Fenland stone barges.

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    Mitch Barker

    I live in Ely, Cambridgeshire which is a fenland town dominated by a massive cathedral. Everything is known about the cathedral but little is known about the guys who fed the masons with stone. We know where the stone came from (Stamford) and we know how, by barge, but what we don’t know is how these crude vessels were powered.
    In the 9-10th century all watercourses in the fens where tidal as far as Stamford. The main arteries,rivers, meandered to the sea, the Wash. So how DID these boatmen manoeuvre these barges with 6ton of stone on. Romantics like to think horses pulled them but of course horses need river banks!. My own view is that they cleverly used the tidal flow of the waters and poles. I just can’t think they could ‘pole’ against the flow. If that’s the case just how long did it take and how did they cope with floodwaters, high tides etc and why, with so many movements, have we never found a sunken barge.
    Hope someone more nautical than me has more of an idea.
    Thanks Mitch Barker

    Frank Scott

    Worth looking at the barge races on the Thames. Not the sailing barges, but those more mundane floating steel barges that are more usually towed loaded with yellow containers filled with London’s rubbish.
    However, historically they were man-powered & every year they hold a barge race to celebrate that tradition. Crew is one man to manoeuvre the barge with a long sweep, one rower, and up to 3 relief oarsmen. Poling is also an option.
    See this on YouTube:

    Frank Scott

    This YouTube clip explains things better & includes some historic footage:

    Sam Willis

    Malcolm Lewis has replied to this thread as a separate topic and his reply can be read here: https://snr.org.uk/snr-forum/topic/fenland-stone-barges-2/

    Frank Scott

    Gillian Hutchinson, Medieval Ships & Shipping (London, 1997) has some relevant material about Fenland stone transport by water, notably pages 119-21, where she talks about Sawtry Abbey, Barnack stone, and Wittlesey (Whittlesly) Mere. In 19th century when the Mere was drained four blocks of Barnack stone were recovered, probably lost in some barge accident. Stone size @ One Ton, (0.94M x 0.73M x 0.73M).

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