Lady Daphne – End Of Our Era

Thames sailing barges (“barge” meaning without a deep keel) were amongst the fastest and most versatile trading ships ever built. Famous for their ochre sails, able to point well into the wind, suitable for waters as shallow as five feet, capable of lowering both masts to pass under bridges and fit with two large cargo holds, these remarkable craft dominated coastal shipping through a combination of economic efficiency and sailing prowess. Even more remarkably, they were sailed by a crew of “a man, a boy and a dog”, which contrasts with the large crews needed on some of today’s modern yachts. Thames sailing barges were also fleet, and their racing history extends over 100 years. The trading waters for Thames sailing barges included England, Ireland and the Continent, with rumours of longer trips for a rare few to the Americas. Thames sailing barges also served honourably in war, evacuating many of the men from Dunkirk and sweeping mines.

David J Bradley (Sr) took over Thomas Watson (Shipping) from Thomas Watson. His sons, the brothers David J Bradley and Stanley Bradley also went into business working as barge owners with Thomas Watson (Shipping). Thomas Watson (Shipping) had a tradition of naming vessels prefaced by “Lady”.

Sailing Barge Lady Daphne was commissioned in 1921 to be built by Short Bros on behalf of David and Stanley. When the barge was launched in 1923, David named it after his newly born first child, Daphne. Ultimately, David and his wife Lillian had four children, the eldest, Daphne, followed by John, Mary and Peter. 

Later, David and Stanley commissioned another barge from Short Bros, Lady Jean, similarly named after Stanley’s eldest daughter and launched in 1926.

The Lady Daphne transferred to Lillian Bradley on the death of her husband David in 1928. Lillian sold Lady Daphne to R&W Paul, the maltsters, in 1937. Thomas Watson (Shipping) ultimately owned 55 sailing barges and 39 coasters along the Medway and Thames. The firm closed in 2000. While technically going through a number of R&W Paul companies, Lady Daphne was with the maltsters till her sale to Taylor Woodrow and St Katharine’s Yacht Haven in 1973. Lady Daphne was sold to Elisabeth and Michael Mainelli in 1996 [as related by Mark Bradley, nephew of Daphne neé Bradley by virtue of being the son of Peter Bradley, her brother. At the time of writing, 2004, Daphne is still alive in Wiltshire. Many thanks to Ken Garret, who wrote the definitive book on Thomas Watson (Shipping) – K S Garrett, Thomas Watson, World Ship Society, 2002, ISBN: 0-905617-84-3].

Lady Daphne was known as the “lucky Lady Daphne” for an extraordinary incident. On Boxing Day 1927 the skipper was washed overboard and two crew abandoned her off the Cornish coast, but Lady Daphne, guided by the skipper’s canary, sailed herself through the rocks of the Scilly Isles onto a few tens of yards of safe sand. In the 1920’s she acquired a reputation as “the fastest barge in the three channels”. Lady Daphne has been associated for a quarter of a century with the redevelopment of St Katharine’s by the Tower and is a famous London fixture – the Queen Mother has visited her; numerous articles have covered her sailing ability; she has appeared in plenty of film and television shows.

From 1996 to 2017, she was owned by Elisabeth and Michael Mainelli who raised funds through charter to maintain and restore her to her original condition. Over 21 years the entire hull, other than ‘the floor’ was replaced, along with all rigging and internal fittings other than the engine.


Original U.K. Registration Number: 127276, Gross tonnes: 117.13, Registered tonnes: 76.08, Net tonnes: 88, Deadweight tonnes: 200, Dimensions: 90.8 x 21.4 x 7.4 feet or 27.67 metres x 6.52 metres x 2.24 metres, Draught: 5 feet, Construction material: wood


April 1923: completed by Short Bros Ltd, Backfields, Rochester for David J Bradley, Rochester as Lady Daphne

1932: fitted with a 4 cylinder 4SA Kelvin oil engine made by Bergius Co Ltd, Glasgow

1937: sold to R&W Paul (Maltsters) Ltd, Ipswich

1947: re-engined with a 5 cylinder 4SA oil 100 b.h.p. engine made by Ruston & Hornsby Ltd, Lincoln

September 1975: sold to Taylor Woodrow Property Ltd, London. Converted to a promotional and charter barge

January 1986: re-engined with a Mermaid Mariner (Ford 2725E) 6 cylinder diesel 128 s.h.p. marine

May 1996: sold to Michael and Elisabeth Mainelli.  The charter business is continued by Nymph Limited.

1996/1997: new topsail and safety repairs

1997/1998: new mizzen and staysail, new carlines

1998/1999: new water and sewage tanks, new mast, new mainsail, new transmission

1999/2000: new transom

2000/2001: port bow rebuilt with new frames and planking.  Keelson strengthened.  New diesel tank.  New SA30 engine room bulkhead.

2002/2003: starboard bow rebuilt with new frames and planking.  New stem and apron. Mizzenmast case rebuilt.

2005: middle section keel bolts replaced. Rudder gudgeons and pin replaced.

2006: remaining keel bolts (forward and aft) replaced. Two sailing beams replaced. New lodging knees, carlines, decking, covering boards and rigging chocks in area. Sheathing in starboard quarter below water line.

2007: areas of topsides planking replaced on starboard side, aft of amidships. New exhaust flange. Full electrical survey.

2008: areas of topsides planking replaced on portside amidships. Part of outer wale replaced. Propeller removed and dressed.

2009: forward deck beam, centre windlass post and remaining forward decking replaced; breast hook timbers replaced.

2010: new sheathing on bottom port quarter; new steering gear; new rudder post; new keelson strengthening brackets forward.

2011: new midship section portside framing and planking; starboard side wale midship replaced.

2012: new galley and heads including electrics and plumbing; new water tanks; repairs to port quarter including complete new saddle chock; new rail, covering board, outer wale badge board.

2013: new diesel fired boiler; repair to inwale and covering-board; two new carlines; reconstruct aft entrance stairway; new main-horse chocks.

2014: new sailing beam below mastcase; replace deck under mast case area

2016 – replacement of starboard side to transom.

2017 – sold to Samantha Howe and Andrew Taylor.