The World Ship Society Gloucester Branch 2016/2017 season began at 1930 on Monday 12 September at the Pop In, Hucclecote Road, Gloucester, GL3 3RX opposite the Wagon and Horses, with a Powerpoint presentation by Branch Secretary Alan Drewett entitled “Warships on the Rails”
On Monday 10 October 2016 the World Ship Society Gloucester Branch enjoyed a Model Ship Evening with Gloucester and District Model Boat Club. Among the wider topics discussed were the use of brushless electric motors, 2.4 GHz radio control frequencies, digital sound systems, adhesive choices for different materials and the merits of wood, glass fibre and plastic hull construction. Stars of the show however were undoubtedly the models themselves, starting with an Italian Lakes launch, built from a laser cut 1/8″ plywood kit.
Likened to a floating sports car for posing in, this very pretty 1/12 scale vessel featured mahogany veneer attached with EvoStik and a Perspex canopy made of sections linked by aircraft style canopy glue. To help prevent warping, the curved deck hatches were strengthened with sheet aluminium and it was stressed that the burn marks on the edges of the laser cut sections had to be cleaned off or the glue would not take. The model’s 6 volt brushless motors take up only a third of the volume of older designs and for use on larger bodies of water it was emphasised that sufficient transmitter radio range was needed. Many cheaper sets only have a quarter mile range although at least a mile is really needed for total control and safety.
Next on the table at the front of the room was William Symington’s Charlotte Dundas, considered to be the first practical steam tug. In March 1803 the Charlotte Dundas first pulled two 70 ton barges 20 miles along the Forth and Clyde Canal to Glasgow. This voyage took nine and a quarter hours at 2 mph but in the face of “ a strong breeze right ahead” which stopped all horse drawn canal boats. William Symington (1764 -1831) was a skilled mechanical engineer and contemporary of James Watt at the time that Thomas, Lord Dundas, saw the need to move goods more rapidly from the manufacturers of Glasgow to the markets of Edinburgh. The first steam boat that Symington built was a catamaran powered by an adapted beam engine but this was not a practical tug. As can be seen from Robert Bowie’s cut away drawing, the Charlotte Dundas had a stern paddle wheel powered directly by a pioneering horizontal cylinder engine. Indeed, Charlotte Dundas was ahead of its time in having twin linked rudders, directing the efflux from the paddle wheel port or starboard like a jet. Unfortunately Charlotte Dundas itself was not a commercial success on the Forth and Clyde Canal due to the large numbers of locks, lack of efficient sustained power and worries that its wash would erode the canal banks. An order for ten more examples from the Duke of Bridgwater for his level canal in Manchester was also cancelled when the Duke died. The 1/24 scale wooden scratchbuilt model displayed at Hucclecote was based on the partly completed full size replica currently visible in Arbroath and is electrically powered.
Rather than new, the Sea Princess cabin cruiser and Sea Hornet motor launch presented next had spent 40 years in an attic and were given to the Gloucester and District Model Boat Club in a less than ideal condition. The inside of the hull of the Keil Kraft kit Sea Princess was black from the use of an internal combustion engine (not approved in the G&DMBC rulebook) and adapting the vessel to modern control systems and electric power involved cutting out bulkheads and adding a new deck house made of mahogany ply. Veneers were attached with PVA glue and varnish applied with old make-up brushes. One interesting revelation was the use of Gorilla Glue inside the hulls where its tendency to expand can be used to fill otherwise leaking gaps.
