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When sailing barges were vital for international trade

PUBLISHED: 16:10 16 January 2018 | UPDATED: 16:53 18 January 2018

When barges ruled the world. The 16th Ipswich Maritime Trust window display features the role of barges and Ipswich in international trade. At Ipswich Waterfront

When barges ruled the world. The 16th Ipswich Maritime Trust window display features the role of barges and Ipswich in international trade. At Ipswich Waterfront


Window Museum displays at Albion Wharf reflects the importance of the Ipswich barge fleet in days gone by

Ipswich Waterfront, looking up towards town, on a winter's day.Ipswich Waterfront, looking up towards town, on a winter's day.

Another new display by the Ipswich Maritime Trust in its Window Museum on Albion Wharf celebrates the role of our sailing barges in trading here, there and everywhere, in days gone by,

Those were the days when Ipswich was the home port of probably the largest fleet of commercial sailing craft in Northern Europe.

Chairman of the ‘Window Wizards’ team of Trust volunteers Des Pawson describes how, with this display, they want to show not only that the Thames Barge served East Anglian ports, but that they traded much further afield, as far as the Upper Humber, across the North Sea to Holland and even 150 miles up the Rhine to Remagen in Germany.

In that particular case bringing the latest ‘must have’ product to the London markets of the 1850s – sparkling water

in glass bottles. Once drunk the bottles were then sailed back to Remagen to be re-filled - reminding us that international recycling is not a modern concept.

Down Channel the barges served such ports as Dunkirk and Calais, and way round to the south of England as afar as Southampton and Portland and occasionally even further west.

A large detailed map of the creeks & farm wharves on the Orwell & Stour shows examples of the remote creeks and landing places served by these ‘lorries of the sea’ before the days of bulk road transport.

One particularly poignant photograph shows the last barge to reach the creek known as ‘Johnny-all-alone’ with a cargo of manure from London, taken around the time that other local barges were saving the lives of servicemen from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940.

Trust director Stuart Grimwade is still kept busy restoring these and other newly discovered old photographs for their Image Archive.

The barge relics shown are a monument to the days when Thames Barges were in their thousands.

One particularly prized item of the Trust is the bow badge of the barge PRIDE OF IPSWICH. They are also a tribute to the foresight of those enthusiasts that had the presence of mind to save them from mud where they lay rotting.

He said: “Barges are an important part of the historic waterfront today, they are still commercial vessels but today their cargos are people. We should cherish them, and make sure that their new role as ambassadors of the Town’s maritime heritage is protected.”

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