The Everard family began barge building at Greenhithe in 1889. William and Frederick Everard served their apprenticeships at Fellowes yard in Yarmouth and were given the challenge of each building a barge. William built the “Welsh” barge Cambria and Frederick the “Irish” Hibernia. Keeping faith with their father, they submitted separate secret accounts after a year of trading in 1907. The Cambria cost £1895 and the Hibernia, at £1905, cost just £10 more. They were identical barges, and at sea it was impossible to tell them apart.
Hibernia had a profitable working life of 32 years but met her end near Cromer in a terrible north east gale in 1937.
Despite their similar construction, Cambria was slightly faster than her sister, and came second in the Thames and Medway barge match in 1907.
Cambria’s working life began as a river and coastal cargo carrier, regularly sailing the London river to the Medway, and across the channel to Rotterdam, Antwerp, Dunkirk, Calais and Treport. Cambria’s cross channel cargoes were pitch, coke, wheat and oil cake.Her home ports were any harbours between the Humber and Cornwall. One of the most frequent routes was carrying coal from Keadby on the river Trent to Harwich, Colchester and Margate. Fully laden, Cambria could carry 170 tons, enough to fill seventeen railway trucks; this weight put her down to her sea load line, 11.5 inches from deck level. With less than a foot of freeboard and with 5000 square feet of canvas, the decks were frequently awash, making a hazardous working environment in the often foul weather of the North Sea and the channel.
The first barge matches after the 1914-18 War took place in 1927, when Cambria had the honour of flying the championship pennant in the coasting class for the Thames and Medway barge matches. In 1928 Cambria repeated the success by winning the Medway match.
The first skipper of the Cambria was “Brusher” Milton. Bob Roberts had his share of adventures as a deep water sailor before becoming captain of the Cambria in 1954. At the age of 14, he left his home in Dorset and went to sea in the Waterwitch, a barquentine that was the last square rigged merchant ship to trade out of a home port in Britain. He joined Everard’s after sailing as mate and master of various barges belonging to Goldsmith’s and G F Sully Ltd. With Everard’s he skippered the Martinet and the Greenhithe. Under Bob Roberts’ command Cambria continued normal trade but it became increasingly difficult to carry on the coastal trade and he had to be content with only a young mate as crew. Ginger Latham became the crew, after working as a clerk in city office. The last mate of the Cambria was Dick Durham who now is a journalist with Yachting Monthly. The third hand was “Penny”, a Welsh collie dog who barked a warning in foggy weather when the barge came near any floating object.
In the late fifties and early sixties, Everard’s laid off their sailing barges and most were broken up or converted to houseboats. Bob Roberts was given the opportunity to take over Cambria as owner, which he ran successfully from 1966 to 1970. However, not even the Cambria could continue for very much longer in the face of a revolution affecting the freight and haulage industry on land and at sea.
The Maritime Trust offered to buy the Cambria from Captain Bob Roberts, who retired to the Isle of Wight. Cambria became an exhibit at St Katherine’s dock in London and owned by the Maritime Trust. However, due to neglect, the condition of the barge deteriorated in the fresh water of the docks and the barge was sold to the Cambria Trust. On a visit to the barge in 1981, Dick Durham noted that there were leaks in the ceiling, yet no work was being undertaken to remedy the situation. “All wooden boats leak you know. She’s flat bottomed so it really doesn’t matter”.
In 1996 the Cambria was sold to the Cambria Trust for £1 and towed to Dolphin yard Sittingbourne.
Despite a loyal group of interested volunteers, the condition of the Cambria continued to decline and there were no adequate funds to stem the deterioration in the condition of the barge. In 2005, the Dolphin yard Barge museum was scheduled to close, and more importantly, access to open water was being threatened by plans to build a low bridge across Milton creek.
Following an unsuccessful bid to gain a Landfill tax community grant to restore the barge, efforts were made to try for Heritage lottery funding, as the Dawn Trust in Maldon had made a recent successful bid.
Through the generous assistance of Peel ports (Medway port authority), Cambria was given a berth at Sheerness dockyard, and the barge was towed to its new location on 27th April 2006.
On the 1st March the South East Region Committee of the Heritage Lottery Fund agreed to award £990,000 to the Cambria Trust towards the restoration of the Cambria.
In order to commence the restoration, the Cambria Trust became a company limited by guarantee, and the restoration process was put out to tender. Mr Tim Goldsack was successful in securing this contract, and his favoured location for the restoration was Standard Quay at Faversham.
For the second time, Cambria was towed along the Swale to its restoration home, where it was greeted by a large crowd of well-wishers, on 1st September 2007, which coincided with the Faversham Hop festival. The long process of restoration of the barge, Project Managed by William Collard, could now begin, with money from the Heritage Lottery Fund, a clear plan for the future activities of the barge, and local support from the town of Faversham and commercial sponsors.
That restoration is now complete, she is relaunched, rededicated and sailing once more as a sail training charter vessel as well as in races and is sometimes on static display in harbours around the Thames and Essex. The future of the famous sailing barge Cambria has been secured.