At the outbreak of the First World War, the Royal Navy ordered lighters in certain areas that had not been requisitioned to be scuttled because they feared they might fall into German hands and be used for moving troops.
JOHN CONSTABLE, a River Stour barge, was built in approximately 1880, possibly at Flatford. Stour lighters operated on the River Stour from 1705 until the early part of 20th century carrying a variety of cargoes up and down the river. One of the most important was the carriage of bricks from More
JOHN CONSTABLE, a River Stour barge, was built in approximately 1880, possibly at Flatford. Stour lighters operated on the River Stour from 1705 until the early part of 20th century carrying a variety of cargoes up and down the river. One of the most important was the carriage of bricks from various brickworks at Sudbury down to the estuary from onward transport to London and elsewhere. Coal was a common return cargo. Uniquely, the lighters operated in pairs, being permanently shackled bow to stern, with the rear lighter being used as a rudder for the pair.
The stern vessel had a single hold with a small cabin at the rear. Each boat was capable of a load of 13 tons, making a total of 26 tons for the pair. They were towed by a single horse, which was trained to leap on and off the foredeck as the towpath changed sides. The crew consisted of a captain and a horseman. The latter was often a small boy who sometimes rode the horse.
The journey from Sudbury to the estuary usually took about 2 days with an overnight stop at Horkesley where a special bothy was provided. The lighters continued to work until the 1914-18 war when they were scuttled in Ballingdon Cut for fear that they might be used by Germans if they invaded. However, two separately owned lighters continued to work on the lower part of the river until about 1938 when they were abandoned.
John Constable, after whom the barge is named, featured one of the barges in his painting, Boat Building near Flatford Mill (1815).
Where is she now?
JOHN CONSTABLE operates as an outdoor museum and is currently located at Sudbury in Suffolk. She is available for hire and excursions.