Looping back to the middle of the 19th Century was William Barker Cushing’s Unionist Picket Boat Number One of 1864. At the start of the American Civil War, the navy of the anti-slavery northern states found itself decades behind the technology of Britain, France and most importantly the southern Confederacy with its supposedly unsinkable wooden hulled ironclad ships. In particular, the CSS Albemarle dominated the Roanoake River in the summer of 1862 and Lieutenant William B. Cushing’s plan to sink the ironclad involved approaching it with two steam launches fitted with spar torpedoes – effectively 100 lb bombs on 18′ long poles. On the night of 27 and 28 October 1864, Cushing and his men began working their way upriver only to encounter a protective log boom floating around the CSS Albemarle. Riding his boat over this, Cushing detonated his torpedo against the ironclad, creating a hole so large that the Confederate States Ship sank within six minutes in six feet of water. The explosion threw Cushing’s entire crew into the water. Sadly one Unionist sailor drowned and eleven were captured but Cushing and another comrade escaped back to friendly territory. After an illustrious Postbellum career, William B. Cushing had five US Navy ships named after him up to 2005 and the 1/12 scale gas fired steam powered model of his Picket Boat Number One was scratchbuilt on a fibreglass Kingston Hull. The boiler and steam engine lifted out for maintenance, the latter being two cylinder rather than the single cylinder prime mover of the original. However, this feature is disguised by the wooden case built over the engine to muffle its sound. Picket Boat Number One featured iron bulkheads in the bow to protect both the engine and the crew from the explosion of the torpedo as well as supporting a 12 lb Dahlgren howitzer. Mounted on a sliding cradle to absorb its recoil, the muzzle loading gun could also be swung through 90 degrees, enabling it to be reloaded in just one minute.
Moving on eighty years, Fairmile C type Motor Gun Boat S317 was completed on 3 September 1941 and was modelled in its condition prior to disposal in October 1945. Designed by Norman Hart of the Hythe based Fairmile company, the 24 110′ long C class MGBs were based on lessons learned from the smaller wooden hulls of the earlier Fairmile A and B types but were seen as a stopgap before the introduction of the larger and more numerous Fairmile D: a more equal adversary to the steel hulled Kriegsmarine S-Boot. Powered by three 850 bhp V12 Hall-Scott petrol engines driving three propellers – which offered good speed in heavy seas by piercing waves rather than planing over them – the Fairmile Cs were pre fabricated and assembled by boatyards all over Britain. As a result, no two Fairmile Cs were exactly the same. The Royal Navy’s S317 was eventually armed with 2 lb quick firing guns fore and aft, Vickers machine guns and a single barelled Oerlikon gun midships and Browning machine guns on the open bridge. Also on deck were smoke floats, depth charges for use against S-Boots and cool lockers for meat and vegetables. The 1/24 scale model began with a fibreglass hull from MTB Hulls of Gibraltar and was based on real rather than model plans. The deck was made from thick plastic card rubbed down to help the adhesion of paint – mainly grey plastic spray primer. Two – rather than three – brushless motors and twin propellers with water cooled bearings allow the model to turn on its own axis which is more than can be said for the real thing! Also featured were a sound system with a speaker under the open bridge. Pictured opposite is the bow QF two pounder ahead of the enclosed bridge with fabric type anti-shrapnel blanketing on the roof. On the open bridge are 1/24 scale Royal Navy figures in the duffel coats and caps made famous by a number of British war films made in the 1950s: usually starring Jack Hawkins if my memory serves me right! Well, he certainly found fame in the 1953 feature “The Cruel Sea” aboard a corvette with a similar control arrangement. The figures are produced by Oldbury based High Speed Launch Mouldings who have also offered plastic figures suitable for a Royal Air Force Air Sea Rescue Launch.
Finishing off the presentation was a 1/16 scale representation of 1943 vintage Landing Craft Mechanised Type 3 PA 13-2. With the capacity to carry 60 00lb of cargo or a single 30 ton Sherman tank, the LCM3 was a development of the smaller, earlier Higgins LCV and could be easily distinguished by its perforated bow ramp. Displacing 52 000 lb, the steel built LCM3 was 50′ long and 14′ 1″ wide with a 4′ draught. Its two 110 -225 bhp diesel engines turning two propellers could propel it at 11 knots and the crew comprised a Coxwain, Engineer and two sailors manning .50 calibre machine guns. The model was scaled up from the famous 1/76 Airfix kit and featured a fibreglass hull with the ramp operated by a radio controlled sail servo. it was shown to the audience with a 1/16 scale working model Sherman tank.
For its 14 November 2016 meeting the World Ship Society Gloucester Branch was indebted to Branch member Chris Witts for his presentation on the 1960 Severn Railway Bridge disaster. Part one covered crossing the river below Gloucester from Roman to Victorian times while Part Two examined the disaster itself. This included BBC footage of Chris out on the Severn talking about his role as a witness to the event as a sixteen year old fourth hand aboard the Wyesdale H. In fog off Sharpness on the evening of Tuesday 25 October 1960, the Wysedale H collided with John Harker fleetmate Wastdale H before the latter – with its cargo of petrol – and the black oil laden Arkendale H stuck together and brought down two spans of the 1879 vintage bridge.
