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Last Update
October 2018

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Barges and Lighters

In 1950 a motor barge was to be the first ever steel vessel to be built at Berwick. Over the years more barges and lighters would follow.

Kelvin Advert
Kelvin was the engine of choice for the early motor barges such as Naughton.

The first ever steel vessel to be built at Berwick was the 90’ motor barge Naughton that took to the Tweed on the 16th May 1951.  Naughton was one of three motor barges built for the London and Rochester Trading Company.  The others, Gold and Silver, were launched a year apart in December 1951 and December 1952.  All three vessels were powered by Kelvin diesel engines.  Naughton was originally fitted with the Kelvin 66hp K3 model.  After entering service this was later replaced by the more powerful 88hp K4 engine fitted to Gold and Silver.  The three Berwick-built motor barges joined a fleet of over 150 vessels operated by the London and Rochester Trading Company and during their working lives operated on the Thames and Medway.

Naughton and Gold took their names after characters from the famous British comedy act the ‘Crazy Gang’ that comprised of three double acts – Jimmy Nervo and Teddy Knox, Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen and Charlie Naughton and Jimmy Gold who appeared together on stage and radio alongside ‘Monsewer’ Eddie Gray.  Naughton and Gold joined Nervo and Knox two other ‘Crazy Gang’ vessels, already in service with the London and Rochester Trading Company that had been build elsewhere. 

Silver was the last of the three barges built at Berwick for the London and Rochester Trading Company that operated between 1924 and 1984. In 1969 it’s fleet consisted of 185 vessels* including motor ships, coastwise barges, estuary barges, lighters and tugs.



Workers look admiringly at Gold - the second of the 'Crazy Gang' barges built for the London and Rochester Trading Company. Photo: D. Redfearn Collection

 While under the ownership of London and Rochester the vessel worked in and out of the Thames with a crew of two   A former skipper who also served on Naughton and Gold recalled the diversity of cargoes carried and the places visited.  We traded twixt Yarmouth & Dover ,…cargoes were grain, 200 ton, a lot of fruit juice and tinned goods to Mistley.  We did a lot of cargoes in an out of the London docks including hoofs an horns (rats included)!   

The handling qualities of these hard working Berwick-built barges were less fondly remembered. The same skipper writing in 2009 recalled… they went where they wanted to go when loaded, not where you wanted!

Silver (Official Number 184228) , was listed in the 2006 - 2007 edition of Lloyds Register of Ships. The vessel was recorded as being owned and operated by a Nigerian company, Joseph Yambode and Sons Ltd. At the time, Silver was believed to be the oldest known Berwick-built vessel still in operational service.

Silver, London Docks
The first of the three photographs shown here of Silver was taken at the Royal Albert Docks, London in 1973.  The other two pictures were taken a year later and show the vessel at King George V Dock.
All Photos: Richard Cox Collection

Naughton survives today as a converted houseboat on the River Medway in Kent. Purchased by it's current owner in 1997 the vessel underwent a three-year restoration after having previously been used as workshop (see pictures below).

Naughton in 1997 just prior to conversion to a houseboat.
Naughton pictured after the vessel had been converted to a houseboat.
The former motor barge Naughton survives as a converted houseboat on the River Medway. The picture on the left is of the vessel shortly after purchase in 1997. The photo on the right shows the restored vessel after a three-year renovation. Photos: © Don Wilkinson

Following the take-over of the Berwick yard by Fairmile from William Weatherhead and Sons in 1953, two further motor barges of a similar design to those built for the London and Rochester Trading Company were constructed.  These were Taffy and Binnie both completed in 1954.  Built for the Commissioners for the Crown Colonies the vessels were registered in Kuching, Borneo and were designed for operating on the River Sarawak and short sea trips.  Like the other motor barges constructed before them Taffy and Binnie were fitted with Kelvin diesels but this time it was the latest 6-cylinder 132 hp K6 model that were used. The bigger engine provided sufficient power to allow each vessel to tow a pair of small barges that were also built at Berwick.

Taffy and Binnie were designed for service in Borneo.


Taffy carefully being loaded for onward shipment to Borneo. Photo:© Jim Walker

The yard build list reveals the different types and purposes of the barges and lighters built at Berwick along with their varied destinations.  Over the years the yard would build hopper barges, dumb barges, salvage barges and barges for storing water and fuel. 

Other powered vessels of note built at Berwick include two Ramped Power Lighters, Kennet (RPL 10) and Loddon (RPL 11) built for the Royal Logistics Corps of the British Army in 1966.  Weighing 100 tons full load displacement and powered by two Rolls Royce C6S FLM diesels each developing 435 hp both vessels were sold out of the service in 1984.  Powered lighters of a more traditional design were also constructed for the Admiralty in 1957.

One of the two Ramped Powered Lighters built in 1966 for the British Army nearing completion. Kennet
Left - One of the two Ramped Powered Lighters built in 1966 for the British Army nearing completion .
Photo:© Bill Todd
Right - RPL10, (Kennet) underway.

Admiralty Lighter.

A powered lighter built for the Admiralty about to enter the water for the first time in 1957.
Photo: © John Richardson

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