GRETA was completed in 1892 by Stone Brothers, Brightlingsea, for Edward Hibbs, a barge sail maker at Brightlingsea, and four co-owners. Hibbs had perfected a process which gave the sails of working boats a life of fifteen years. The dressing he used contained horse fat which gave them their shine, resistance to wear and a darker red colour than the later oil and red ochre dressing now familiar on the surviving barges.
Her next owner was Owen Parry who bought her in 1916 and owned a fine fleet of barges, noted for their smart turnout and racing success. Each barge received a biennial refit on the hard at Brightlingsea and left looking like new. Felix Mallett was the first skipper of GRETA appointed by Parry to sail under his yellow and black house flag and he recalled some of the notable incidents in John Leather’s ‘Barges’.
GRETA's usual cargoes were grain, malt and building products but she once carried spars for the German Kaiser’s racing schooner METEOR IV. They were shipped from the yard in Brightlingsea which made them to St Katharine Docks in London, as deck cargo lashed in cradles which were then griped down, and were then loaded aboard a German ship and taken to Kiel. Greta was once caught in a squall off Cliff Creek on the Kentish side of the lower Thames when laden with wheat for Cranfield’s mill in Ipswich. Her top mast broke in three places and gave the crew a hard time securing the mess and getting the barge in a seaworthy condition to continue the voyage.
In a severe gale on the night of 28/29 December 1914 Greta was anchored with a group of other barges inside the entrance to the Colne whilst carrying a deck cargo of pipes and linseed in her hold. She dragged her anchor and grounded in the mouth of Blackstone Hole, on the St Osyth side. Many other barges were stranded, lost gear and suffered damage in the hurricane force winds.
In 1918 trade for coastal sailing barges was slack and Parry sold GRETA to the London and Rochester Trading Co for £900. Felix Mallett stayed on as skipper until 1926 when he returned to Parry’s.
Early in World War II GRETA was chartered by the Ministry of Supply to carry ammunition from the ordnance depot at Upnor (on the Medway) to naval vessels anchored in the Thames estuary. She also took part in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 and is thought now to be the oldest active Dunkirk Little Ship. Her war service ended in 1946 and after a refit and having an engine fitted she returned to trade, mostly carrying grain, timber and animal feed. Greta mostly served the Medway wharves but also sailed to Colchester. Towards the end of 1947 she started carrying beer from Chatham to Nine Elms, Battersea. Both her master and mate were teetotallers and the brewery requested that Greta be kept permanently on this run as they could be sure that none of the cargo would go missing.
Where is she now?
GRETA is now a live-aboard barge in full sailing condition, based at Standard Quay, Faversham. She is used for charters and open day sails, often out of Whitstable, typically visiting the Thames estuary forts, Margate, or the Swale. Her season normally lasts from April to October and she can carry up to 12 passengers.
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