With its tides running at 9 knots and rising over 40′, treacherous rocks and shifting sandbanks, the Severn estuary is a far more formidable barrier than its relatively modest breadth suggests. Although perhaps welcome as a flowing moat between England and Wales in Medieval times, by the 19th Century the Severn was proving an irksome barrier to communications. In 1823, steam packet boats began plying between Milford Haven and Ireland, causing the Postmaster General to instruct the famous engineer Thomas Telford to advise him on an improved mail coach route between London and South Wales. Telford described the New Passage Ferry at English Stones – site of the 1996 M4 Severn Bridge – as “One of the most forbidding places at which an important ferry was ever established – a succession of violent cataracts formed in a rocky channel exposed to the rapid rush of a tide which has scarcely an equal on any other coast”. In view of this, Telford suggested either a much longer crossing from Uphill Bay in Somerset to Sully Island or using the Old Passage – where Welsh bishops are said to have crossed the Severn to meet St Augustine in 603 AD – between Aust and Beachley. This is the narrowest point of the tidal estuary and the site of the 1966 M4 (now M48) road bridge. The Old Passage could possibly have been spanned by a chain suspension bridge similar to the one Telford designed to cross the River Mersey at Runcorn in 1814 but in reality all he did was act as a consultant while his assistant, Henry Habberley Price, built new ferry piers at Aust and Beachley.
Unfortunately, even with the new piers, the tidal range on the Severn was such that passengers sometimes had to disembark aboard rowing boats or by wading through mud. Two ferries were also lost with all hands in 1839 and 1843, by which time the coal and metal industries of south Wales were rapidly expanding. Following an abortive attempt by other engineers to tunnel between Arlingham and Newnham in 1810, Isambard Kingdom Brunel proposed a railway bridge at Hock Cliff between Fretherne and Awre to link his projected line from Gloucester to South Wales with the Great Western Railway from Standish Junction to Swindon. However, this plan was frustrated by The Admiralty on the grounds of insufficient headroom, despite a swinging section being included to span the 1827 vintage Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, built to avoid the dangerous upper Severn estuary. As a result, Broad Gauge railway passengers en route to South Wales either had to detour via Gloucester or face the hazards of the New Passage Ferry. The operation of this was highly dependent on the weather and as a result the New Passage Ferry Hotel enjoyed a profitable trade in accommodating stranded passengers.
After Brunel’s death in 1859, more bridges were proposed at both Old and New Passages. The attraction of the longer New Passage route was that it was on a similar latitude to London and avoided the additional need to cross the River Wye at Beachley. However, the tidal range and hard stone river bed would have made building bridge foundations much more difficult. As a result, plans for a 2 1/2 mile long bridge with a 122′ headway for shipping was abandoned in favour of a 4 1/3 mile tunnel, still the longest sub-aqueous structure completely within Great Britain. The length was due to the need to maintain a 1 in 100 ruling gradient on the approaches and the tunnel roof also had to come dangerously close to The Shoots, a 50′ deep gully in the river bed. Work began in 1874 but was not completed until 1886, partly due to tunnelers hitting an underground spring in 1879. As a result, millions of gallons of water still have to be pumped out of the Severn Tunnel every day, but the whole project might have been abandoned had it not been for the courage of diver Alexander Lambert in finding – in complete darkness – and closing a watertight door in the flooded workings. To avoid the need for him to trail a vulnerable air pipe, Lambert used the newly invented Fleuss self contained oxygen rebreather apparatus.
