Stories of Whitstable Bargemen and their Families

Bargeman "Skip"..... 1927

In early 2007, we received a message and attachments from Ivan Evans in Germany....

After seeing your article "Thames Barges" in Simply Whitstable and clicking on the wonderful old photos and reading the superb stories, I realised that I have a contribution to make as my grandfather participated in the Thames-Medway Sailing Barge Races of 1927..... a photo of him at the wheel eighty years ago!

Herbert R (Ted) Smith - at the wheel of his barge in 1927

Herbert R (Ted) Smith - At the Wheel in 1927

My grandfather was Herbert R. (Ted) Smith, born in Norwich (?) and died mid 1950´s. He married Martha Ann Rigden (1891–1973?) in Whitstable in 1910. Their daughter (1917–1981), my mother, was named after the barge Edith May. She married Robert John (Bob) Evans (1909–1965).

So, please let me introduce myself. I am Ivan Evans, May and Bob´s son (1947 - ). My childhood days, with my parents and grandparents, were spent in 25 Nelson Road Whitstable. The whole family later moved to 13 Cromwell Road, Whitstable, where my grandfather died. After my father´s death, my mother and grandmother and I moved to Trebor House, Clifton Road, Whitstable.

After graduating in 1969, I joined Elliott Brothers (London) Ltd. – now known as BAe Systems – in Rochester. In 1973, I moved to Munich, Germany, as a Flight Trials Engineering on the Tornado aircraft project. Eighteen years ago I joined the Eurofighter aircraft project. I now live in the small village of Hohenschäftlarn (pop. 5,000), some 20Km south of Munich.

The above picture shows my grandfather at the wheel of a barge and the plaque at the bottom of the frame provides evidence of the occasion....

The plaque below the 1927 photo of Herbert R (Ted) Smith

The Impressive plaque below the 1927 photo of Herbert R (Ted) Smith

The following label appears of the back.....

Carftsman's label on the back of the photo frame

The carftsman's label on the back of the photo frame

I don´t have much information of my grandfather´s life. As far as I know, he skippered coal barges between Norfolk/Suffolk and Kent. His nickname was Skip. I still use his screwdriver with the letters S K I P punched into the wooden handle. I do have vague recollections of going to the harbour with him in his retirement years where he met his old friends and to the allotment he had at the rear of the Oxford cinema.

Ivan Evans

Ivan's fascinating account and photos give some insight into the attitudes of the people who built and sailed Thames Barges. The vessels were functional workhorses of the English coast and, yet in constructing them, their creators took such pride in their creation. Take another look at the picture. That wheel just oozes craftsmanship. Oh boy... you couldn't hang than one of those on the wall of a wine bar. It would pull the fibreglass beams down!

There is also the pride and rivalry involved in a barge match. These weren't enthusiasts taking part at the local yacht club on a Sunday morning ! They were professional sailors taking time off to compete for the honour of both their barge and their employer. The following day, they could be steering the very same barge towards the ramp at the Horsebridge with a cargo of coal!

Quiet Moments... for Mr & Mrs Packman

In February 2007, Jan Smith (née Hutton) very kindly supplied details and photos of her barge skipper grandfather....

George James Packman

Portrait photo of barge skipperGeorge James Packman

George James Packman

My grandfather, George James Packman of Albert Street Whitstable, worked for Daniels Brothers on the Thames barges. I that know he was on the Why Not, Duluth and Savoy.

Jan Smith

Jan also pointed out that George's time on the Why Not included a tragic collision when a Cunard ship collided with three Whitstable barges in the Thames. We have devoted a separate page to that incident and you can view the story on our Barge Rescue 1923 page. However, for now, I just want to take a look at one of George's quieter moments because the photo above is an extract from this much larger one....

George James Packman & Emily Elizabeth Packman aboard a barge at Whitstable

George & Jan's grandmother, Emily Elizabeth Packman (née Baynes) aboard his barge

It features George and Jan's grandmother, Emily Elizabeth Packman (née Baynes) aboard an unknown barge in the tranquillity of Whitstable harbour. However, that tranquillity may have been disrupted somewhat. Just take a look at that box on the left of the picture. It's a "wind up" gramaphone!!!!

What a wonderful and fascinating photo..... and what a lovely piece of Whitstable history. I would just love to know whether that piece of equipment went to sea with George and how other barge crews entertained themselves on their travels.

Trips with Dad... Len Whorlow

Of course, piping the wife aboard for an impromptu recorded concert wasn't the only way of involving the family in the life of a Thames Barge.... nor was it confined to the 1920s. Jacqui Whatson has fond memories of trips with her dad, Len Whorlow, in the 1950s....

The Cat Came Too

As you know, my dad was a barge skipper for many years and a bargeman for most of his working life (from age 16 to about 58) until had to come ashore on doctors orders to "work somewhere dry and warm" He went to Borg fabrics!

I have some brilliant memories of going away on the barges with him when I was little. We all went - even the cat! His barges included NELLIE, MILDREDA, YARVIC and more.... but my memory won't tell me all the names.

One memory involves eating bacon butties in the wheelhouse with my dad whilst the rest of my family were down below being seasick!
Another little story arose during a trip to a location called Fingeringhoe (don't think it exists any more). It was a beautiful place with bullrushes and poppies on the beach. The nearest place was about 2 miles inland where we used to walk to get fresh eggs.

We were loading grain I believe and, on this particular day, I was playing on the beach on my own when I heard shouting. Dad, thinking I was down below had let go the ropes to leave when my mum noticed I wasn't there. I had to run like mad down the beach and out onto the jetty where I hurled myself into the arms of "Big John" who was the mate! (I was only 5 at the time!). My mum was having kittens but I thought it was so exciting!

Jacqui Whatson (nee Whorlow)

Jacqui's description of Fingeringhoe is fascinating because it demonstrates a point made on our Barge History page. Barges went direct to the places where cargo needed to be delivered or collected. Such places could be quite remote.... and they didn't have to have a harbour or a population!

Some family trips marked more formal occasions....

The Windsor Castles?

On the day of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh's return after their honeymoon, we went on (I think) the NELLIE to see Her Majesty cruising up the Thames. It was an overcast day but my brother Ray and I sat on top of the hold covers  - making sandcastles with some sand from the hold.

I don't think either of us were impressed by the royalty going by but we did love those sandcastles! Mind you, we were only 6 and 8 at the time.


Others involved more important weddings....

Bride and Groom

I'm not sure which vessel it was but I remember dad telling me that he and mum spent their honeymoon on a barge!


Jacqui and her family were my "next door" neighbours back in the 1950s and, to this day I can recall Mr. Whorlow marching down the alleyway in his roll neck sweater to be greeted by the family dogs - Sandy and Skipper. He came ashore to work in 1972 and, in his latter days, lived at the Oysters building. It was here that he was within sight and sound of the harbour..... where I suspect all retired barge skippers would wish to be.

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