Where: The race takes place over a course of seven miles between Greenwich and Westminster Bridge
£: Free to watch
What is it?
The Thames Barge Driving Race, which takes place on 13th July, is a unique race rowed over a course of seven miles between Greenwich and Westminster Bridge. Each barge is manned under oars, like all other great Thames racing events, by crews of Freemen and Apprentices of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen.
The event commemorates the skills of the traditional Thames Watermen and Lightermen who moved freight by barge under the power of oars or sweeps and riding the strong tidal currents of the river Thames. The barges weigh up to 30 tonnes and no more than three crew members can row at any time using the 20 foot oars. The movement of cargo by this method was used until the closure of the London Docks in the 1970s. This annual event is hoped to encourage the movement of cargo via the tidal Thames and recruit younger people back into the river trade.
There are a number of special awards on race day for the best painted barge. As a further test of the crews’ navigational skills each barge must collect at least one pennant from a moored barge along the course; the team that collects all three pennants also wins a special award.
The race is very popular with spectators who line the route, watching from the bridges and other vantage points along the route.
Traditionally Watermen carried passengers whilst Lightermen carried goods and cargoes. From ancient times the Thames has been the main highway for moving people and goods from the estuary to London and beyond. The Company of Watermen & Lightermen’s principal activity is that of a working guild, providing services to its Freemen, facilitating an apprenticeship scheme, acting as trustee for its charities and participating in the traditions of the City of London.
More info: www.thamesbargedriving.co.uk