Thames Barge Vigilant, Connections

Imagine being six years old and setting off to work in 1908. I compare my little granddaughter who is five when I think of it. Talking to a friend at work recently I learnt that her late grandfather was a ‘Barge Gypsy’. A what? I asked her.
Apparently Charles Willoughby Garner started work on the Grand Union Canal, just six years old. His job was to guide the horse along the canal bank as it pulled the barge owned by the Bromwich’s, his grandmother’s family. The barge carried grain, coal and wood, presumably towards London as the canal runs 130 miles from Birmingham.
Charles stayed with the family barge until he was fourteen and then moved on to be a tug man on the Thames.
The First World War began a couple of years before and thank goodness he was too young to be called to arms. He had a very important role during wartime, guiding boats in under darkness, and when the bombing was happening he would be away from home for days on end.
Charles stayed on the Thames until he retired aged 68. The Bromwich barge was last seen and catalogued as sunk at the bottom of a Manchester dock yard. I wonder if Charles knew that when he died in 1979. I’m sure he was justly proud of his part in Britain’s maritime history. Thank you to Michelle for sharing his story.
If you have been following Lucid Gypsy for a while you’ll know that I’ve been posting about the restoration of a Thames barge, Vigilant, here in Exeter at Topsham Quay, who knows, perhaps Charles even sailed on her. Yesterday I popped down to check her progress.
1
Stern in the Topsham mud.
4
Preparation.
3
She comes with her own garden!
5
Looking good on the port side.
2
Wonderful curves.
6
Traces of colour to her bow.
7
Imagine how beautiful she will be in sail, I can’t wait to see her.

Related posts
https://lucidgypsy.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/vigilant/
https://lucidgypsy.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/vigilant-revisited/
Postcard from the River Exe and its barge project

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19 thoughts on “Thames Barge Vigilant, Connections

  1. She is going to look lovely when they are finished with her Gilly. Thanks for sharing these lovely photo’s hon. 🙂 *hugs*

  2. I grew up on a house boat and have written about it earlier in my blogging journey … this rekindled the memories … while my parents balked at the idea that we were gypsies, it was a very ‘open’ experience and not as romantic as it looks!! A lovely post!! _/\_

  3. Six years old! Such a different world. My grandfather joined the working world when he was 12 or so. I thought that was young. Charles is part of history and yes thank goodness he didn’t fight in WWI–trench warfare was a terrible, terrible thing.

  4. “…Charles Willoughby Garner started work on the Grand Union Canal, just six years old. His job was to guide the horse along the canal bank as it pulled the barge owned by the Bromwich’s, his grandmother’s family. The barge carried grain, coal …” – we had those horses (pulling boats with coal) in my hometown, river Ruhr, too. The daylight job for horses was better than working in a coalmine: they never saw the sun. 1945, when coal-miners were poor and starved, they fetched the horses, hundreds of them, out of the dark and brought them in a long march through the streets of the town ESSEN: to the butchers. The most sad thing I heard about the history of horses…

  5. Hi,
    It’s Benjamin and I will be down on the Vigilant this Saturday morning – I think you wanted to get some shots of the hold so if you are about come and be my guest – and anyone else who wishes to have a gander.

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