Barging Family Memories

My father Gilbert Britton was a bargeman born(1895)and raised in Milton Regis, Kent. He was the son of a barge skipper, James Britton and the grandson of James Britton, senior also a barge skipper. The senior James was born in Little Oakley, Essex.  His father (also James) brought the family to Faversham and then settled in Teynham, this was in the early 1860’s.

My father, Gil, was skipper of the sailing barge Edith, owned by Burley when he was 18 or 19. After fruit picking he took a load of coal as skipper of the Excelsior owned by Woods of Dartford.  He worked as mate for Bill Britton who was his grandfather’s brother and skipper of the Leslie. Bill Britton’s son Ernie was also a bargeman and winner of Thames and Medway Sailing cup.

Gil also sailed with Jimmy Toms who was “religious”.  He lived on Shortlands Rd. Gil said Toms “was the best old skipper I ever had”. Gil was  with him sailing up the Thames once when Jimmy said “There’s your Grandfather”! He was across the river in the Olde England. Gil’s father had also been skipper of the Olde England having previously served as mate under his father. It was a very large barge, owned by Covingtons’, which they sometimes sailed to Hull for coal.

Gil’s father had also worked for Eastwoods’. One of the barges he sailed was the Dabchick, named after a small night bird that flew around Milton Creek and was never seen in daylight. He had an African-American mate and said he was the best mate he ever sailed with.  Gil’s father died of a heart attack he suffered when attempting to “shoot” Kingsferry Bridge. I have include his obituary.

East Kent Gazette
SUDDEN DEATH OF A BARGE CAPTAIN. – The death occurred suddenly on Wednesday in last week [18 April 1906] of James Britton, aged 39 years , who lived at 47 New-road; Sittingbourne.  The deceased was in temporary charge of the barge William Wood, of Milton, and he sailed from that town with a freight for the London river.  On arriving at King’s Ferry Bridge the barge was brought up, and as Britton complained of being ill he was taken ashore, and went into the Lord Nelson public house.

But no sooner had he entered the house than he died, the sad event occurring so suddenly that it was impossible to send for medical aid in time.  He was a strong powerful man, but he suffered from heart weakness and it was this that was the cause of death.  He had previously complained of feeling unwell, and had been seen by a doctor.  The case was reported to the Coroner (Mr. W. J. Harris), but under the circumstances an inquest was considered unnecessary.  The deceased leaves a widow and four children in family. A singular chain of circumstances in connection with this death is worth recording.  The regular captain of the William Wood had dislocated his shoulder, and his place was taken by another man.  But on this occasion illness of the wife kept the man away from work.  The barge was then placed under the charge of James Britton, and he met with an unexpected death.  The remains of the deceased were conveyed home, and they were interred in the Sittingbourne Cemetery on Saturday afternoon, where there was a touching demonstration of sympathy by local bargemen and waterside men who followed the body in procession to the grave.

Both my grandfather and great-grandfather died before I was born I have never seen a photograph of either of them.  If anyone has or knows of any photograph that may include members of my family or the barges they served on would they please contact me – Jim Britton. email:

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