Maldon District Council’s proposal to increase the mooring charges on the Hythe quay’s barges would have unintended consequences.

Should their proposal succeed, the barges would have to leave the Hythe, most, if not all being unable to meet those charges.

Local shipwrights, sailmakers, riggers and their apprentices may lose their livelihood, and once their valuable skills are lost they cannot be reclaimed. In addition to the professional craftsmen, and women, the barges are maintained by a large number of volunteers who themselves gain irreplaceable experience and knowledge as they contribute to Maldon’s unique maritime heritage.

Visitors to the Hythe (and some district councillors) may be unaware of the behind-the-scenes activity necessary to keep the barges afloat.

They are probably unaware of the very successful training scheme operated by the Thames Sailing Barge Trust, which in recent years has recruited and trained several mates (both men and women) with the impressive range of skills required to sail and maintain the barges.

All the Hythe barge owners contribute to this scheme, and the trainee mates (all volunteers) gain experience and sea-time crewing on a wide variety of different barges.

Some of these trained, qualified and experienced mates will become the skippers to keep the barges sailing into the future. Should the barges lose their Maldon base this training scheme would end.

When the trust’s barges aren’t sailing, and introducing people to those lovely parts of Essex and Suffolk only accessible by water, they provide a living educational resource for our local schools and youth groups.

Working closely with teachers, TSBT volunteers introduce children to the maritime world that is their inheritance through on-board activities, with carefully planned and produced learning materials.

On open days throughout the summer children learn how a barge sails, what cargoes were once carried, where those were loaded and unloaded, what tools were used to maintain a barge in sailing condition – and how to tie the knots needed on a sailing vessel.

Without the barges these worthwhile activities will not be available to the children from the Maldon district, nor to those who visit Maldon with their families on open days, often from other parts of the country.

Last May the National Heritage Lottery fund agreed a substantial award towards the restoration of the TSBT’s sailing barge Pudge.

Pudge is one of the surviving Dunkirk Little Ships, and a symbol of the British people’s resilience and courage in adversity.

At the time local MP John Whittingdale confirmed his support for the work of the trust, saying : “For many people, the Thames barge is the symbol of Maldon and the trust does great work in maintaining the two it owns and at the same time keeping alive traditional shipbuilding skills”.

I hope our district councillors will join our MP in ensuring that Maldon keeps its barges, and reconsider their proposal to price these valuable historic vessels off the Hythe.

Don Baines

High Street, Maldon