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Vigilant: Thames barge at the quay

Vigilant, a Thames barge dating from 1904, is now moored at Topsham quay for renovation.

Read on for more images, a video report from BBC news, and a description from the attached plaque (click to enlarge any image).

See also Lucid Gypsy, who has also blogged on the topic: see here and here.

1904 Thames Barge

The Vigilant was built in Ipswich and is a class spritsail Thames Barge rigged with a bowsprit.

She is listed in the Historic Ships Register. Although there were hundreds of these working sail boats on the Thames, only about thirty are still in existence.

Vigilant was built as a working barge for the Horlock Family, who were the Eddie Stobart of the 1900s. These barges worked around the coast transporting massive loads, when Topsham was a working port, they would have been frequent visitors to the Quay.

Vigilant weighs 74 tonnes, could carry 120 tonnes, and was used to ferry grain. When fully loaded up to their marks, these barges would be virtually submerged. They were powered by massive ochre-coloured sails, engines only being fitted in the 1930s. The main sail alone took three men to hoist.

As well as working, these barges were built with racing in mind. The barge racing matches still continue to this day, with racing matches off the Thames Estuary during summer. In 1928, Vigilant was a class race winner. She continued to be sailed until the 1930s, when she was converted into a houseboat.

[A commenter to this post has added: "She was re-rigged and sailed in the mid '70s to '90s too. The whole barge could be handled by two!"]

Vigilant has travelled from the Rover Colne in Essex down the Channel to Topsham, and will be sympathetically restored to enable her to once again take to the seas under her red ochre sails as a racing barge.

If you would like to be a friend of Vigilant, please email

See also the BBC Video report, Thames barge restoration begins.


She was re-rigged and sailed in the mid '70s to '90s too.

The whole barge could be handled by two!

Are there opportunities to volunteer on the restoration?

Are there opportunities to volunteer on the restoration?

All I know is what's on the sign: I guess the email address would be the place to ask.
- Ray

Dear Ray,

Thank you for publicising this marvellous adventure of a project. Of course if any one wants to volunteer to assist then they only have to get in touch via the link


Hi I am the editor of the Association of Bargemen newsletter and wondered whether we might be able to use some of your information and photographs, and perhaps contact details, to put a piece in our next newsletter due out end April 2013. Our membership consits of many Thames Barge owners, skippers, shipwrights, crew etc and would be of great interest. Many thanks (do you have an email address?)

I've also been blogging about Vigilant, I think its a wonderful project and I'm enjoying the journey!

I used to live in Essex not far where these barges used to work.I would sometimes go to Southend near where I lived and from time to time see these vessels going up and down going to various sailing events or delivering or picking up loads.Yesterday my wife and went to Topsham as we haven,t been there for a while and saw this boat. I will be going back every so often to see how the work is going on. We live in Newton Abbot so when we visit family members in Exmouth we can come and see how the work is progressing

Is this project still live? Cycled past Vigilant last weekend and was interested to do an internet search


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