Stepping On Board 'Lady Daphne': A Voyage in History

Stepping On Board 'Lady Daphne': A Voyage in History
Stepping On Board 'Lady Daphne': A Voyage in History
08 May 2019

St. Katharine Docks is glad to be the permanent home of Lady Daphne, one of the most famous of London's classic wooden barges still sailing. Meeting on board with Sam Howe and Andy Taylor (her caretakers), James Kent (her skipper of more than 20 years), Graham Piper and Laurie Watkins (her mates) and of course, Marzi (the ship's dog and the big boss), we went through some Q+A's to help you immerse deep into her history and discover the opportunities for a visit.

When was Lady Daphne built?

She was ordered in 1921 from Short Brothers in Rochester by David Watson, a part owner of Thomas Watson Shipping. The company had a tradition of naming vessels with the prefix 'Lady'. So, when the barge was launched in January 1923, Lady Daphne was named after David Watson's eldest daughter. Her sister barge, Lady Jean, can still be found around. Her construction is made of oak frames, side planking and gunwales, elm chine planks, Oregon pine spars and a steel keelson. Her shape is such that she traded as a coastal barge. She is one of the few wooden barges built after World Word One and built from plans rather than a model.

What were the main products that were conveyed on Lady Daphne?

The cargo consisted of a variety of products, including china clay, Portland stone, cement and grain and she was sailing between ports of the south and east coasts of England. She was a fast barge, making London Docks to Ipswich in 12 hours when she was empty, and just 14 hours when she was laden with 190 tonnes of wheat. In 1951, she loaded baskets of imported oysters at Felixstowe docks, and headed to the Colne, where they were unloaded at Brightlingsea.

When was her last trading trip?

This is unfortunately unknown. Probably around 1973-75 when she was sold to R&W Paul Maltsters of Ipswich and they used to carry produce of malt [wheat] used for milling. 

What are the milestones in her existence?

She is known to be a Lucky Ship as she has experienced several events in her life on the river. To name a few, in December 1927, her Skipper was washed overboard on a passage from Weymouth to Fowey in a thick snow storm. Lizard lifeboat launched when she was spotted by Lizard's signal station and rescued her remaining two exhausted crew. Lady Daphne was left empty, running into the darkness with just the pet canary left onboard. A day later, she was seen heading to the rocks near Crowe Sound, Isles of Scilly. St. Mary's lifeboat launched and took crew to her, who steered her to a safer landing on the shelving sand of Tresco beach. After a full refit, she was back in service by 1928 and continued trading for another 45 years. To recall some other incidents, in 1944 she was struck by a tramp steamer on the Thames at Vauxhall and had a serious damage to her port bow. In 1953, east coast tidal surges lifted her bow onto the quay at Ipswich but, thankfully, she was levered off and narrowly avoided capsizing. 

Who has had the ownership of Lady Daphne across the years?

In 1937 she was sold to RW Paul Maltsters of Ipswich. Between 1957 and 1973 she had her sailing gear removed and traded solely as a motor barge.

In 1975 she was sold to Taylor Woodrow Property Ltd, for re-rigging and conversion to promotional and charter barge, based at Maldon, Essex.

In 1996, she was sold into the private ownership of Michael and Elisabeth Mainelli who undertook charter work at St. Katharine Docks, London for 20 years.

Sam and Andy took ownership in 2016 and no one could imagine that we are only her 5th careful owner in 96 years.

How is Lady Daphne currently being used?

We spent 18 months undertaking extensive restoration of her starboard section at Oare Creek, Faversham. We also resealed her decking and carried out lots of painting and rebuilding in the skipper's cabin. We returned to St. Katharine Docks in June 2018 and we now offer public trips and private/corporate charter hire from our base there. In September 2018, we had successful public trips in conjunction with St. Katharine Docks and Classic Boat Festival. We are also proud that Lady Daphne was the winner of the coastal class in the Blackwater Sailing Barge Match.

What are your plans for Lady Daphne in 2019?

We are planning on extending the number of public trips on offer, especially during Easter and Bank Holidays, Father's Day and the Tower Bridge celebrations in June. We are also participating in Thames Barge Matches, London Yacht Show and Classic Boat Festival. We work closely with St. Katharine Docks and Tower Bridge to educate as many people as possible about her heritage and to continue her legacy into the future.

How can people contact you?

People can contact us for any enquiry through our website, https://www.lady-daphne.co.uk/, and social media pages on Facebook @s.b.ladydaphne and Twitter @SB_Lady_Daphne. 

Don't miss the opportunity to spend a day or evening on a historic wooden sailing vessel and imagine life as it used to be during her working life. Don't forget you will get the chance to have Tower Bridge raised especially for you during your trip!

St. Katharine Docks

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