Community helps out with barge restoration

09:00 20 January 2013

The Thames Barge Vigilant, which is currently being restored at Topsham Quay.

The Thames Barge Vigilant, which is currently being restored at Topsham Quay.


Restoration work on the Thames barge moored in Topsham Quay is now well under way, with members of the community pitching in to help out.

Vigilant was rotting in a boat yard in Essex before it was bought by Benjamin Squirrell.

His friend, Topsham boat builder Dave McCabe, then visited the boat to carry out enough repairs for it to be brought back to Topsham late last year.

Now it is safely moored at the Quay, work has begun on stripping wood from the side of the barge.

Dave said: “An elderly lady had lived in it for about 14 years … and since then nothing was done to it and it started rotting in fresh water.

“We repaired the bottom in Essex, and the rudder was redone to get her back. Now we’re removing the outer planks to expose the frames, taking any out which are bad or rotten and replacing the frames with oak.

“It looks like a mess, but in real terms everything’s here to make it work. We hope that in about a year and a half we’ll be up and running – we won’t be here for years and years.”

During its time in Topsham, the boat has attracted many interested spectators, and some of these have volunteered to help out with the restoration.

Dave said: “We want people to see what we’re doing. Everyone’s interested in it and instead of making it closed off, we want everybody to join in.”

One of the volunteers helping to strip down the barge is Tony Cooper.

He said: “I think [my interest is] basically because it’s history, and you have to maintain it and restore it and show it to the next generation.

“I’m a retired headteacher so my interest is in the education side of things. We can’t get kids down here at the moment, but if people don’t do it we’ll never have it, and kids won’t know about these types of barges.”

To find out more about Vigilant, or to volunteer to help, email


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