LADY DAPHNE was ordered in 1921 from Short Brothers, Rochester, by David Watson a part-owner of Thomas Watson (Shipping). The company had a tradition of naming vessels with the prefix ‘Lady’, and when launched in January 1923 LADY DAPHNE was named after David Watson’s eldest daughter Daphne. The barge was constructed of wood - with oak frames, side planking and wales, elm chine planks, Oregon pine spars - and a steel keelson, and had a marked sheer to the foredeck as befitted a vessel intended for coastal work. Together with her near sister, LADY JEAN, she was amongst the very few wooden barges built after the First World War and, unusually for a sailing barge, she was built from lines. During half a century of trading as a coasting barge she carried cargoes such as china clay, Portland Stone, cement and grain between ports scattered around the east and south coasts of England. She was reckoned to be a fast barge: making London Docks from Ipswich, light, in twelve hours, and from the Docks to Ipswich, loaded with 190 tons of wheat, in 14 hours.
LADY DAPHNE was known as a lucky ship following a bizarre escape in December 1927. On passage from Weymouth to Fowey in a thick snow storm driven by an easterly gale the skipper was washed overboard and lost. The mate and third hand desperately burned improvised flares as the vessel drifted out of control. This was a forlorn gesture but the barge was at last spotted by the Lizard signal station, their final hope, late on Christmas Day. The Lizard lifeboat was launched and rescued the two exhausted crew members in the early hours of Boxing Day leaving the vessel to run on into the blackness, with only the pet canary left on board. A day later she was seen heading for the rocks near Crowe Sound in the Isles of Scilly, and the St Mary’s lifeboat was launched. Her crew boarded the barge which was still underway under jib alone, about three hundred yards from the shore of the island of Tresco, and were surprised to find only the canary aboard. Reaching the wheel the lifeboatmen put the helm over, whereupon the jib split with a crack like a gun, and headed for the shore, beaching the barge in two feet of water on safe shelving sand. After a full refit she was back in service within a year and continued trading for another 45 years.
LADY DAPHNE was transferred to Lillian Bradley on the death of her husband in 1928. In 1932 a four-cylinder 60 hp 4SA Kelvin oil engine, made by Bergius Co Ltd of Glasgow, was fitted and connected to a propeller on the port side, and a wheelhouse was also fitted. In 1936 LADY DAPHNE was engaged in salving cargo from the four-masted barque HERZOGIN CECILLE, which went ashore near Bolt Head, south Devon, and became a total loss. In 1937 she was sold to R & W Paul (Maltsters) Ltd, of Ipswich and was thoroughly overhauled at their yard there. On 4 November 1944 LADY DAPHNE was struck by a tramp steamer on the Thames at Vauxhall and sustained serious damage to her port bow. Skipper Fred Roberts nursed her to the Crown Quay Yard at Sittingbourne for repairs. In 1947 LADY DAPHNE was re-engined at Richards Bros, Lowestoft, with a five-cylinder 100 bhp unit built by Ruston and Hornsby Ltd, Lincoln. She mainly worked to Yarmouth, Kings Lynn and Norwich. In 1951 she loaded baskets of imported oysters at Felixstowe Docks for the Colne. The oysters had to be continually sprayed with salt water until they were unloaded at Brightlingsea for relaying in the oyster beds. On the night of 30 January 1953 the great east coast tidal surge lifted her bows onto the quay at Ipswich and she had a lucky escape when she was levered off, avoiding a capsize into the dock. In 1957 LADY DAPHNE's sailing gear was removed and she traded as a motor barge until 1973.
In September 1975 LADY DAPHNE was sold to Taylor Woodrow Property Ltd, London, for re-rigging and conversion to a promotional and charter barge at Maldon. In January 1986 she was re-engined with a Mermaid Mariner diesel and continued in corporate and charter work. In May 1996 she was sold by Taylor Woodrow and based at St Katharine Docks, London, for charter work under the management of Nymph Ltd. She mainly cruised on the Thames but also ventured further afield for events such as barge matches and Cowes Week. She was entered in races each year with some success. In the 2009 Swale match she was first in the restricted staysail class and in the 2010 Thames match she was first in the coasting class. In winter 2010/11 the mid section on the port side was reframed and re-planked at Faversham.
In 2016, she was sold to private owners who moved her to Ham Wharf, Oare Creek, Faversham to dry dock and a full restoration of starboard midships to stern was undertaken with all planking and framing replaced in this section by shipwright Tim Goldsack. In 2018 and 2019, she had two seasons back on the Thames running numerous public and private charters, participating in the Classic Boat Festival 2018 and 2019, the Blackwater and Thames barge matches in 2018, the Pinmill and Thames barge matches in 2019 and Gravesend Waterfront weekend in 2019. Covid lockdown restrictions of 2020-2021 meant her planned restoration on the port quarter which began in Spring 2020 was delayed completion until Autumn 2021.
In September 2021, a re-enactment event was held in London as part of a scout initiative to follow in footsteps of Ernest Shackleton's voyage in Quest to Antarctica. She passed through Tower Bridge 100 years to the day and time (1pm 17th September 2021) to recreate the promotional event held by Shackleton 100 years earlier. She was taken back to Ham Wharf until April 2022, when she undertook the journey south west to Charlestown Harbour where she is available for static event hire and ongoing restoration works. She is celebrating her 100th birthday in 2023.
In November 2023, the Friends of Lady Daphne won the Marsh Volunteer of the Year - Group award at the 2023 National Historic Ships Awards.
Source: Paul Brown, Historic Sail, The History Press and current owner
Vessel built by Short Brothers, Rochester, Kent, for use as a coasting barge carrying china clay and Portland Stone between South East coastal ports
Four cylinder Kelvin engine and wheelhouse fitted
Sold to R. & W. Paul Maltsters Ltd. of Ipswich and underwent thorough overhaul
Struck by a steamer on the River Thames at Vauxhall sustaining serious damage to port bow. Heavily restored in 1946
Vessel re-engined at Richards Bros, Lowestoft
Imported oysters, based at Felixstowe Docks
Avoided capsize at Ipswich quay following great East Coast tidal surge
Vessel’s sailing gear removed and she traded as a motor barge
Sold to Taylor Woodrow Property Ltd for re-rigging and conversion to a promotional and charter barge, based at Maldon, Essex
Sold into private ownership for charter work under Nymph Ltd, based at St Katherine Docks, London
First position in restricted staysail class in Swale match
First position in coasting class of Thames match
Vessel selected to take part in the Avenue of Sail, Queen's Diamond Jubilee Pageant on 3 June 2012
2018 and 2019 had two seasons back on the Thames running numerous public and private charters,
Covid lockdown restrictions of 2020-2021 meant her planned restoration on the port quarter which began in Spring 2020, was delayed completion until Autumn 2021
September 2021 held a re-enactment event in London as part of a scout initiative to follow in footsteps of Ernest Shackleton's voyage in Quest to Antarctica
Currently berthed in Charlestown,
Friends of Lady Daphne - Winners for the group award of the Marsh Charitable Trust volunteer award.
Brouwer, Norman J, International Register of Historic Ships, Anthony Nelson, pp159, Edition 2, 1993
Carr, Frank, Sailing Barges, 1971
Hugh Perks, Richard, Sprts'l: A Portrait of Sailing Barges and Sailormen, Conway Maritime Press, 1975
The Last Berth of the Sailorman, Society for Spritsail Barge Research, 1987
Classic Boat: Three Thames Sailing Barges, April 2012
Classic Boat: Thames Barge Match, September 2012
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