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Hay Barges on the Thames

Charles William Wyllie (1853-1923) ‘A view on the Thames’ credit Barry Ashworth

Recently I had a conversation with Barry Ashworth who worked for a long period at Dunbar Wharf, during the conversation he mentioned a painting he acquired at auction. The painting is entitled A View of the Thames by Charles William Wyllie and shows a barge full of hay berthed near Limehouse.

Charles William Wyllie (1853-1923) ‘A view on the Thames’ credit Barry Ashworth

It is a fascinating painting that clearly shows the famous Limehouse waterfront near the Grapes that have attracted a number of artists. However it is the barge laden with hay that really draws your attention and is a reminder that within the streets of London that for a long period it was not cars but horses were that were king.

Hay-boat on the Thames. 1859. From The Book of the Thames from its Rise to its Fall,

There were thousands of horses on the streets of London and they had to be fed and it would have been a common sight to see Thames sailing barges heavily laden with hay. Although generally known as hay barges, for those in charge of the barge they were known as ‘stackies’. There were special adaptations made to the Thames sailing barge to allow the large amount of hay to be stacked on board. To provide some stability, below the hay were bricks for the various developments in London. The hay was collected from the farms of Suffolk, Essex and Kent and transported up the Thames. Once the hay and other cargo had been unloaded in London, the barges were then filled with manure from the horses which were taken back to the farms to spread on the fields.

Hay-Boats on the Thames, 1872 After Gustave Doré

This cycle was played out over a long period of time and became a way of life for the bargees that plied their trade up and down the Thames.

Hay Barge off Greenwich by Edward William Cooke Date: 1835 (National Maritime Museum)

As with most things, progress bought technological changes with the arrival of the combustion engine which slowly took over the London streets until the early 20th century when horses were not needed in large numbers and the hay trade declined.

In the early 21st century, the hay barges have virtually been forgotten until we come across paintings like Barry’s that remind us of the past.

Charles William Wyllie was part of family of artists that became known for their marine landscapes, river and coastal scenes. His brother, William Lionel Wyllie was considered one of the country’s most famous marine painters. Charles trained at Leigh’s School of Art and at the Royal Academy Schools.

 


1 Comment

  1. Michael says:

    What a fascinating article and series of illustrations. For the Barley Mow and Dunbar businesses there must have been a large amount of harness and many stable hands. Would any still be around and with stories?

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