Meanwhile, another rail crossing was completed further upstream in 1879 courtesy of the Severn & Wye and Severn Bridge Railway Company. The existence of hard Devonian rocks, which outcrop in the red cliffs of Sharpness and Gatcombe determined the location of this bridge. It consisted of two main spans of 327′ over the main channel of the river – nearest to the Forest of Dean – and 19 lesser spans with a steam operated swinging span over the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. All the river spans consisted of wrought iron bowstring girders resting on concrete filled cast iron columns sunk to bedrock. Because of the strength of the tidal currents, it was judged inadvisable to float the wrought iron trusses out complete and lift them into place as had been done with I. K. Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge over the Tamar. Instead, each span was laboriously assembled in situ using massive timber stagings. Even so, and despite starting in 1875, the bridge builders beat the tunnelers. However, although the Severn Railway Bridge was a great technical achievement, it proved of limited value – carrying only a single line compared to the tunnel’s two, being subject to severe speed and weight restrictions and most importantly being sited so far upstream towards Gloucester. Having said that, Sharpness school children would later rely on the trains to get them over the river to Lydney Grammar School and by 1960 a gas main across the bridge supplied Lydney from Sharpness.
A mere ten years after the Severn Tunnel was opened the first London to Brighton car rally was held to celebrate the repeal of the Red Flag Act. Despite the disruption of the First World War – and yet also partly because of it due to the number of available vehicles and drivers – the need for a Severn road bridge was first identified as far back as 1923. This need was aggravated by the fact that the A48 Gloucester to South Wales road passed through the narrow streets of Chepstow and crossed the Wye on an 1816 vintage cast iron bridge only wide enough for a single lane of traffic. At the time, the proposal for a Severn road bridge was conflated with plans for a hydro electric tidal barrage across the Severn – an idea which has still yet to become a reality.
In 1924, the Great Western Railway began a train motor car ferry service between between Pilning and Severn Tunnel Junction. 1926 meanwhile saw the Duke of Beaufort – in his other role as Lord of Tidenham – permit Enoch Williams of the Old Passage Severn Ferry Company Ltd. to begin a new vehicle ferry between Aust and Beachley. The previous steam boat operation – the Old Passage Ferry Association – had been inaugurated in 1827 but had declined after the opening of the Severn railway bridge and tunnel and – even before that – after the opening of the railway between Gloucester and South Wales in 1852. From 1931, Enoch William’s first wooden vessel – Princess Ida – was only able to transport passengers with bicycles and motorbikes, but, by 1934, the Severn Queen was launched as a car ferry. It was able to carry just 17 cars. Each car had to turn sharply off the ramp onto the ferry, then be turned on a manually operated turntable before being parked. The process was reversed for unloading. The ferry timetable was notoriously affected by the huge tidal range on the Severn. It was unable to operate at low tide or at very high tides. The last ferry crossing occurred on 8 September 1966, the day before the Severn Bridge carrying the M4 ( later M48) motorway opened. Indeed, such was the growing load of traffic on the Severn Bridge – and associated Wye crossing – that Her Majesty the Queen had opened on 9 September 1966 that a new M4 bridge was subsequently needed. This was opened in 1996 and was located at the New Passage, on top of the Severn Railway Tunnel.
The last two of Enoch William’s ferries, the MVs Severn King and Severn Princess, were built in Yorkshire – also home to John Harker Limited, Shipbuilders and Engineers of Knottingley on the Aire and Calder Canal. John Harker himself had been born in Arkengarthdale, North Yorkshire, in 1846 and had come to Knottingley with the Stainsby and Lyon chemical works in 1877. Rising to the post of Director in 1893, John Harker was given the privilege of operating the lighterage of Stainsby and Lyon . After the death of John Harker in 1911 the business was continued by his son James W. Harker and his son in law James William Kipping. In 1918 Stainsby and Lyon purchased the Harker/Kipping business and formed a company under the title ‘John Harker Ltd’ with Kipping as general manager. After the coal strikes of 1921 and 1926, industrialists sought an alternative fuel to coal, and this proved to be oil. As the demand for oil increased so did the need for its transportation and Kipping did a lot of the pioneer work for Harkers’ in the carrying of bulk liquid by water transport.
In 1926 Gas Companies and Tar Distillers joined together to form the Yorkshire Tar Distillers (Y.T.D.). This left Stainsby and Lyon in a better position to concentrate on the carrying business. Up to this time ships had been built at the yards of Dunstan’s of Thorne and Watson’s of Gainsborough. Stainsby and Lyon took over the site of the former shipyards of William Worfolk and Robert Garlick in Knottingley where they commenced building vessels.
