Most of the rivers flowing into the Thames had their own barge type.
The 72ft wooden Lady of the Lea, launched at Rotherhithe in 1931 is a River Lea barge.
These barges had very shallow drafts, were tiller steered and had leeboards hauled up with tackles that led to the fore deck. Lady of the Lea was one of the War Department’s barges that loaded explosives from Waltham Abbey gunpowder works to go through six locks in the River Lea Navigation and then sail a short way down the Thames to Woolwich Arsenal.
Because of the danger in transporting gun power, all her ironwork was covered in lead to prevent a spark from starting a fire. She also had a bung in the bottom of her hull, which could be pulled out to allow her to sink rather than explode.
Over the last four decades, owner, Brian Pain, has rebuilt Lady of the Lea, rigged her out as a tops’l barge and has been successful in the barge races.