Eleven Thames lighters were landed and part filled with concrete on Essex mudflats in 1986. This to protect the seawall at Sales point, in the mouth of the River Blackwater, Essex. Further along the coast stands Bradwell A, a decommissioned nuclear power station.
A Thames lighter is a giant iron trough used to take the load of a large ship mid river and, to bring the load ashore. Coal, potatoes and other much needed goods. The skills needed to handle a Thames lighter was considerable. One man and a boy crewed the lighters using large poles. The lightermans knowledge of the tides, currents and winds was the ultimate tool of controlling these boats.
The same tides and currents that scoured away at the seawall, diminishing saltmarsh and beach, called those lighters to have a different function. They are doomed to sit still. Stationary they are decaying. Slowly falling over and sinking in the soft estuarine mud. From drifters, controlled by man they are now quiet. Changing slowly in colour, texture and form. One has toppled on it’s side another is barely hanging onto it’s chain.
Faintly in the background 2 cladded reactors, debris of Bradwell A Nuclear Power station.
During high tide the barges fill with water. Most have holes in and water seeps out during low tide.
As lighters they are outdated as protectors of the seawall their success is disputed. A few years ago during a very high tide and a strong wind from the east, sea water threatened to lap over the sea wall. Locals walked the seawalls, checking the rising sea levels with torches. Sandbags ready to use. Breaching was postponed that night.
I have swum around these barges feeling the tide pulling me. Mud particles floating and swirling around me. Streaking me with flecks of mud. I have listened to them , the barnacles and clams ,disturbed by my shadow, snapping shut and making a swooshing noise while doing so.
But only when I climbed on the barges did I understand that whilst they were reaching the end of their life, their function had yet again changed.
During the summer the water inside the barge warms up creating a large artificial tidal pool. A new and unexpected habitat evolves. Squatters moved in the empty structure, from coal and potatoes to native oyster, peacock worm, clam, various seaweeds and, sea anemone. With thanks to Dr. M. H for identifying these creatures.
Essex has no rock pools to speak of. It is far too muddy, but somehow I feel now, that Essex has got them in the shape of old Thames lighters. As with naturally formed rock pools not very easily accessible and some dangerous to approach.
Thames lighters, groynes, tidal pool, quit a few functions for an iron trough. In the summer I am expecting different creatures to appear. Anyone out there who would like a guided tour?
With thanks to the Othona Community for their use of a fabulous Art Studio https://www.othonaessex.org.uk/