History

Over 100 years of history

Thalatta is a seagoing vessel built with massive oak frames and planked now with iroko; a superb example of a fully rigged traditional spritsail barge. She was built at McLearon’s yard at Harwich in 1906.

For many years, in peace and war, Thalatta carried 150-ton cargoes under sail to British and Continental ports, surviving as one of the last few wooden coasters in trade, latterly under power. The barge’s sailing rig is nowadays augmented with a powerful modern diesel engine; otherwise she remains in character and appearance almost unaltered since the days of sail. In trade Thalatta would have been crewed by a Skipper, Mate and Third Hand just as she is today.

More about Thalatta’s history can be seen on her timeline page.

Thalatta at Mistley, 1906

Thalatta at Mistley, 1906

Thalatta entering Yarmouth in 1920

Thalatta entering Yarmouth in 1920

Thalatta as a motorbarge, deep in grain for Rochford in 1964

Thalatta as a motorbarge, deep in grain for Rochford in 1964

60 years in trade

Craft of this type developed to combine good sea-going qualities with an ability to navigate easily in the shallow rivers of the south east coast. Thalatta encapsulates the characteristics typical of the breed:

  • shallow, flat-bottomed hull, ideal for river estuaries and the need to penetrate far inland for cargoes
  • ability to sail unballasted
  • ability to ‘dry out’ at low water and be loaded directly from horse-drawn carts
  • exceptionally efficient sail-plan and layout handled by ‘a man and a boy (ie skipper and mate) so that passages could be undertaken by sail power alone
  • large capacity (eg 150 tons) and flexibility to carry a wide range of cargoes, such as grain, coal, stone, bricks, bulk materials, animal feeds, waste products, straw and reed, timber, etc.

A modern role, working with children

In 1967 Thalatta was re-rigged to take on a different role as a schoolship under the flag of Sail Trust, initially, and the East Coast Sail Trust from 1971. Since then thousands of young people have benefited from the experiences of living and working as crew on Thalatta’s five-day voyages.

A school group on board in the 1970's

A school group on board in the 1970's

The founders of the East Coast Sail Trust

We had it all in the Memory – indeed we started it all. It is quite extraordinary how one determined man is able, in the short space of thirty-six hours, to turn a dozen excitable young animals, revelling in high holiday spirits, into a quiet disciplined crew. I wonder if it could happen anywhere else than in a boat; I wonder if it could happen quite like that anywhere but in a sailing barge?

John Kemp, A Fair Wind For London

John Kemp, Skipper of Thalatta 1967-87

John Kemp, Skipper of Thalatta 1967-87

Hervey Benham on Thalatta in 1974 (3rd from right)

Hervey Benham on Thalatta in 1974 (3rd from right)

Jane Benham MBE, resident teacher and mate on Thalatta 1967-92

Jane Benham MBE, resident teacher and mate on Thalatta 1967-92

Many people have been involved with the running of the East Coast Sail Trust over the years, but the people who perhaps did the most to shape the Trust in its early years were John Kemp, Hervey Benham and Hervey’s daughter Jane Benham. The Trust was officially formed in 1970 but its core aim – of preserving a barge and using it to provide a way for young people to experience life at sea – began in 1954 when John Kemp bought the Memory. Kemp, along with Hervey Benham (who was the proprietor of Essex County Newspapers and a prolific author of books on the East Coast and Thames Sailing Barges) recognised that the days of the Thames Sailing Barge were numbered, so formed the Thames Sailing Barge Trust. This then became the Sailing Barge Preservation Society in 1956. The Memory had been one of the last of the barges to trade under sail alone, and Hervey Benham suggested that by putting her to use as a charter boat, with Kemp as skipper, she could be given a new role and a means of being preserved for future generations, long after her days in trade had ended. 

Initially the type of charter work the Memory was involved was restricted to weekend trips and the three weeks of annual leave that Kemp received from his full time job with the oil company Corys. Towards the end of 1964 the Memory had on board a group of Sea Cadets from Sheffield, accompanied by their commander George Lill. During the trip the Memory raced against the Venture (and others) in the Orwell, and on board the Venture was someone involved in education, who took notice of the Memory being impressively handled by the Sea Cadets. An article soon afterwards appeared in the Times Educational Supplement, commending the used of barges to local education authorities as adventure-training ships for school children. The article sparked the idea of obtaining a long-term charter from a local education authority. Through an introduction to the Chief Education Officer of the London Borough of Redbridge, a contract was secured and Kemp resigned from his job with Corys to skipper the Memory full-time as a schoolship, with the first trip trip on 1st April 1965.

In February 1965 Jane Benham was given a supernumerary post on the Redbridge teaching staff and permanently seconded to the Memory and then the Thalatta from 1967, after it was decided the Memory was no longer fit for purpose and needed to be replaced. The programme that was developed of 5-day educational trips for schools was dubbed ‘A Week in Another World’ by Hervey Benham, and remains much the same today as it was then, with groups of school children living and working on board as crew, and taking part in all aspects of running the ship. 

John Kemp with the Sheffield Sea Cadets and their Commander George Lill, on board 'Memory' in 1964

John Kemp with the Sheffield Sea Cadets and their Commander George Lill, on board 'Memory' in 1964

The Thames Sailing Barge 'Memory'

The Thames Sailing Barge 'Memory'

Skippers, Past and Present

Whilst Thalatta’s skippers are well documented for her past 50+ years as a schoolship, exact dates from her early days are a little hazy! We have researched her days in trade as best we can and believe the list below to be as accurate as possible.

