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The Pudge History

ORIGINAL The Timber Barge - PUDGE - Rev.
Pudge Skipper Bill Watson restored.jpg

Bill Watson
Pudge Master 1923 - 1949

Pudge Dunkirk records.jpg

London & Rochester Barge Company Ltd – Pudge

Registered 127274 – Rochester
Net tons 82 (when built) 1931 70 tons
Gross tons 93

Length 82.8 feet
Width 21 feet
Depth 6.8 feet

Built purposely for Oil Seed trade between London and Ipswich 1922

Launched 13th July 1922




Although no record of the launch of Pudge has been traced there are vague memories that retired sailormen talked of the ceremony being performed by a director’s daughter whose nickname she bore. This could, perhaps, have been Ernest’s youngest daughter Elsie Norah Gill who was then aged about 13 or 14.


1931 A 30 bhp Kelvin engine fitted (petrol/paraffin) – 2 cylinder 4SA oil engine made by Bergius Co. Ltd of Glasgow


1933 Arthur Ransome moored beside Pudge 11th May 1933. Later became Welcome of Rochester in The Coot Club


1935 a 66 bhp K3 Kelvin Diesel Engine fitted and powered Pudge to 1950

1938 London to Newport IOW, 28th November 1938 with 75 tons of Oilcake, fire onboard caused by upset cabin oil lamp. Rescued by the Deal motor boat Rose and taken to anchorage off Deal Pier.


1939 London to Newport IOW, 16th March 1939 with 110 tons of Oilcake, was sunk in collision with SS Lapwing. 6 cables SW off Chapman Head Light House – Master, Bill Watson, crew of 3 saved. Barge was raised and repaired. Law suite entailed and barge lost the case.


1940 Evacuated troops from Dunkirk 30th May 1940 as part of Operation Dynamo and returned to Ramsgate – Master, Bill Watson.


1954 London for Kings Lynn, cargo of pollards, put into Harwich and was in collision with SS Dunnet Head off Shotley. The accident as related by Tom Apps, at the time temporary master of Pudge. On 29th March 1954 the vessel was on passage from London to Kings Lynn with a stack of pollards, (another wheat offal), when the master decided to put into Harwich for shelter. At about 8pm she turned to port to come to anchor off Shotley when suddenly the lights of the steamer ‘Dunnet Head’ were seen coming down the Orwell from Ipswich. Seemingly the engines of both vessels were stopped but the steamer hit Pudge near her starboard rigging and cut her side. Capt. Thompson decided to beach Pudge as the tide was ebbing and some form of repair could be temporarily made. When the mate went to see how things were in the fo’c’sle he found that water was up to the top of the lockers and the hot coals from the stove had set fire to the panelling. Naturally the pots on the stove were all upset and a good dinner that was almost ready and which young Tom was much looking forward to eating, was lost. Before the tide receded enough to go overside and start patching the master began to strip panelling from the fo’c’sle. The next day the Pudge was towed to Ipswich and the cargo, half of which was water damaged, was discharged. It would seem that again the barge was held at fault for no money was paid by the steamship owners.


1955 Ashore, Leaky ½mile S. Salt Fleet Haven (stranded half a mile south of Saltfleet Haven on 24th October on passage to Hull. Humber lifeboat and with Saltfleet Life Saving Apparatus standing by) requested assistance from the lifeboat for a tow on the night tide. – Master, Ron Mortley, towed to Grimsby.


1960 Broke down due to engine failure. Called Margate lifeboat for assistance. Towed off Margate Roads to await arrival of engineer.


1968 Bought out of the trade as a twin hatched motor barge by the Thames Barge Sailing Club

1990 Vessel re-rigged and re-engined after her passage to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dunkirk

2005 Staged programme of restoration began at Maylandsea with a rebuild of the bows, progressing to the deck and stern

2007 Vessel returns to sail

2011 Restoration work continued at Faversham to maintain vessel's fitness for charitable sailing work.
2012 Was part of the Parade of Sail at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London on the 3rd June 2012.


2015 Pudge was one of two Thames sailing barges which went to Dunkirk to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation of the BEF. 

2018 Awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant for the replacement of her decks and coamings and upgrading of her below deck accommodation.

2020 Work commenced on restoration.


The Trust’s spritsail barge Pudge took part in the Dunkirk evacuation.

A total of 30 sailing/auxiliary barges were involved in Operation Dynamo which was the code name for the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from Dunkirk in 1940. Sadly, many of the barges were destroyed and a few remained stranded on the beaches unable to re-float before the arrival of the German troops.

Background to Operation Dynamo


In May 1940 the British and Allied Forces were desperately fighting to stop the German advance through Europe but by Mid-May Hitler’s Armies had swept West from Germany through Holland, Belgium and France forcing the British and French to retreat. Ten days later and the German spearhead had reached the sea cutting off the Allied Forces in the North from the main Army in France and cornering them into a small area around Dunkirk.

On the 14th may 1940, the BBC made the following announcement: “The admiralty have made an Order requesting all owners of self-propelled pleasure craft between 30′ and 100′ in length to send particulars to the Admiralty within 14 days from today if they have not already been offered or requisitioned”.

Although this may have sounded something like a request, it was, in fact an Order. These ships were required for harbour services and national defence and thus the idea of using private yachts as naval auxiliaries was quite well established by the time the emergency of Dunkirk broke upon the Nation.

On the 26th May 1940, a secret cipher telegram was sent by the War Office to the Admiralty stating that the emergency evacuation of troops from the French coast was required immediately. In overall command was the Vice-Admiral Commanding Dover – Bertram Ramsey. On the following day, May 27th, the Small Craft section of the Ministry of Shipping was telephoning various boat builders and agents around the coast requesting them to collect all small craft suitable  for work in taking troops off the beaches where the larger ships could not penetrate. What was needed were boats with shallow draught and this directed attention in particular to pleasure boats, private yachts and launches on the Thames and also in muddy estuaries and creeks in deserted moorings along the South and East coasts which would be suitable for such an operation.

The whole operation was a very carefully co-ordinated and records exist of most of the little ships and other larger vessels that went to Dunkirk.

A conglomeration of some 850 British vessels of every shape and size sailed to the rescue. Most were small craft manned by civilians and they, together with naval ships such as the St. Fagan, plucked around 338,000 men (including 112,00 French and Belgian soldiers) from the beaches. It was the greatest rescue operation of a trapped army ever known. The Germans did everything they could to prevent the evacuation and the Luftwaffe repeatedly bombed and strafed the ships and men waiting to board them.

As a result of the operation of the Little Ships and the considerable fleet of naval and Merchant Marine vessels which operated off Dunkirk beaches and the harbour between 28th May and the 4th June 1940, no less than 338,000 British and French troops were evacuated. Approximately one third of these were taken off the beaches and, within this number approximately 110,000 Frenchmen returned from England to fight again.

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