Chris joined John Harker Ltd as a lad of 16 and soon found it was a rough life on the oil tanker barges, working night and day, having to grab sleep when you could. They traded in the Bristol Channel down to Swansea and as far inland as Worcester, with smaller barges working between Avonmouth and Stourport-on-Severn.
Each petroleum carrying barge had a crew of four, skipper, mate, engineer and deckhand. The accommodation was very good, a cabin each, messroom, galley and washroom, but the hours were long. The home port was Gloucester, but crews could spend weeks down the Bristol Channel, taking cargo from Swansea to the other ports such as Cardiff, Newport or Bridgwater before coming back home.
Not having radar, fog was another hazard, as was the exceptionally strong tides which ran up the Severn Estuary, making it difficult to enter the port of Sharpness
All this trade finished very quickly due to the opening of the first motorways in England and the construction of an oil pipeline from the oil refineries inland to Birmingham. Thus there were no longer any barges trading on the Severn, even the grain barges of Healings Flour Mill at Tewkesbury were laid up in 1985.
In 1993 Allied Mills Ltd decided to carry grain again on the Severn, from Sharpness to Tewkesbury and Chris Witts was lucky enough to have a job as mate on the TIRLEY and CHACELEY, then finally becoming skipper in 1995 until 1998. Sadly these two barges are at present laid up again at Sharpness.
All talks are illustrated with the latest digital equipment, including a short film or two, and last for about 1 hour. A basic fee of £45 is charged, plus travelling expenses of £10 within Gloucestershire.
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