Sailing Barge Association
The History of Thames Sailing Barges

Charles Darwin would have been proud of the Thames Sailing Barge. The Thames barge has gradually evolved from the Middle Ages up to the present day and is even continuing to evolve now, albeit slowly. The Middle Ages forerunner of the Thames Barge was a medium-sized seagoing vessel rigged with a single mast and one large square sail. She was no great sailer but was a useful cargo carrier. The evolution of this vessel from the Middle Ages until the end of the eighteenth century was slow and certainly not dramatic. Time was of no consequence to people in these early days and crews were cheap, thus there was no incentive to improve the speed or reduce the crews of these vessels. The greatest and most significant developments in the history of these fascinating and unique vessels have taken place during the last 130 years. The major contributing factor in this more recent and rapid development was. Paradoxically, the coming of the Age of Steam! This Age of Steam, whilst sounding the death knell of all other sailing cargo carriers, in fact ushered in the Golden Years for the Thames Sailing Barge.
In 1863 the fertile mind of a Mr Henry Dodd thought up the idea which has done more to speed the development of the Thames Barge to its present high state of evolution than anything else. In that year Mr Dodd, known as the Golden Dustman in recognition of the business which made his fortune, founded the Annual Sailing Barge Match.
Thames Barge image
This encouraged the building of ever faster and more effective vessels and a fast sailing cargo ship with a minimal crew and no fuel costs became more that a match for the Age of Steam. This single event was the catalyst which enabled Thames Barges to trade successfully under sail alone right up to the mid 1970's. Thus it is that the Barge Matches were, and still are, a very important part of the life of the Thames Sailing Barges.

Thames Sailing Barge Association