I have always had a keen interest in local working craft in the days of sail, in particular the barges that loaded large stacks of hay and straw for delivery to London in the days when much of London's traffic was horse drawn - including the buses.
Both of my grandfathers served in the stackies. They were farm boys and many of the local farm boys took jobs in stackies which was understandable. When a barge visited the local wharfs such as at East Hall quay, (now Coopers Beach), The Strood or West Mersea Hard it was one of the few contacts they had with the outside world and the tales of the bright lights and a little more money in their pockets was a big attraction.
My watercolour shows how I would picture a stackie sailing down Salcott Channel towards Mersea Quarters where she would lay and wait for suitable weather for the hazardous voyage to London.
She has loaded her stack at Church Wharf Salcott from where so much horse fodder was exported. The load has been carefully stacked and sheeted over with tarpaulins so as not be lost over the side when under way. A man is posted as a lookout on top of the stack as the helmsman's
view for'ard is blinded by the stack. If the cargo was to be delivered to a wharf above the Thames Bridges which it often was, the middle of the stack had to be pulled out to form a trough into which the sailing gear could be lowed in order to allow passage underneath.
A postcard in my collection shows the barge LORD WARDEN which is discharging flints for road making at Chuch Wharf tucked behind Salcott Church. The flints would have come from Kent. She is not suitably rigged for stack work so it's doubtful if she will be leaving with a stack of hay.
The weather was rarely ideal for this sort of work. Usually too much wind and sometimes not enough. My second watercolour which was inspired from and old photograph, shows a stackie becamed on a day of hot hazy sunshine waiting for the wind to fill in to take her on her way. She is steered by a tiller as many of the stackies were.
As motor vehicles gradually replaced horses, the work tailed off until the Suffolk barge BLUEBELL delivered what is believed to be the last stack in 1939.
Published in Mersea Life Magazine November 2013, page 45.