CAMBRIA is a wooden Thames sailing barge, built at Greenhithe, Kent in 1906 by the Everard family and cost £1895. She is famed as the last British registered vessel to carry a commercial cargo under sail alone (until 1970) and as such forms a unique part of our industrial and maritime heritage.
Cambria’s working life began as a river and coastal cargo carrier, regularly sailing the London river to the Medway, and across the channel to Rotterdam, Antwerp, Dunkirk, Calais and Treport. Cambria’s cross channel cargoes were pitch, coke, wheat and oil cake.Her home ports were any harbours between the Humber and Cornwall. One of the most frequent routes was carrying coal from Keadby on the river Trent to Harwich, Colchester and Margate. Fully laden, Cambria could carry 170 tons, enough to fill seventeen railway trucks; this weight put her down to her sea load line, 11.5 inches from deck level. With less than a foot of freeboard and with 5000 square feet of canvas, the decks were frequently awash, making a hazardous working environment in the often foul weather of the North Sea and the channel.
The first barge matches after the 1914-18 War took place in 1927, when Cambria had the honour of flying the championship pennant in the coasting class for the Thames and Medway barge matches. In 1928 Cambria repeated the success by winning the Medway match.
In the late fifties and early sixties, Everard’s laid off their sailing barges and most were broken up or converted to houseboats. Bob Roberts was given the opportunity to take over Cambria as owner, which he ran successfully from 1966 to 1970. However, not even the Cambria could continue for very much longer in the face of a revolution affecting the freight and haulage industry on land and at sea.
The Maritime Trust offered to buy the Cambria from Captain Bob Roberts, who retired to the Isle of Wight. Cambria became an exhibit at St Katherine’s dock in London and owned by the Maritime Trust. However, due to neglect, the condition of the barge deteriorated in the fresh water of the docks and the barge was sold to the Cambria Trust. On a visit to the barge in 1981, Bob Roberts mate, Dick Durham noted that there were leaks in the ceiling, yet no work was being undertaken to remedy the situation.
In 1996 the Cambria was sold to the Cambria Trust for £1 and luckily the South East Region Committee of the Heritage Lottery Fund agreed to award £990,000 to the Cambria Trust towards the restoration of the Cambria.
That restoration is now complete, she is relaunched, rededicated and sailing once more as a sail training charter vessel as well as in races and is sometimes on static display in harbours around the East coast and Kent.
- Pin Mill