"the tanned sails of the barges"
Thames sailing barge on the river near Greenwich (1884)
Public DomainThames sailing barge on the river near Greenwich (1884) - Credit: National Maritime Museum

The Thames sailing barge was a common sight at this time, with over 2,000 registered on the river at the turn of the 20th century. They were particularly popular in the Thames Estuary, where their flat-bottom hulls allowed the vessels to navigate the shallow waters, narrow creeks and waterways.

The typical rusty-red colour of their flax sails was a product of the compound used to waterproof them (traditionally made from red ochre, cod oil, and sea water).