Maldon’s Promenade Park is a popular recreational spot, but tucked away at its easternmost point is a less visited spot. Known locally as the Barge Graveyard, it’s the final resting place for the old wooden sailing barges that have come to the end of their useful life. Left to the elements, the tide breaks them down and slowly they rot away to nothing.
There’s no information or signage on site that offers clues to the provenance of the barges, though the Citizan website has this to say:
“Lying in the Graveyard are the remains of Thames sailing barges British Lion, Vicunia, Pretoria, Mamgu; a lighter; an Admiralty launch, a fishing vessel built in either Scandinavia or Belgium as well as several other vessels.”
The Visit Maldon District website has a little more detail about when some of the barges were built. The British Lion was built in 1879, whereas the Vicunia was a much later vessel, dating from 1912. To put these dates into context, the use of the Thames Barge for commercial purposes peaked around 1914 before going into decline. Once, transporting goods such as straw, horse feed, bricks and cement to London would have been done by water, with the flat bottoms of the barges perfectly designed to navigate the shallow waters of this marshy coastline. But then along came faster transport by rail and road and the barges were consigned to history.
The Visit Maldon District website also explains that some of the boats were partially broken up before being brought to Maldon. The Pretoria is one such vessel, broken up downriver, with the bottom lying here at the Graveyard. It was commonplace to break up the barges for scrap and salvage before dumping what was worthless in the mud.
To get a sense of what some of the boats might once have looked like, it’s an easy stroll along the Chelmer to Hythe Quay. It’s now the main location where you’ll see such barges in Essex. Kitty, Hydrogen and Lady Jean are among the active barges based at Maldon. For a full list, visit the Sailing Barge Research website:
Topsail Charters offer trips out; periodically these are day sails that teach you a little of the history, bird life and landscape through which you’re travelling. It’s also possible to follow by barge on race days; Maldon next hosts a barge race in mid-June 2017. You can find the full public trips schedule here:
Those vessels that aren’t quite finished also open periodically for tours. s.b. Pudge, s.b. Centaur and Steam Tug Brent welcome visitors on 30th April and 1st May 2017. Entry is free but donations are gratefully received.