ETHEL ADA is a spritsail barge which was built by the Shuttlewood brothers of Paglesham, Essex and launched in July 1904. The brothers named the barge after the ladies in their lives. Whilst under construction she found her first owner in G & A Underwood, coal and corn merchants of Southend, later passing to E. Watkins & Co. ETHEL ADA continued trading around the Suffolk coast throughout the First World War, although she changed hands again in 1915 when she was bought by Samuel West Ltd for ballast work.
For wooden boats carrying combustible fuels was potentially hazardous, with fires a constant risk. One such incident occurred on board Ethel Ada in 1910, and was particularly prescient given its future cargo in the Second World War.
The process of loading ETHEL ADA with coke began on Thursday 4 January 1910. A fire in the hold was discovered at 10.30pm the same night, by E. Lankester, the load runner. He told several stokers and the foreman, who sent them to quench the fire with pails and shovels. The foreman also sent for the captain of the barge, who in turn sent for the manager.
A large number of firemen were present on the Quay with pumps, and some were set to removing part of the coke in the hold. The fire was judged to have been extinguished by 12.30am, and the firemen left at 1.30am. The manager then put 5 men of board to cut out any hot places they could find, the men subsequently being paid by the captain.
ETHEL ADA was inspected on Friday morning 4 January 1910 and the all clear was given to resume loading the same afternoon. Loading was finished on Saturday. The owners subsequently sued the coke supplier for the damage caused by the fire. The sum of £80 was finally paid in settlement of the damage caused by the solicitors of the Ipswich Gaslight Company.
ETHEL ADA was subsequently owned, from 1938, by TF Wood Ltd of Gravesend and used to carry gunpowder. She then passed to the successors to TF Wood Ltd, ICI Ltd, before ending trading in 1957. She never had an engine fitted during her trading days.
Where is she now?
ETHEL ADA is now based at Hermitage Wharf, Wapping, and charters from Tower Bridge or the east coast ports to sail between the Swale and the Alde. She regularly races in the barge matches: in 2009 she won the Thames coasting class.
Ipswich Records Office, IH1/3/63 claim for barge fire.
Brown, Paul (2103) Historic Sail, The History Press.
Carr, Frank (1971) Sailing Barges.
Perks, Richard Hugh (1975) Spr’ts'l: A Portrait of Sailing Barges and Sailormen.
Anon (1987) The Last Berth of the Sailorman.
Wood, D G (1995) Barges Sailing Today: Sailing Barge Information Pamplet No. 1.
Anon (2010) Classic Boat Medway Barge Match.