Ironsides Sailing Barge History

Thames sailing barges are one of the most remarkable and prolific sailing ships of Europe.

They evolved in the 17th and 18th centuries from small coastal craft and the lighters used to unload ships in the Thames where the goods where distributed to various wharfs and to other ports around the coast.


Today there are about 50 Thames Sailing barges in various states of repair left from the two thousand that were registered in 1900. Of those survivors there are only 28 rigged and in regular sailing order.

Unique in being handled by two or three people often the skippers wives would be part of the crew, theses flat bottomed barges could sailed and punted up narrow shallow creeks making these ideal for the East Coast. But they also voyaged all over Europe, to Sweden, Norway, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and Spain and even to South America.

Cargoes included: grain, coal, sand, mud, beer, pineapples, stone, timber, straw, munitions, animal foodstuffs, fertiliser and cement.

From may 1900 to the late 1960’s he earned her living as a cargo carrying ship. Converted to a motor barge in 1940’s. We know that in her time ironsides traded to Newcastle, Hull, London, Ipswich, Rochester, Maidstone, Calais, and Dunkirk. this can been seen in her crew lists which we have a few copies of.

Ironsides has had many lucky escapes from being wrecked she has been run down by coasters and sunk, left at anchor of Dungeness in a gale where the crew were taken of by the life boat and bomb damage in the London blitz when unloading in the docks.

In the late 1960’s she was re-rigged to sail by Alan Reeky who he and family lived aboard and eventually used her to make a living by chartering and static entertainment.

She found her self being sold in 1985 to a Mark Tower who used her for charter work until 2003 when she was laid up till 2013. She is now owned by Toby and linda who have start a program to renovate her over the winters so she can be sailed over the summers up to now 2016 she has had much of the bottom replaced the sides and much of the deck new hatch boards and a warm pine interior.

Key dates

  1. 1900 Built by Clarke & Stanfield, Grays, Essex
  2. 1900-1928 Owned by Associated Portland Cement and carried stone from Portland to London under sail alone
  3. 1928 Sold to the London & Rochester Trading Company
  4. 1938 Converted to a motor barge
  5. 1940 Damaged by enemy action in World War II
  6. 1967 Converted to a charter yacht
  7. 1984 Interior refurbished