By the mid 1930s the company had continued to expand and now operated some 30 vessels. In 1936 a new holding company was formed, incorporated under the title ‘Lyon and Lyon.’ The former Stainsby and Lyon went into liquidation with shareholders receiving cash in addition to shares in the new company. The name of John Harker was retained for the shipyard and barges.
In 1939 the Gloucester Shipyard Ltd was established, being formed jointly by John Harker Ltd, who managed, and the Severn & Canal Carrying Company. It was intended to carry out repairs to the fleet owned by each company. With Harker’s expertise in building and repair it meant that vessels didn’t have to return to Knottingley for repair, and repair work was no longer done under contract. In May 1947 it became apparent that the Severn Carrying Company would be nationalised, so Lyon & Lyon bought their shares in the Gloucester shipyard, thereby making it a wholly owned subsidiary of Lyon & Lyon.
In 1943 the Ministry of War ordered two sister ships ‘Empire Rancher’ and ‘Empire Reacher’ for taking coal from the South Wales ports of Newport, Swansea and Cardiff to the Power Station at Gloucester. They cost around £22,500 and were managed and operated from the Gloucester office. ‘Empire Rancher’ was a self-trimming collier carrying 420 tons, fitted with a Crossley 250 BHP engine and steamed at 8 knots on about two and a half tons of gas oil per day (600/700 gallons). She carried a crew of eight and also went down to the channel ports of Bideford and Appledore. Richard Dustan of Thorne also built four similar type vessels from the Harker plans.
In order to supplement facilities at Gloucester another wholly owned subsidiary of Lyon & Lyon was formed in 1946, the Sharpness Shipyard Ltd. Land and buildings at the entrance to Sharpness Lock was rented from the Dock Company and the shipyard commenced repair work towards the end of 1946. Building of new vessels was not undertaken here until 1950
The naming of ships followed a pattern of naming them after family members or people connected with the company, but by the mid 1930s they were quickly running out of names. A competition was held amongst the employees for suggestions as to how the ships could be named., and the winner was a young lady typist who suggested they should be named after the Dales with a suffix H. Perhaps it was because John Harker had been born in Arkengarthdale that this suggestion proved a popular choice.
The first Dale barge was ‘Darleydale H’ built in 1937, at that time she was the largest vessel of her type, capable of carrying 280 tons, undergoing trials in the River Humber. She was designed for service in the Severn estuary between Avonmouth and Worcester working with dumb barge ‘Arkendale H’ that had been built at Richards Ironworks in Lowestoft. In 1948 ‘Darleydale’ was cut in two at the Gloucester Shipyard and a 20 foot midships section inserted thereby increasing her capacity by about 70 tons, and taking around 4 months to complete. At the same time ‘Arkendale’ was lengthened and converted to a self propelled vessel by having a 150BHP Crossley engine fitted. On 21 December 1958 ‘Darleydale’ struck the Haw Bridge near Stourport on Severn and tragically the skipper Stanley Edwards was killed by falling girders and masonry as he dashed out of the wheelhouse.
Petrol boats did not have funnels in order to avoid any sparks igniting fumes from the tanks, so the exhaust had to go out through the stern of the vessel. Vessels carrying heavy fuel oil and known as ‘Black Oilers’ had funnels acting as the flue from the main engine, auxiliaries and boilers. The hold on these vessels was smaller as heavy oils did not require the same amount of space for the same tonnage as light oils. However, they were fitted with steam pipes to heat the black oil and so make it easier to offload with lower viscosity. The Harker fleet were well known for their high build quality just as the operational side of the business was notorious for its high utilisation of assets and – as a result – widespread crew fatigue.
On the fateful night of Tuesday 25 October 1960 the Arkendale H, loaded with 300 tons of black oil, was bound from Swansea to Worcester and the Wastdale H, loaded with 350 tons of petroleum spirit, bound from Avonmouth to Worcester . Several craft had left Avonmouth that evening including the Wysedale H, tug ADDIE and tug ROBERT A bound for Lydney with three lighters loaded with logs. There was no sign of fog on leaving Avonmouth and the craft proceeded steadily upstream towards Sharpness accompanied by vessels from Swansea.
