Navigation of the lower Thames was assisted by the tide. Ships lay below London Bridge and trans-shipped their cargoes into flat-bottomed barges. Similar barges brought goods down from the country, including baled straw and hay for the huge number of animals kept in the city. The 17th-century barge was little more than a lighter fitted with a single square sail, often set well forward; the cut-back stem was known as a ‘swimhead’. The mast could be lowered in order for the barge to make the tricky passage under the old London Bridge, whose many arches created a form of weir when the tide was running.

Length: 65ft (19.8m)

Beam: 17ft (5.2m)

Depth: 6ft (1.8m)

Displacement: 50t

Rigging: single dismountable mast; with square sail

Complement: 2–4

Routes: Thames river and estuary

Cargo: trans-shipped goods, farm produce, general goods of all kinds

Pictured: The Thames barge survived until well into the 20th century, although later forms were gaff rigged.