Built by JAMES POLLOCK, SONS & C0 Ltd. Naval Architects, Shipbuilders and Engineers, 3 LLOYDS AVENUE, LONDON, E.C.3. SHIPYARD, FAVERSHAM, ENGLAND.
Tug Swallow is a 1937 Thames lighterage launch tug, otherwise known as a river or dock tug and belongs to the first generation of diesel powered tugs that served the River Thames after the period of steam engines had come to an end. Swallow was one of many tugs in the Port of London that used to tow barges on the River Thames, the River Lea and also along the Regents Canal up until the late 1960s. She was built by James Pollock and Sons & Co. Ltd, Shipbuilders and Engineers of London and Faversham shipyard.
In 1978 Anthony Mayes of Wargrave discovered Tug Swallow lying in a creek at Sunbury in a derelict condition without her engine. He purchased Swallow from 'British Waterways' and restored her into a wonderful cruiser, taking great care to preserve her original character as a river tug by retaining the towing hook.
Length: 41' (12.5m), Beam: 9'6" (2.9m), Draft: 5'3" (1.6m). Her hull is of round bilge, riveted iron construction powered by a single 150bhp 6 cylinder Ford Dorset turbo charged diesel engine, which turns a large 34" propeller. She is powerful for her size, but cruises at only 1100 revs.
National Historic Ships UK is a government funded, independent organisation that gives objective advice to UK governments, local authorities, funding bodies and vessel owners on all matters relating to the important preservation of historic ships and vessels built in the UK. As Swallow is rather special she is listed on the National Historic Ships UK register, that includes HMS Victory, the Cutty Sark and Brunnel's SS Great Britain, so she's in good company. Swallow's listing on the National Historic Ships UK Register is under Certificate No 1640.
Just in case you don't already know;
A lighter is a large unpowered flat-bottomed barge with an open hold used especially in unloading or loading ships. A tug would then tow several of these lighters along rivers to their destination.
A Waterman is someone licensed to navigate and pilot passenger vessels on the River Thames;
A Lighterman, on the other hand, worked on lighters and tugs just like Swallow, carrying goods or wares up and down the river and from cargo ships to shore.
The lightermen were a vital component of the Port of London before the enclosed docks were built during the 19th and 20th centuries. In the early days ships from all around the world would moor in the middle of the River Thames and transfer their goods aboard lighters. Lightermen would then ride the river's currents upstream - when the tide was coming in, downstream when the tide was out - to transfer the goods to quay-sides. They also transferred goods up and down the river from quays to riverside factories and vice-versa. This was an extremely skilled job, requiring an intimate knowledge of the river's currents and tides. It also demanded a lot of muscle power, as the lighters were unpowered; they relied on the current for motive force and on long oars, or "paddles" for steering.
Swallow used to transport copper from Canada for the manufacture of cables at Enfield Rolling Mills in North London and timber from Africa for the many furniture manufacturing companies also located in North London, along the River Lea Navigation.
During the 1950's there were over 3,000 lightermen, 8000 lighters and over 250 lighterage tugs in use on the River Thames. Eventually the lightermen's trade was largely swept away by economic and technological changes, as ships grew ever larger so the docks became ever less suited to their needs. The Thames itself could also not support the increasing size of the ships. A third factor was the advent of shipping containers and the lorries to carry them. This meant that there was no longer a need for warehouses to house cargoes unloaded from ships holds.
By the late 1960's the introduction of a new deep water container port downriver at Tilbury took some of the work, but the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich had captured most. This eventually led to the closure of most of London's upriver docks along with the closure of Pollock's of Faversham shipyard, which had depended so heavily on orders from the River Thames Lighterage Industry. These turn of events eventually led to Swallow being abandoned in the 1970's in a creek at Sunbury off the River Thames.
The River Thames Lightermen were one of the most characteristic groups of workers in London's docks during the heyday of the Port of London, but their trade was eventually rendered largely obsolete by changes in shipping technology. They were closely associated with the watermen, who carried passengers, and in 1700 joined the Company of Watermen to form The Company of Watermen and Lightermen.
The construction of the enclosed London docks was bitterly opposed by the lightermen, but went ahead anyway. However, they did win a major concession: what became known as the "free-water clause", first introduced into the West India Dock Act of 1799 and subsequently written into the Acts governing all of the other docks. This stated that there was to be no charge for 'lighters or craft entering into the docks to convey, deliver, discharge or receive ballast or goods to or from on board any ship or vessel.' This was intended to give lighters and barges the same freedom in docks that they enjoyed on the open river. In practice, however, this proved highly damaging to the dock owners. It allowed ships to be loaded and unloaded overside, using barges and lighters to transfer their goods to and from riverside wharves rather than dock quays, thus bypassing quay dues and dock warehouses. This significantly reduced the docks' income and harmed their finances. Not surprisingly, the dock owners lobbied vigorously, but unsuccessfully, for the abolition of this damaging privilege.
After the enclosed docks had been built in the Port of London; ships carrying goods from commonwealth countries would moor alongside in the docks. Dockers would transfer their goods to warehouses, or load them directly onto lighters, which would be towed by tugs like Swallow to their final destination.