On reaching Berkeley Power Station about 10 p.m. the fog descended very quickly and crews of the vessels were alerted to listen for the fog horn on Sharpness Pier. The Arkendale H was already swinging off Sharpness, stemming the tide waiting to enter the port when the tug ADDIE and tow came across the barge’s bow forcing skipper George Thompson to go full astern. A collision was avoided, but the tanker barge lost momentum against the tide and was drifting back towards the old dock entrance. George Thompson suddenly saw another vessel come out of the fog and brush against his barge, he shouted to the other craft if they knew where they were. The reply was no, they didn’t know where they were.
The other vessel was the Wastdale H, her skipper was James Dew who had only been on her for three days as his own barge, the BP Manufacturer, was in dry-dock. When the fog had first descended he had had a slight collision with the Wyesdale H and then decided to find the river bank until things quietened down, but on hearing the fog horn very plainly began to make for the piers at Sharpness. Unfortunately he went past Sharpness Piers and suddenly saw the White House located near to the old dock entrance, whereby he began to stem the flow of the tide and make back to the piers. Soon after he heard a vessel blowing and at the same time saw her lights and recognised her as the Arkendale H.
The two vessels converged on one another, both skippers fighting with the wheel to bring them apart. Unknown to skipper George Thompson, crew men of the Wastdale H had secured a mooring rope to both barges which made it impossible in the fierce current, to steer the barges to the safety of Sharpness Piers. Soon the Severn Railway Bridge was upon them so Jimmy Dew gave his barge everything it had in the way of engine revolutions, but then he found that the Wastdale H’s stern was going under the bridge. The stern cleared the bridge columns, but the bow swung across at an angle hit a column with the port bow. At this time he put the vessel into full astern to cant the barge off the column when suddenly he was flung from the wheelhouse into the water. At this time a girder from the bridge dropped, falling onto the barge. He climbed back onto the Wastdale H, which by now was on her side, when he realised that she was also on fire. so he struggled to the starboard side and made a jump for the Arkendale H.
The Arkendale H had also been struck by a falling bridge girder which had sliced through the barge just forward of the wheelhouse. Inside George Thompson was struck by a flying object which caused him to lose consciousness for a short time. He revived and went to the stern of the vessel where he saw his mate and engineer. Knowing they couldn’t swim he gave them each a life ring and told them to jump in the river together. George jumped, but the other two held back and remained on the wrecked barge.
On board, as he jumped from the Wastdale H to the Arkendale H, James Dew found two men, the mate, Percy Simmonds, and engineer, Jack Cooper deciding which was the best way to escape. The Arkendale H’s propeller was still turning with the stern high out of the water. All three men decided to jump, but Jack Cooper, as he jumped, caught his back with the revolving propeller. The river was ablaze for two miles along the surface of the water and Jack decided he would rather drown than burn to death, so he discarded his life ring and sank below the surface of the Severn, but a vision of his family made him fight for his life. On reaching the surface not only did he find his life ring again, but a clear patch of water and was later rescued, a very exhausted man.
Five other crewmen were not so lucky. Perrcy Simmonds drowned, so did the deckhand off the Wastdale H, Malcolm Hart , mate Jack Dudfield , engineer Alex Bullock and 2nd engineer on the Arkendale H Robert Nibblett. Wastdale H skipper Jimmy Dew was rescued three hours later upriver from the bridge on the Lydney side. He was uninjured and was the only survivor from his vessel.
Skipper of the Arkendale H, George Thompson, thought he was going to die as he swam with all his strength from the flames which encircled the two barges. As he jumped from his barge over the flames into the thick black oily water he heard an explosion, the Wastdale H was just one mass of flames. He eventually swam from one bank to the other, a distance of about one mile, and when he reached the bank on the Lydney side, just sat there hollering. A nearby farmer heard his cries for help and helped him back to the warmth of the farmhouse.
The hero of the night was another tanker barge skipper, Tommy Carter, master of the SHELL TRAVELLER, safely tied up in Sharpness docks. He heard a great whoosh as the tankers burst into flames and described a great glow in the sky. Attempts were made to contact the two tanker barges by radio,but received no reply. Tommy Carter and his crew went to the pier, found a small boat and loaded it on a lorry. It was taken to Purton and launched into the river from the marshy land. With Tommy Carter in the boat was a local carpenter, Mr Henderson, both had to row in a zig zag fashion to avoid the flames. Jack Cooper was the first man they found, exhausted hanging onto his life ring, grateful to be alive and soon to be reunited with his family. Later at the public inquiry, Carter was praised on behalf of a Government Minister for his leadership and courage shown that night.
