Lewes Coal barge sunk
to save Cliffe Bridge

Rouser 2013
Rouser 2013

This dramatic photograph, taken in March,1937, shows a coal barge stuck under Cliffe Bridge at Lewes.

The spritsail barge in question was called the Shamrock, capable of carrying 155 tons.

She was loaded with coal which would have come by coaster from Tyneside or Wales to Newhaven, to be taken by barge to Lewes for use (in this case) at the Phoenix Ironworks.

On this occasion, having been unloaded, the Shamrock was being poled backwards downstream when a pulley block on the bow caught on the north side of the Cliffe Bridge.

Before this could be freed, the bow was trapped under the bridge by the rising tide. Soon the stern was three feet out of the water and, according to eye witnesses, almost the whole of the rudder was visible. It was feared that not only the boat, but also the bridge would be seriously damaged.

The solution was to call in the Lewes Fire Brigade to pump water into the empty hold - not to sink the boat completely, but sufficiently to relieve the pressure on the bridge until the tide began to fall again.

Once this had happened the water was pumped out again. There was some damage to the barge, but thankfully the bridge was unscathed.

Nonetheless, this incident seems to have been the final straw in the use of the river for transport, and effectively sounded the death knell of the port of Lewes.