When: 15th July 2017, from 1.30pm
Where: The race takes place over a course of seven miles, from Greenwich Pier to Westminster Bridge
£: Free to watch
What is it?
The historic annual Thames Barge Driving Race will take place on Saturday 15th July.
The race commemorates the traditional skills of the Thames Watermen and Lightermen. These men would once have moved freight by barge, using oars or sweeps, whilst riding the strong tidal currents of the river.
This unique race sees competitors rowing a course of seven miles, from Greenwich Pier to Westminster Bridge. The barges are manned by crews of Freemen and Apprentices of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen. The race begins at 1.30pm from Greenwich, finishing at Westminster Bridge at around 3pm.
Each barge weighs up to 30 tonnes, and 20 foot oars are used to row them. No more than three crew members may row at a time.
The movement of cargo by this method was used until the closure of the London Docks in the 1970s. This annual event hopes to encourage the movement of cargo via the tidal Thames, and recruit young people back into the river trade.
There are usually a number of special awards on race day, including one for the best painted barge. As a further test of the crews’ navigational skills, each barge must collect at least one pennant (a flag), from a moored barge along the course. The team that collects all three pennants, also wins a special award.
The race is popular with spectators, who line the route, watching from the bridges and other vantage points.
Traditionally, Watermen carried passengers, whilst Lightermen carried goods and cargoes. Since 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 and Lightermen’s principal activity is that of a working guild. It provides services to its Freemen, runs an apprenticeship scheme, acts as a trustee for its charities, and participates in the City of London’s traditions.