Kathleen and May, Bideford, 4th April 2008
Some 31 members met on a bright but chilly day to pay a further visit to the Kathleen and May at her current home base, Brunswick Wharf, East-the-Water.
We started with a brief tour led by David Hall, one of the volunteer supporters, who highlighted key features of the ship’s history and restoration. Built on the Dee, she was sold to Youghal owners, and from there was bought in 1931 by Tommy Jewell. She traded till 1960, and then went into a downward spiral after the Maritime Trust failed to care for her adequately, till Steve Clarke bought her in 1997. Restoration required more than 60 tons of oak, 3500 feet of larch planking, and tropical hardwood decking.
The ship has retained the original roller reefing, winches, wheel, and other fittings. She also was fitted to unload in small harbours with no cranes. Those who had helped with the restoration felt privileged to do so on such a fine vessel. I noticed the improvements down below since I last saw her. Her programme of visits this year includes Brittany festivals where she is always warmly welcomed.
We then repaired to the hold for a welcome warming stew. Afterwards, Colin Green spoke further on the history of the vessel, and its restoration. He showed photos of her at various stages in her career. Although sail-only for her first thirty years, she had since had three engines, and like so many, was cut down as the engine power increased and moved from auxiliary to a prime source of power in all but favourable wind. He has all the cargo books showing the typical freight of the time.
Colin has written a detailed article for this years' Maritime South West, to be sent out shortly, and also has a book coming out later on.
Peter Ferguson followed, and took us through the history of shipbuilding on the estuary. The first mention was in the twelfth century, but from the 17th century onwards, there are increasing numbers of records, paintings and photos that Peter has assembled from a wide variety of sources. There were many yards, 10 at one time. East-the-Water had four, none the largest on the estuary, but still some vessels were nearly 500 tons.
Expertise seems to have come with the arrival of shipwrights trained at Devonport. Naval construction in the Napoleonic era included small sloops and also went up the scale to include one 5th rate. A fine model of one of these is in the North Devon Maritime Museum at Appledore.
In the mid 19th century, output included a range of brigs, schooners, and ketches, some very similar to Kathleen and May.
Latterly, in the 1870’s, output switched to small fishing ketches for the North Sea fishing fleet, and also mission ships of similar design, the first rebuilt by “stretching”, and three new build, the latter cost between £1200 and £1600. Photos of the launches showed large crowds, including of course, church dignitaries. Most of the yards didn’t last long after this time as steel and steam took over much of the coastal trade, the last East-the-Water yard closed in 1886 when it became a wharf.
Peter’s pictures gave a very good sense of “then and now”, and he pleaded the importance of preserving both the ship and the site with it extensive maritime history connections, and now having one of the few remaining shipyard buildings from the many that survived until only 25 yrs ago.
We finished with an update on the ongoing saga of Kathleen and May’s future. Steve Clarke had seen Ministers very recently to present a petition with 8,500 names. It is understood the meeting went well, but no cash was immediately forthcoming.
The Society was encouraged to write to the Chief Executive of Torridge District Council, to press the claim to keep her in the UK and the West Country.
(see text of our
This was a most interesting meeting and update on one of the Society’s favourite vessels, and thanks go to David Clement for organising the event, our speakers, and the volunteers who kept the “crew” alive with stew and refreshments.
Reported by Jonathan Seagrave
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