Registration number 214
Status National Historic Fleet


Function Cargo Vessel
Subfunction Barge
Location St Osyth
Vessel type Spritsail Barge
Current use Commercial Activity
Available to hire Yes
Available for excursions No
Info required Yes


Builder Cann, John & Herbert, Harwich
Built in 1891
Hull material Wood
Rig Spritsail
Number of decks 1
Number of masts 2
Propulsion Sail
Number of engines 1
Primary engine type Diesel
Boiler type None
Boilermaker None


Breadth: Beam
18.98 feet (5.79m)
4.00 feet (1.22m)
Length: Overall
80.95 feet (24.69m)
Tonnage: Gross


The Thames Sailing Barge MAY, Registered number 97680, was built by John &Herbert Cann of Harwich, Essex and was launched in the year of 1891. She is built entirely of wood and in the days of her construction, no plans were ever drawn, the lines being laid down purely on the length of the tree cut for her keelson, the owners wishes and the expert eye of the foreman shipwright, who sometimes used a half model as a guide.  She was orginally built for John Hooker and Arthur John Haste (Master Mariner) of Ipswich, Suffolk. Messrs Cranfield Brothers, Flour Millers of Ipswich, purchased her in 1912 and traded principally in grain (and flour) between the Royal Group of Docks in London, Rochester and her owner’s mills in Ipswich.  Red bob, white circle with C.

She was used to provide sailing training experience to company apprentices.  This included an annual shipment of sugar to the Isle of Wight.  When possible, Apprentices for the Company of Watermen and Lightermen were employed as third hand during the summer to aid their knowledge of the Thames and further afield.  She also took part in organisaed functions such as barge matches, open days and chartering. 

In her early years, MAY worked for the Cranfield Brothers, flour millers of Ipswich, and traded principally in grain between the London Docks and the owners' mills in Ipswich.

Between the end of the Second World War and January 1964, she carried general cargoes before being bought by Silvertown Services Lighterage Ltd (now a subsidiary of Tate & Lyle).  She regularly carried sugar to the Isle of Wight and was also used for training apprentices and for company hospitality; a passenger certificate and loadline exemption allows the barge to be underway with up to 40 passengers within the smooth water limits around the UK and the continent.

In 1972 she carried 50 tonnes of Portland stone for the restoration of St Paul's Cathedral and a few years later, in 1976, she was transported to the Canadian lakes for the Olympic Games.

May has been privately chartered and carried complete families on holiday to very interesting places in the Dutch canals.  Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Veere, Middleburg and Zieriksee to name but a few.  The most ambitious of her cruises to date was to attend the Olympic Sailing Regatta held at the German Port of Kiel in 1972.

A leading automobile company had a new car model placed on May’s hatches and invited prospective buyers on board, took them for a day’s sail and inspection of the car.

May was chartered by the Gestetner Company who installed a large selection of their office machinery and used her, very successfully as an exhibition hall, with the machinery being operated for demonstration purposes in fourteen ports in the southern area of England

Now in private hands, MAY is available for private charter and is regularly seen on the River Thames.

Update, May 2021: The Bread And Roses - SB May team launched its 'May Day' restoration appeal, with the aim of raising £4,000 to begin the restoration of MAY.  She will be moved to St Osyth Boatyard to rest for a year while an enthusiastic team of women set about finding funds and putting a plan in action to secure her future.  These initial funds will enable the team to approach a Heritage Specialist to work with them to ensure the best chance of success.  Once seaworthy, they plan to regularly visit local ports around north Essex and Suffolk as a floating bakery, welcoming women from all backgrounds in to a safe, secure and cosy environment.


Key dates

  • 1891

    Vessel built by John & Herbert Cann, Bathside, Gashouse Creek, Harwich

  • 1912-c1945

    Worked for the Cranfield Brothers, flour millers of Ipswich, trading principally in grain between the London Docks

  • 1964

    Bought by Silvertown Services Lighterage Ltd. (now a subsidiary of Tate & Lyle) for regular use carrying sugar to the Isle of Wight

  • 1972

    Carried 50 tonnes of Portland stone for the restoration of St Paul’s Cathedral

  • 1976

    Transported to the Canadian lakes for the Olympic Games

  • 2011

    In private hands and available for charter

  • 2012

    Vessel selected to take part in the Avenue of Sail, Queen's Diamond Jubilee Pageant on 3 June 2012


  • September 2013

    A Sustainability Grant of £1500 for remedial work was made from the Strategic Development Fund of National Historic Ships UK

  • April 2011

    A Sustainability grant of £1000 was awarded for remedial work from the Stategic Development Fund of National Historic Ships

  • October 2010

    Vessel used to carry judges and sponsored down the Thames to Greenwich on photography competition Award Ceremony day

  • April 2009

    A Sustainability Grant of £2000 for cabin hatchment was made from the Straegic Development Fund of National Historic Ships


Carr, Frank, Sailing Barges, 1971
Hugh Perks, Richard, Sprts'l: A Portrait of Sailing Barges and Sailormen, Conway Maritime Press, 1975
Wood, D G, Barges Sailing Today: Sailing Barge Information Pamplet No: 1, Society for Spritsail Barge Research, 1995
Classic Boat: Thames Barge Match, September 2005
Classic Boat: Thames Barging, September 1998

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