John Whittingdale raised a pennant on board Sailing Barge Thistle at Hythe Quay, Maldon, to mark her receipt of Eastern Regional Flagship status from National Historic Ships UK.

Thistle is celebrating her 120th Birthday having been built in 1895 by William Hamilton & Co of Port Glasgow, and is the only Thames Sailing Barge to have been built in Scotland. She is one of a fleet of four Thames sailing barges operated by Top Sail Charters of Maldon.

Her first owner was a coal merchant from Battersea and a regular passage was collecting coal from the Humber, bringing it to the Thames. in 2012 Thistle was selected to take part in Avenue of Sail, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee pageant. Top Sail Charters who operate Thistle won a Highly Commended Award in the Best Small Attraction category at the VisitEngland Awards for Excellence 2015.

John is pictured with Rob Salvidge, skipper of Thistle, and Captain David Newberry, senior council member of National Historic Ships UK.