Barge Operators and Barge Ownership

The Wider Picture

In the South East, barge trade was shared between companies and followed a pattern.... as John Wraight explains....

In the past, there used to be in excess of twenty different barge owners scattered around the SE coast.

Pauls and Cranfields were mainly the Essex and Suffolk companies running mostly from Ipswich/Harwich to London. The LRTC (London Rochester Trading Co) would cover the Medway/London area and Daniels did most of the work into Whitstable /Ramsgate and Dover.

That's not to say that other companies did not work in other areas but local barges worked mostly in their own areas.

A lot of the work into Ramsgate/Dover was done by the barges "Vicuna" and "Kathleen". They were auxiliary with wheat/maize/barley being the main cargos.

John Wraight

Whitstable Barges... and Daniels Bros....

Whilst vessels from a number of different South East companies plied their trade at the harbour, it would be sacrilege not to dedicate a specific section of our article to Whitstable's most prominent barge operator - Daniels Bros. In fact, Daniels (and its predecessor, The Whitstable Shipping Co) were active in so many aspects of Whitstable's maritime industries (including ship building, barges and larger cargo vessels). Members of the family also occupied significant positions in local public life.

We are still in the very early stages of producing a separate article on the company. However, already, we can piece together some initial findings and suppositions. In this respect, we have been helped greatly by Nigel Robinson who, in tracing his own family history, discovered that he was the Great Great Grandson of Sarah Ann Daniels. Sarah was the eldest sister of the founders of the Daniels shipping interests - George, David and James Robert Daniels.

Nigel located the fascinating article "Daniels of Whitstable" by Charles Dance and Charles Traill - published in Sea Breezes, November 1971. With kind permission of Charles Trail, he has been able to produce the following compilation which combines contents of that article with additional family history. He has also been assisted by Sue Blaxland (another relation of the Daniels family) who has supplied fascinating family photos from the past.

Daniels Bros

It appears that a ship owning partnership was founded in 1869 by the brothers George, David and Capt James Robert Daniels along with Capt J Dadd. The three brothers were the sons of James, variously recorded as a shipwright and shipbuilder and a brewer, and his wife Ann (née Nicholls) who was also from a prominent Whitstable maritime family – the brothers also had three older sisters Sarah Ann (Nigel Robinson’s Gt Gt Grandmother), Jane Eliza and Harriette.

James Robert was Lloyds Agent at Whitstable and also a Nautical Assessor involved in salvage claims on Whitstable ships throughout the country.

Later, George Daniels became the local postmaster (he married the Postmaster’s daughter!) and David, who married another of the daughters, became Clerk to the Urban District Council amongst many, many other official and voluntary appointments in the community.

James Robert Daniels was appointed manager of the company - he had five sons by his first wife and seven children by his second. He too served on the local council including a period as Chairman of Whitstable Urban District Council.

Of his first five sons Flavius, a noted linguist, died young aged 27. Sidney, a master mariner, apparently went to America and settled in New York and yet another master mariner, James Drawbridge Daniels, travelled widely (including voyages in the Pacific) and also wrote poetry; a book of his poetry was published privately. Later he was to become a director of Daniels Bros.

Alfred William Daniels became one of the first captains of a Sunderland steamship company but left the sea and, after a spell as the Marine Superintendent of the South Eastern Railway, came back to be assistant manager at what was, by then, the Whitstable Shipping Co. He eventually took over as manager on the death of his father in 1904. Harry Kingsford Daniels, another son, occupied the post of barge manager in an organisation that embraced barges, larger sailing vessels and shipbuilding.

The ship yard premises were located at West Beach on an area of ground that extended inland to the Island Wall roadway where the company established its main offices. The land is now occupied by a small housing development known as Daniels Court .....

Daniels Court from the sea

Above: Daniels Court - Site of the Old Shipyard Below

Daniels Court from the Island Wall roadway

Above: Daniels Court from the Island Wall roadway

However, the old office building, known as the Deck House, can still be seen in Island Wall....

The Deck House (Island Wall)

The Deck House (Island Wall) - former offices of the Whitstable Shipping Co

The Whitstable Shipping Co was wound up in 1916 after most of the vessels had been requisitioned by the Government for war service and Harry Kingsford Daniels (the former barge manager) founded the new firm of Daniels Bros (Whitstable) Ltd as barge owners, wharfingers and stevedores with Capt Alfred William Daniels as partner. A niece of Harry Kingsford Daniels, Mabel Carlton, also joined the company around this time as book-keeper

Mabel Carlton - A portrait photo circa 1920s

Mabel Carlton

This photo has been kindly supplied by Sue Blaxland. It is thought that it was taken during the 1920s

After Alfred’s death in 1927, “H K”, as Harry Kingsford was known, assumed full control of the company and his nephew, Harry Blaxland, joined the company.

