Elizabeth Wood (then Chairman of SSBR) and Founder Member the late Richard Hugh Perks cut the 50th Anniversary Cake. Credit: Tricia Gurnett
Sb Cliff loading hay. Credit: David Patient and Mersea Museum

The Society for Sailing Barge Research was founded in 1963 as the Society for Spritsail Barge Research by a band of enthusiasts concerned that the rapid decline and possible extinction of these splendid and historically significant craft would pass largely unrecorded. From the thousands of Thames sailing barges once plying the rivers and estuaries of the south east and beyond, today just a handful survive in active commission with charter parties and business guests replacing the grain, cement, brick and coal cargoes of yesteryear.

The SSBR tent at Maldon Regatta. Credit: Tricia Gurnett

Now renamed The Society for Sailing Barge Research, it reflects a broadening interest in other allied craft, the ports from which they sailed and the men who built, owned and sailed them.

The Society attends various events and exhibitions and publishes books and journals on sailing barge related subjects. Amongst these is “Topsail”, a regular treasure chest of sailing barge history, profusely illustrated with fascinating photographs of long-lost craft and the ports they once served. Members also receive “Mainsheet”, the twice-yearly Newsletter which details the activities of the Society and highlights the fortunes of the barges that survive, as well as providing further snippets of our maritime heritage as ongoing research yields yet more of the barge trade that ceased in 1970 when sb Cambria carried her last freight under sail alone. A few former sailormen continued as motor barges into the 1980s.

Don Wright and The Late John White at the Archive. Credit: Tricia Gurnett

Some sixteen years ago the Society set up its Archive, based at North Fambridge, to provide a home for the collections of photographs, papers, books, etc, kindly donated to us by former bargemen, their families, or others who have an interest in sailing barges. As many of those who worked the rivers commercially reach the end of their days it is important that their collections and their memories are recorded. The Archive opened in 2005 and since then has increased to well over 40,000 items.

Richard Walsh presents the first Bargeman’s Award to Tom Lagan. Credit: Tricia Gurnett

In 2016, in a new initiative, SSBR instituted The Bargeman’s Award which recognizes new, (some young, some not so young), barge crew and trainees. Those nominated are judged by a small committee and each year there is one winner. More can be read about the Award on its own page.

As we go forward in the 2020s our commitment is to ensure the history of the barges and bargemen is preserved.