem 4078.jpg
Thames barge 'Lady of the Lea' moored at Faversham
SB Lady of the Lea 4685.JPG
Thames barge 'Lady of the Lea' under sail on the Medway
United Kingdom
NameLady of the Lea
Owner1931-1946 War Department

1946-c1953 W Aslett, Sittingbourne from c1953 Ivor R Cantle, Tring

by 1980 Brian Pain, Faversham
BuilderHyam and Oliver (H. A. Oliver and Sons), Albion Wharf, Rotherhithe
IdentificationBritish Official Number 722956[1]
Statusin service
General characteristics
Tonnage34 GRT[2]
Length71.93 ft (21.92 m)
Beam12.98 ft (3.96 m)
Depth3.97 feet (1.21 metres)
PropulsionSail and horse-drawn (engined since 1943)
Sail planjib, foresail, topsail and mainsail on the mainmast, and a mizzen sail on mizzen mast

Lady of the Lea is a spritsail Thames sailing barge, the last such barge to be built in England. She was built in 1931 to carry explosives from Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills on the River Lea to Woolwich Arsenal on the River Thames. The barge was later sold and rebuilt. She currently operates as a private yacht and competes in Thames sailing barge matches.


The barge Lady of the Lea was built of wood in Rotherhithe in 1931 by boat-builders Hyam & Oliver (who operated well into the 1960s) for the War Department, following the original plans of canal barges from a century earlier.[2] She was built small enough to pass under the low bridges of the River Lea and Bow Creek in London and was originally tiller steered and stumpy rigged, without top mast or topsail.[2][3][4] The bottom was built of pine (doubled up) and the sides of oak and elm with copper fastenings and brass knees. Unusually, the sails were white and not the normal russet colour (of other Thames barges).[5] Her original tonnage and dimensions are not known.

After rebuilding in the 1980s she is now 71.9 ft (21.9 m) long, 13.0 ft (4.0 m) wide and 4.0 ft (1.2 m) deep and measures 34 GT.[2] She now has a wheel and was in the staysail class of sailing barge.[1] Her current sails are a jib, foresail, mainsail and topsail on the mainmast, and a mizzen sail on the mizzen-mast aft. Initially engined in 1943, she has been powered since 1980 by a Ford diesel.[2] more recently the barge has been fitted with a bowsprit.

War Department service[edit]

Lady of the Lea was completed by Hyam & Oliver in 1931 by four men taking six months at a cost of £1,500.[5] Along with her earlier sister King Edward VII, she replaced older barges engaged in the carriage of explosives from the Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills to Woolwich Arsenal.[5][6] Lady of the Lea could carry up to 500 barrels of explosives in the main hold, principally cordite and RDX.[4][7] The barge travelled from Waltham Abbey, down the River Lea, to Bow Creek and then via the River Thames to the Royal Arsenal.[2][4] As that involved both canal, narrow river and open river navigation, the barges were equipped for both horse towing and sail operation.[6] The Waltham Abbey vessels had a crew consisting of a master and three men, who wore blue serge uniforms with brass buttons, provided free of charge.[5][6] A model display can be seen at the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey showing Lady of the Lea at work on the canals, and a model of the barge is in the London Canal Museum.[4][8][9]

All the Waltham Abbey barges were of wood and without mechanical propulsion, to reduce risk of explosion.[10] In 1943 all the production of cordite and RDX was transferred away from Royal Gunpowder Factory, and Lady of the Lea was fitted with a petrol engine by the Royal Navy.[2][7] After the end of World War II she was withdrawn from service and sold in 1946 by the Small Craft Disposal Board.[5]

Civilian life[edit]

In 1946, Lady of the Lea was sold to William Aslett and moored in the Milton Creek at Crown Quay in Sittingbourne.[5] In the early 1950s she was sold to Ivor Cantle, moved to Cow Roast, near Tring and converted to a houseboat.[11]

The barge was subsequently sold to Brian Pain and largely rebuilt between 1980 and 1990, including doubling the bottom and lower hull, re-rigging as a Thames sailing barge and fitting a new Ford diesel engine. She is used as a private yacht and for charters, carries the logo of Rochester Independent College, founded as Rochester Tutors by Brian Pain, on her topsail.[2][3] Lady of the Lea is now based at Standard Quay in Faversham and races regularly in the Thames barge races.[3]

In 2009 she featured in Episode 4 of the BBC One series "Rivers", in which Griff Rhys Jones retold the history of the powder barges of the River Lea.[11][12]

Thames barge races[edit]

Since 2003 Lady of the Lea has competed in Thames barge races.[13] Her best overall positions in the annual championship matches have been:


  1. ^ a b "Active barges sailing today". Colchester: The Society for Sailing Barge Research. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Lady of the Lea". Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  3. ^ a b c Renouf, David. "Lady of the Lea". Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d Byrnes, Andie (17 August 2013). "A 1931 Thames Barge - Lady of the Lea". Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Edgar J. March (1970) [1948]. Spritsail Barges of Thames and Medway. Devon: David and Charles. ISBN 0715346814.
  6. ^ a b c Cooley, Reg (1993). The Unknown Fleet: The Army's Civilian Seamen in War and Peace. Stroud: Alan Sutton. pp. 36–37. ISBN 0-7509-0384-8.
  7. ^ a b "300 Years of History". Waltham Forest: Royal Gunpowder Mills. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  8. ^ "Royal Gunpowder Factory Model Railway". Waltham Abbey: Royal Gunpowder Mills. Archived from the original on 3 April 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  9. ^ "Boats & Barges" (PDF). London: The Canal Museum. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  10. ^ Habesch, David (2001). The Army's Navy. London: Chatham Publishing. p. 17. ISBN 1-86176-157-0.
  11. ^ a b Atkin, Gavin (19 August 2009). "Griff Rhys Jones meets gunpowder barge Lady of the Lea on London's other other river". Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  12. ^ "Rivers with Griff Rhys Jones: The Lea". BBC. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  13. ^ "Thames Barge Championships 2003". Sailing Barge Association. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  14. ^ "Thames Barge Championships 2009". Sailing Barge Association. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  15. ^ "Thames Barge Championships 2012". Sailing Barge Association. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  16. ^ "Thames Barge Championships 2013". Sailing Barge Association. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  17. ^ "Thames Barge Championships 2015". Sailing Barge Association. Retrieved 4 August 2016.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • [Anon] (1998), Survivors Register. Windsor: World Ship Society (British Armed Forces Small Craft Historical Society)
  • Brouwer, Norman J (1993), International Register of Historic Ships. London: Anthony Nelson, ISBN 9780904614503
  • Carr, Frank (1971), Sailing Barges. London: Conway Maritime Press, ISBN 9780851770246
  • Perks, Richard Hugh (1975), Sprts'l: A Portrait of Sailing Barges and Sailormen. London: Conway Maritime Press, ISBN 9780851770734
  • [Wood, David] (1987), The Last Berth of the Sailorman. Colchester: Society for Spritsail Barge Research
  • Wood, David (1995), Barges Sailing Today: Sailing Barge Information Pamphlet No.1
  • Wood, David (1977), Powderbarge WD. Colchester: Society for Spritsail Barge Research, ISBN 9780905270036