Harry KIngsford Daniels - Portrait photo by Dorothy Wilding (1928)

Harry Kingsford Daniels

 This photo was taken in 1928 by Dorothy Wilding shortly after Harry Kingsford Daniels had assumed full control of the company. It has a been kindly supplied by Sue Blaxland.

Dorothy Wilding was a society photographer whose subjects included celebrities of the time and even royalty. As Sue points out, this underlines the social status of Harry Kingsford at the time.

Harry Blaxland took over the management upon the death of Harry Kingsford Daniels in February 1939. At this point, Harry Kingsford Daniels’ widow Ellen Flora assumed the Chairmanship until shortly before her death in 1953 aged 92.

Frank Nicholls, an ex-barge master, and son of Frank “Dolly” Nicholls who had commanded Daniels barges, joined in 1941 as wharf manager.

Rebuilding the fleet after the war was quite a task but one highlight was that the barge Esther won the restricted staysail class in the 1953 Coronation Thames and Medway Barge Race! Although she was a Cremer owned barge she had a Daniels’ skipper in the crew and Harry Blaxland accepted the winner’s trophy; from 1953 the two firms shared work, their craft taking equal turns on loading. This replaced a previous arrangement with Whiting Bros. of Chatham who had been taken over by the London & Rochester Trading Company - they were also to take over Daniels Bros, eventually, as we shall see. Almost immediately after the race Esther was converted to a motor barge.

By this time, the company operated an office in a block of shops at Starvation Point - opposite the harbour's West Gate in Harbour Street.

Starvation Point from the Harbour Gates - sketch by Vicky Quinney

Starvation Point from the Harbour Gates in 1966.  Daniel Bros Offices appear on the left
Sketch by Vicky Quinney © Vicky Quinney

The buildings have long since been demolished and the land used for a small public garden with a nautical theme.

By 1956, Daniels operated just three barges - these were the Azima, Kathleen and Savoy along with the Edith and Esther from Cremer’s Faversham Freightage fleet. All had over the years been converted to auxiliaries with engines fitted.

A major event in the summer of 1956 was the collapse of the grain silo on the North Quay – it had only recently been partially rebuilt.
Then, in June 1957, Harry Blaxland died suddenly at the early age of 52 . His widow, Kathleen, their son Michael and Mabel Carlton (Mabel was by now a Director and probably also company secretary) tried to run the firm for a brief period. Eventually they approached the London & Rochester Trading Co and asked it to take the Whitstable company under its wing - thus Daniels Bros became a wholly owned subsidiary of the London & Rochester Trading Co from June 1958.

Daniels Bros house flag or “bob” was a dark blue rectangle with a white “D” in the hoist – hulls of motorships were red and the funnels blue with a white “D”.

London & Rochester with their greater resources opened a service to Esbjerg under the auspices of Daniels Bros trading as the Crescent Line. The Crescent Line name came from London & Rochester’s funnel colours – black with a broad red band between two thin white bands and on the red band a white crescent. Luminence opened the service in April 1959 and, at the end of 1962, she was replaced by the specially purchased second-hand 1958-built refrigerated ship Resurgence – up to 12 passengers were carried from 1963 – later the unit load carrier Dangeld was introduced in 1969 - the service ceased in February 1973.

By then there was no point in Daniels Bros being a separate organisation and so the name that had been so prominent in the affairs of Whitstable for many years slipped quietly away and Crescent Shipping became the trading name for all of London & Rochester’s activities.

Daniel’s barges that are known to have survived into preservation are as follows....

  • Ardwina, which was owned for a time in the 1950s by Daniels Bros., is now preserved as part of the National Register of Historic Ships and is based in St Katharine Dock, London.
  • Nellie built by and for Cremers was later owned for a short while by Daniels. After they sold her she was to become one of the earliest vessels owned by Rachel and Tony Lapthorn – Lapthorns, based at Buttercrock Wharf, Hoo St Werburgh on the banks of the Medway, were to become very prominent in coastal shipping. Nellie has also been restored and preserved, by Professor Diane Montgomery, and is now based at Maldon, Essex.
  • Kathleen, owned by Daniels for 52 years, was initially restored, preserved and raced by Richard Walsh, but was sold on, eventually going to Holland and finally becoming derelict in the 1980s at Spaarndam. Her wheel survives as the emblem of the publishers Chaffcutter Books.

Nigel V. Robinson

Information compiled by Nigel V Robinson with acknowledgement to "Daniels of Whitstable" by Charles Dance and Charles G Traill published in Sea Breezes, November 1971.

Revised June 2008

We would to extend our thanks to Nigel, Charles, Sue and Vicky for making this history available to Simply Whitstable.

Nigel's mention of the shipping links with Esbjerg will bring back some memories for Natives of that era. Each Christmas, there was an exchange of gifts between the peoples of the two towns. The burghers of Esbjerg sent us a large Christmas tree and, in return, Whitstable dispatched barrels of oysters. The gifts were transported on the Crescent Line ships Luminence and, later, Resurgence.

