Lyme Regis 8th October 2011
Some 28 members were welcomed by Ken Gollop to the Pilot Boat Inn.
Peter Lacey then took us through the many centuries of the maritime
history of Lyme, detailed in his recent book ( reviewed in South West
Soundings 84). From fishing, shipbuilding, and pilgrimage, to the
Cosens paddlers and modern tourism, it was a broad and varied story.
The history of the Cobb was punctuated by storms and rebuilds, down to
the modern sea defences, very much needed by the museum! to judge
from one photo.
I particularly liked the story of the medieval French monk, whose vision
to found a house in England went somewhat geographically awry in
confusing Salisbury with Selby, but was directed to Lyme and sailed
from there, eventually reaching Yorkshire and success.
It was an excellent talk, and those who couldn’t make it should read
Peter’s book, which was selling well.
Gail McGarva then told us how she came to be a boatbuilder. She
was inspired by the passion of Willie Mouat for the the Gardie Boat,
the oldest example of a Shetland boat, built in 1882 and conserved by
the Boat Haven Museum in Unst in North Uist Starting with a bursary
to go to the Lyme Boatbuilding Academy, she built a “daughter” boat of
the North Uist craft.
She sees boats almost as sculpture, the lines need to be fair, and she
noted that a boatbuilder of the 18th century could pick up a plank and
would be completely at home in the yard. She felt she was not locked
into the past, but part of a continuing story of craftsmanship.
She then moved on to build gig boats. She had much help from Ralph
Bird, the doyen of gig boat builders, and had now built two gigs for the
Lyme club, with a third on the way. Her second boat trialled the CAD
software that now determines the standards for gig racing, which has
now entered the era of very competitive sport-indeed over 100 were
lined up at this years start line in the Scillies.
She then told us about the history of the lerret, and the building of the
lerret Littlesea, another “daughter” boat, which is now outside the
Her enthusiasm has motivated many to help with the more repetitive
tasks, such as riveting, and her boats, like medieval buildings, have
numerous initials hidden behind the fittings !
Gail’s passion for small craft as living history, and the continuity of skill
which the daughter boats represent, came across as inspirational.
Mary Godwin gave us a brief history of the museum, which unusually
was purpose built. The rather exotic East wing had become unsafe and
was demolished in the 60’s, and has now been replaced by a modern
extension. There are a range of maritime exhibits, as well of course
much on fossils, the star attraction, and indeed the original Anning
ichthyosaur was on visiting display. An oral history project, with
Lottery support, had brought out many histories of the lerret, which are
being shown in the museum, and are touring as a temporary exhibition
After lunch we were able to visit the museum and Gail showed some of
the features of the lerret.
If there was one wider message from these talks, it was the importance
of engaging the local community in preserving the heritage, through
offering practical opportunities to help and participate.
Reported by Jonathan Seagrave
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