The Thames Sailing Barge Trust (TSBT) is a registered charity that exists to preserve two Thames barges in sailing condition for the benefit of the public and to pass on the skills required to sail them.
One of these sailing barges is Pudge, built in 1922 by London & Rochester Trading Co.
Pudge's working life as a cargo carrier was interrupted in spectacular fashion by the Second World War when she was requisitioned in May 1940 whilst in Tilbury, drafted to Dover and thence to Dunkirk to aid the evacuation. Three barges, including Pudge, were taken in tow by a tug and crossed the Channel under darkness. As they reached the beaches at Dunkirk an explosion lifted Pudge out of the water and, in the words of her skipper, 'she came down the right way up'. She took onboard survivors and set off for England, picking up a tow from a tug on the way, to arrive safely back at Ramsgate.
Pudge is one of only four of the Dunkirk Spritsail Barges that survive, a member of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships and is entitled to fly the flag of St George.
She then resumed her normal trade into and from London docks, Ipswich and the Medway ports with grain, cattle cake, fertiliser etc. until her last freight of pineapple juice in 1968 when she was bought out of the trade as a twin hatched motor barge by the Thames Barge Sailing Club (TBSC), the TSBT's predecessor, and re-rigged by members for summer weekend sailing, chartering and winter maintenance based at Maldon.
Pudge was re-engined in 1990 after her passage to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dunkirk. Pudge also attended the 75th anniversary celebrations in 2015 and in June 2012 Pudge was present at the Queen's Jubilee Pageant on the Thames as part of the 'Avenue of Sail'.
The TSBC evolved into The Thames Sailing Barge Trust in 2003 and Pudge has continued to run charter trips with the aim of preserving and teaching the skills needed to sail and maintain the traditions of the working sailing barge.
A staged renewal began in 2005 at Marylandsea with a rebuild of the bows, progressing to the deck and stern as finances permitted with a return to sail in 2007.
Restoration work continues to maintain her fitness for charitable sailing work. The TSBT has recently gained a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund of £328,000 towards the replacement of her decks, coamings and to upgrade her accommodation below deck.
Work on the decks and coamings should start in Maldon in May 2020 and the project will allow the public to view the progress being made.
The TSBT aims to liaise with local children about the history of the Thames sailing barge and plan to hold an exhibition on the history of the sailing barge at Southend museum.
The future operation of these iconic vessels is important and support has also been received from from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to help finance a training programme to train new mates and skippers.