Tugs on the Tidal Thames 3

The tidal Thames is busy these days. Bennett’s Barges is one of the operators supplying parts and equipment to construction projects along the river.

The distinctive livery of passing Bennett’s Barges and their tugs is sure to catch your eye as you look out over the river.  Part of the Livett’s Group, their tugs and barges are working on the western section of the super sewer for London. 
     Bennett’s Barges was founded in 1983 and was involved with a number of high profile projects such as the removal of aggregate and soil from among others, the Limehouse Link tunnel and the Jubilee Line Extension. After further changes they are now part of a joint venture between Chris Livett, Managing Director of the Livett’s Group, and Aggregate Industries. You will see them not only on the Thames but also along the rivers Medway and Swale.

Tug CHRISTIAN pushing empty barge PHOEBE upstream

A fleet of eight large, new, specially designed “Tideway Class” hopper barges was built in order to carry out their work along the tidal Thames on the Tideway Tunnel for London’s new super sewer. They were designed particularly for this task by Bennett’s Barges in conjunction with Baars BV in Holland, where they were built. Barge CHURCHILL was delivered in February 2018, followed by PHOEBE, ZEUS, HERCULES, POSEIDON and APOLLO. The final two, PEGASUS and VALIANT arrived in April that same year.

“Their decks are much wider, and therefore safer than traditional Thames barges,” explains Ed Livett, son of Chris Livett, “and also designed to be pushed, rather than towed, which we find to be safer and more fuel efficient.”

Their boldly painted names are unmissable, heavily accented towards heroes and qualities of courage, giving a pleasing nobility to these latest river workhorses. When asked in an interview by the Thames Festival Trust how they were chosen, Chris Livett said that some were chosen through a Twitter poll but one was rather nicely named PHOEBE after his granddaughter.

Empty barges are pushed upstream by some of the tugs from their fleet that I see regularly, including FELIX, CHRISTIAN and STEVEN B. They are filled with spoil excavated from the Tideway Tunnel sites, particularly at Carnwath Road, Fulham, and in addition the site at Putney.

Tugs FELIX and CHRISTIAN, both capable of towing and pushing, are equipped with a hydraulic wheelhouse making them unique and ideal for use in Central London. Tug STEVEN B is also a familiar sight.

Tug CHRISTIAN pushing empty barge CHURCHILL upstream
Tug CHRISTIAN pushing P2, a flat top pontoon loaded with tunnel parts for the Tideway project

Also making their way upstream to these same sites are rounded tunnel segments transported on flat top pontoons, or flat top barges, which if you have time to look, you’ll see are named SIDNEY L, P2, ROVER and WILLCARRY. Ed tells me that Sidney L is named after the family dog.

Each barge loaded with tunnel segments relieves London’s roads of up to twenty-eight lorry journeys, cutting back on congestion and pollution. And each “Tideway Class” hopper barge removing materials excavated from the tunnel sites by river, spares London from up to fifty lorry loads. This is all good news for the environment for with the super sewer and several other building projects, both Bennett’s Barges and the other companies using the river as a highway, are saving our city from increases in noise, dangerous levels of traffic, and toxic air.

Tug FELIX pushing P2 with tunnel segments upstream
Close up of tug FELIX pushing tunnel parts

Once delivered the segments are offloaded by a harbour crane, ready for installation underground.

Tug STEVEN B passing Thames Marine Services on her way upstream
Barge PHOEBE waiting at Putney
Tug STEVEN B pushing empty pontoon downstream having delivered tunnel segments for the Tideway super sewer
Tug CHRISTIAN pushing earth-filled barge CHURCHILL downstream
Barge VALIANT emerging from under Lambeth Bridge
Tug FELIX pushing loaded barge downstream past Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster Abbey, and the Palace of Westminster
Tug CHRISTIAN pushing heavily-laden barge HERCULES downstream past H.M.S. BELFAST

The filled barges are pushed to Rainham Marshes in Essex, where they are unloaded by Land & Water Ltd., a company working on a wildlife habitat creation scheme in the area.

Tug FELIX passes paddle steamer ELIZABETHAN, also a part of the Livett’s fleet, just downstream from Tower Bridge

Chris Livett, Managing Director of the Livett’s Group is also Bargemaster to H.M. the Queen, and belongs to a family with a long tradition of working on the Thames. In an interview for the Thames Festival Trust of whose Board he is a member, he explains that he is a “Seventh Generation Waterman” but that until now his family had worked as tug or barge captains. He is the first to “run a serious business on the river”. However what comes across in the article is his real love of the Thames, its heritage, culture and way of life. And it is a passion that he has passed on to his son Ed, who takes pride in being an eighth generation Waterman, also a Director of the Livett’s Group. And Bennett’s Barges is an important part of the enterprise, raising the company profile as their tug captains skilfully steer their barges along the reaches of the tidal Thames.

Tug STEVEN B, enjoying a moment of freedom, heading towards Lambeth Bridge

Further Information
Bennett’s Barges and their place in Aggregate Industries.
Discover the wide-ranging services on the river offered by the Livett Group. See Managing Director Chris Livett talking about the company.
You can also follow Chris Livett on Twitter: @ChrisLivett