Skippers of Thalatta

Jim Alliston 1906-17
Percy Richmond 1917-18
Herbert Body 1919-33
Bob Ruffles 1933-47
Joe Lucas 1947-50
Charlie Webb 1950-56
Bob Wells 1956-60
Fred Roberts 1961-65
John Kemp 1966-87
Desmond Kaliszewski 1988-90
Gary Diddams 1991-99
Cyril Varley 2000-02
Kevin Finch 2003-04
Cyril Varley 2005-

Skippers of Thalatta

Jim Alliston 1906-17
Percy Richmond 1917-18
Herbert Body 1919-33
Bob Ruffles 1933-47
Joe Lucas 1947-50
Charlie Webb 1950-56
Bob Wells 1956-60
Fred Roberts 1961-65
John Kemp 1966-87
Desmond Kaliszewski 1988-90
Gary Diddams 1991-99
Cyril Varley 2000-02
Kevin Finch 2003-04
Cyril Varley 2005-

Mates of Thalatta

Percy Richmond 190?-16
Robin Freeman 1960-?
Jane Benham 1967-92
Jim Diddams 1992-?
Andy 199?-96
Kevin Finch 1997
Roger Davies 1998-2017
Tom Curtis 2018-

3rd Hands of Thalatta

Christine Mawbey 1981-83
Suzanne Noble 1981–83
Amanda Strickland 1984
Elizabeth Whitelam 1985-90
Rachel Hewitt 1991-93
Ruth Brannigan 1995-96
Sara Paynter 1997-99
Tam Heaser 2000-01
Rita Phillips 2002-13
Samantha Luxford 2014-

Schools and Groups, Past and Present

Since 1967 some 10,000 children have sailed on Thalatta, from all over the UK. We are often contacted by people who came on board as a child up to 50 years ago! When the dates of the trip are know we try to find the entries they wrote in Thalatta’s Log books. Many, but not all, of the schools and groups who have sailed on Thalatta are listed below. 

High Close School, Wokingham
Meadows School, Southbridge
The Mount School, Mill Hill
Aylesbury Grammar School
Emmbrook School, Wokingham
Dr Challoner’s Grammar School, Amersham
Desborough School, Maidenhead
Caerleaon Comprehensive School
Colchester Royal Grammar School
Victoria College, Belfast
St Mary Redcliffe & Temple School, Bristol
Kitwood School, Boston
Collingwood School, Camberley
Lonsdale School, Norwich
West Hatch High School
Southend High School for Girls
St Felix School, Southworld
Notre Dame Convent, Cobham
Nertherhall School, Cambridge
American Community School, Cobham
Woodbridge American High School
Charlton Park School, Cheltenham
Het Nederlands Lyceum, Den Haag
The Harwich School
Colchester High School For Girls
St Mary’s School, Colchester
Orwell High School, Felixstowe
Thomas Estley College, Leicester
Jewish Lads’ Brigade, Ilford
Staffordshire Schools’ Sailing Centre
Suffolk Police Cadets
Hertfordshire Army Cadets
London Colney Scouts
Explorers Unlimited
Barnados
The London Borough of Redbridge Schools
Inner London Education Authority 

The Downs School, Newbury
Hatch End High School, Headstone
Willingdon School, Eastbourne
Brockhurst Hill Country High School, Chigwell
Jesmond Dene House, Newcastle
The Connaught School, Aldershot
St Andrews C.E Primary School, Hertford
Parklands High School, Leeds
East Hill Secondary School, Sheffield
The Grammar School, Enfield
8th Chelmsford Scout Group
Newcastle Children’s Adventure Group, Newcastle
3rd Prittlewell Scout Group, Westcliffe-on-Sea
Anerley School, London
Brentside High School, Hanwell
The Scout Association, West Mersea
Wadhurst C.E.P. School
Kesgrave High School, Ipswich
19th Ilford North Cub Scouts
Hilton Grange School, Leeds
Bownham Park School, Stroud
Gt Missenden Scouts
Bedford Modern School
Crowthorn School, Bolton 
Kent Association of Boys Clubs, Maidstone
The Guides, Chelmsford
Sea Scouts, Nottingham
Lyndhurst Special Unit, Borehamwood
Royal Grammar School, Guildford
Coln House School, Fairford
Wood Dene School, Norwich
The Uplands School, Bromsgrove
Hall Cross Comprehensive School, Doncaster
Hunters Hill School, Broomsgrove
Windlesham House School, Pulborough
Ipswich Preparatory School
National Association for Gifted Children, London
Perse Preparatory School, Cambridge
Felstead Preparatory School, Dunmow
St Peter’s School, Huntingdon
Arden School, Sandwell
Witley House, Stourbridge
Bedford Preparatory School, Bedford
Bilton Grange School, Rugby
Brompton Hall School, Scarborough
Codicote Scouts
Homewood House, Tunbridge Wells
Dover College
Education Otherwise, Chelmsford
Mayflower Country High School, Billericay
Kingsdon Manor School, Somerton
Princes Youth Business Trust
St Aubyn’s School, Woodford Green
Thomas Mills High School, Woodbridge
Haberdasher’s Aske’s Prep School, Borehamwood
Notton House School, Chippenham
Fitzwimarc School
The Old School Henstead, Beccles
The Hawthorns School, Bletchingley
Woodlands Prep School, Brentwood
Trefassey Bank, Hertfordshire
Norwich School
Mill Mead School, Port Vale
St Cedd’s School, Chelmsford
Banham Marshalls College, Banham
St Christophers School, Leigh-on-Sea
Castle School, Walsall
10th Ipswich Scouts
Ellen Macarthur Cancer Trust