The Christmas tree was decorated with lights by locals and took pride of place outside St Alphege Church in the High Street. However, goodwill ran into problems when, one year, the tree was confined to the harbour grounds by the authorities due to restrictions imposed in the wake of the Dutch Elm Disease scares. It was displayed near the perimeter of the south quay so that it could be seen from Harbour Street but, sadly, it was never quite the same and the exchange of gifts eventually fell by the wayside.

Daniels offices at Starvation Point are well remembered by Pip Neame in Vancouver......

In late 1959, I was offered a job at Daniels after I had returned from National Service. I still have the letter signed by Commander Guy Clarabut RN (Rtd) from Rochester. The pay was 6 pounds a week, just barely more than army pay but living at home helped.

The office was on two floors of the old building opposite the Harbour gates. Upstairs was Mr Tooke (the business manager) and two ladies (a secretary and a bookkeeper).

Daniel Bros Offices in 1966

Daniel Bros Offices in 1966

Extract from Sketch by Vicky Quinney

The ground floor was the domain of Frank Nicholls, ex barge skipper, who handled the agency part of the business. I was his assistant.

My job consisted, in order of importance, of making tea for upstairs twice a day; operating the antique telephone exchange where an "eyeball" popped up when a call came in and then plugging in the "knitting". Otherwise, it was filling up customs forms for the Esbjerg cargo, Danish cheeses, butter, etc. and dealing with lorry drivers at the big counter at the front.

Most fun, was when the bargees came in, usually with a complaint, and Frank would have it out with them. Once I left the intercom with upstairs on, and learned later the ladies had been upset by the salty language. But my lasting memory is of the cold. By January, there was snow and only a one-bar electric heater for downstairs. I wore my overcoat all day and those gloves without the fingers! The whole set-up was right out of Dickens. Needless to say, I barely lasted five months.

Anyway it started me on my shipping and marine insurance career so I am grateful to the funny little office by the Harbour.

Philip "Pip" Neame

Barge Ownership... and a Close Community

Whilst Daniels Bros is the best known of the town's barge owners, they were not the only barge entrepreneurs and they may not have wholly owned all the barges that they operated in the distant past! In fact, due to the complex system adopted for ship ownership of the 1800s, it seems things were quite widely spread around Whitstable's small and close knit community. Nigel Robinson explains....

Many of the families of Whitstable seem to have been involved in "ship owning" which was a complicated business in the 19th century.

Ownership was split in to 64ths and individuals would take a share or group of shares in a vessel. It was both a way of raising capital and spreading risk. (Later, limited liability companies allowed a more corporate approach).

As a result, all sorts of people became involved - literally “the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker”. In fact, anyone who had money to spare.

If you study Wallace Harvey’s book Merchant Ships of Whitstable, you will see the same names cropping up in ownership of various vessels. However, professional management of a ship would probably be taken on by the likes of Daniels Bros who would also own some of the shares.

In some cases there were family connections with Daniels. In other cases, there may have been other forms of business connection.

In some instances, the names of owners also appear as masters of the vessels. In the census returns, names often appear as neighbours in what was such a close-knit community like Whitstable.

Nigel V. Robinson

Some people may find "64 shares" a rather odd number. After all, why not a nice round 100?

Of course, you won't be so surprised if you are "into" computing"! The number "64" is nicely divisible by 2, 4, 8, 16 and 32. Thus, it was easy to own a half share, a quarter share or an eighth share in a barge. You could also split your share easily when selling it or dividing it up in your last will and testimony! In effect, you had the same binary system that computers use today.

Clever people our ancestors!..... Or were they? I have not yet had time investigate the origins of the 64 share business. However, Coralie (my wife and an ex-assembler programmer!), suggests that it may not have been a case of careful design and implementation of binary mathematics. It may just have been a way of formalising what was already happening in practice. For example, take a granddad who owned a whole barge. He died and left a half share to his two sons.... who then died and left half shares to their two sons. Suddenly you are dealing with quarters, eighths and sixteenths.... and heading quite naturally to the magic number of 64. Thus, rather than the starting point of a clever new system of arithmetic, 64 may just have been a way of placing an upper limit on an age old practice. Interestingly, the "64 share" system is still used around the globe for some types of small vessel.

Nigel's investigations to date show the very close link between groups of Whitstable families... by marriage and business ownership. These links not only involved all aspects of barge operation (such as construction, repair, operation and crewing). They also extended to general High Street businesses and, even further inland, to the ownership of large swathes of farmland. Such families also occupied prominent positions in local public life.

As we find out more about these connections, we will be able to produce articles on "landbased" Whitstable and its connection with the maritime world. We will also be able to trace how that tight knit community and hierarchy unravelled during the 20th century.

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