Barges and Barge Building on Milton Creek

Milton Creek has a long history of barges and barge building, initially in connection with fishing trades in the 16th Century and the shipment of grain in the 18th Century. Prior to 1830 only small vessels could reach Crown Quay and Milton Wharf on the high spring tides. Larger vessels had to anchor at the mouth of the Creek and discharge their cargo into Lighters. Murston was emerging as a port and it had the advantage of having deeper draft facilities. Barges were also brought to the Creek for repair. By the mid 19th Century the Creek was an important commercial centre for the stock brick and cement trades. The banks of the Creek were lined on both sides by brick manufacturers. The most well known being Smeed Dean Ltd.


By the mid 19th Century, George Smeed started using Thames spritsail sailing barges to transport bricks and cement. His first shipyard was at Adelaide Dock and later Murston Wharf where he launched 79 sailing vessels. Smeed’s first barge – the Three Sisters was built in 1845. There was a tradition of naming barges after family members, directors or principle staff. They were typically 60ft long and 14ft wide and their flat bottoms were ideal for the shallow waters in the Creek. Many of Smeed’s vessels were also engaged in the coal trade. They often traded as far as the north of England or to the Continent.

Smeed owned half of the vessels built at Milton Creek. The Mercantile Navy List of 1872 shows 190 Milton built vessels; by 1886 there were 334 and by 1900, 140.


The Taylor family had yard at Crown Quay. In 1862 they were building barges for London-based companies along with local owners such as Burley’s.

Wills & Packham

Fellow brick makers Wills & Packham maintained fleet of Barges in which to transport their bricks. They were known as ‘teetotal’ barges as each one was named after temperance reformers. Mr Wills had a house built in Park Road with a large turret-room window from where he could watch barges sail up the Creek.

Key Dates and Names

East side of Creek – Murston

  • George Smeed 1845 -1877
  • Smeed Dean 1877 – 1931 (Sold to):
  • A.P.C.M. 1931 –1965 although they still owned the land the Lighterage ceased in 1965
  • Burley 1890 – 1965 became the Dolphin Yard Museum
  • Wills and Packham 1890 – 1938 became Sittingbourne shipbuilding Co. 1938 -1953
  • Masters 1866 -1869
  • Mantle 1866 – 1875
  • Burley 1875 – 1890
  • White 1890 – 1920
  • Sittingbourne Shipbuilding Co. 1920 – 1938
  • Bowater’s 1938 – 1965

West side – Milton & Kemsley

  • William Wood 1860 – 1925
  • Shrubshall 1865 -1902
  • Eastwood’s 1902 -1911
  • Lloyd 1912 – 1935
  • Bowater 1935 – 1938

Barges in Decline

The coming of the railways and better road transport meant the Thames barges lost their importance as a means of transporting goods. By the Second World War, it had ceased to exist. With the demise of the barge went the importance of Milton Creek.

Photo Gallery – Barges

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