Thames Sailing Barges and Whitstable Harbour

Whitstable Harbour HISTORY

One Thames Sailing Barge that remains a feature of the Whitstable Harbour's South Quay and one that provides the chance for the public to sample the delights of sailing in a bygone era.


Built 1892 at Brightlingsea, Essex by Stones.

Length 80ft, Beam 20ft, draft 3ft,displacement 49 tons.

'Greta's' usual cargo consisted of grain, malt and building products. Her later cargo's consisted of malt and beer. During the World War II, she carried ammunition to the naval vessels anchored in the Thames Estuary; Greta took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk. She is the oldest active Dunkirk Little ship.

Greta has earned a quieter pace and now spends the summer months chartering from the South Quay of Whitstable Harbour.


The town's historic harbour, was built in 1832 to serve the world's first passenger railway service. Nicknamed the Crab and Winkle line. it linked Canterbury to London via a steam ship from the harbour. Today, whilst still a commercial port, you may see the activities of the harbour and fish market, then eat the morning's catch at one of the towns popular seafood restaurants.


The picture postcards below are from the Tony Farnham Collection - Copyright T. Farnham

It is not hard to understand why Whitstable played some part in Thames Barge operations. After all, the town is located alongside the Thames estuary and was one of the nearest towns to London. Furthermore, Whitstable Bay provided a shallow and relatively safe anchorage. Whitstable's location just 7 miles north of Canterbury meant that, for centuries, it had served as a sea port for its famous city neighbour. Local Ship operators were no doubt keen to cash in on the barge trade. As a result, businesses such as the Whitstable Shipping Co (and, later Daniels Bros) flourished.


The barge trade provided economic benefits for barge operators and those employed in crewing and unloading the vessels. It also benefited companies who "exported" or "imported" their materials through Whitstable. However, there were many other spin offs. Along with the Oyster Yawl, no vessel reflects Whitstable's maritime history more vididly than the Thames Sailing Barge. These practical but elegant craft served as the workhorses from the 19th century until 1970. They transported a variety of cargoes between a network of ports including Whitstable and the trade provided a significant contribution to the town's economy. It also provided employment for many Natives.

A Thames Barge crew member of old tying up in Whitstable Harbour

View from Reeves Beach of Whitstable Bay and Thames Sailing Barges

The Greta Thames Sailing Barge built in 1892 still sails today from the South Quay of Whitstable Harbour.