The Arkendale H and Wastdale H lay together on the mud in the middle of the river above the bridge and although attempts were made to salvage the vessels, they all failed. So that they would not float again both barges were ripped open with explosives. To this day they both lay there, clearly visible from the shore at Purton, a reminder of the Severn Bridge Disaster.
The loss of the Severn Railway Bridge as a transport infrastructure meant that schoolchildren who had previously attended Lydney Grammar from Sharpness and its environs in the short term had a long rail detour via Gloucester and were eventually moved to other schools in south west Gloucestershire. And although the gas main along the bridge did not catch fire and was soon isolated, households in Lydney had to be supplied with temporary portable gas supplies until a new pipe could be built under the Severn. From a financial perspective, British Railway’s accountants deemed the Severn Railway Bridge to be cheaper to demolish than repair – a belief strengthened when the capsized tanker “BP Explorer” hit another bridge support in February 1961. As a result, the 1879 bridge was finally demolished in 1967, the iron girders being sold to Chile for a road carrying viaduct. All that remains today is the circular stone structure of the swing bridge on the side of the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. By the end of the 1970s too, new long distance pipelines and the spreading motorway network offered safer and cheaper ways of distributing oil and petrol.
Our December meeting took the now-traditional form of a raffle and buffet following the photographic print competition for The Les Tibbetts Memorial Shield. In 2016 this was again won by Branch member Ted Tedaldi ( to the right of the picture, being congratulated by Branch Treasurer John Mayer) with a dramatic picture of the Torshavn registered self unloading general cargo ship Kalkvik with a cargo of china clay being turned by the tug Cannis at Fowey, Cornwall, on the afternoon of 19 August 2016.
Built in 2007 in Leer, Germany, by Ferus Smit, the 5 325 ton Kalkvik (IMO: 9341172, MMSI: 231791000: Call sign OZ2104) sails under the flag of the Faeroe Islands. Her overall length is 114 metres and beam 16 metres and she is owned by Citadel Shipping AB as part of Thun Ship Management of Lidkoping, Sweden. Power for the scraper gear with bucket elevator and 30 metre slewing boom belt conveyor comes from a Wärtsilä 8L32 diesel engine of 3840 kW / 5184 BHP which also propels the ship through a single screw propeller and an electric transmission bow thruster.
Cannis, meanwhile, was built as the Lady Constance for Humber Tugs Ltd by Cochrane & Sons Ltd” at Selby (Yard Number 115) in 1982. She has an overall length of 30.21 m with a beam of 9.73m and a draft of 3.81m. Her Gross Registered Tonnage is 285 with a displacement of 170 tons. Power comes from two 6 cylinder Ruston type 6RKCM diesel engines developing 2640 bhp (1942kW total) operating two hydraulic Voith VSP units – rather like a second generation British diesel multiple unit train. This gives her a speed of 12,5 knots, and a Bollard pull of 32 tonnes. She was first registered in Hull, with ON 389072, IMO number 8102141 ,MMSI 235053755 and the call sign GCRY
Thanks go to Branch Secretary Alan Drewett for organising the competition, Treasurer John Mayer for organising the raffle and to everyone who brought food and prizes.
The Monday 9 January 2017 meeting of the World Ship Society Gloucester Branch began with a silent reflection on the life of our recently departed member Harry Phillips and then continued with a Powerpoint presentation compiled by the Mid Essex Branch of the WSS entitled “In Our Own Backyard”. This focused on the ports of Maldon, Heybridge and Chelmsford, the tidal Blackwater and Chelmer rivers and the 14 mile long Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, built in the 18th Century. All of these are close to Ingatestone where the Mid Essex Branch of the World Ship Society meets.
Although Maldon’s fishing fleet and other commercial trade – including cargoes of coal, coke, softwood deals, pig iron, loam and chalk – had dwindled by the 1970s, these waters still boast some “reem” vessels including Thames sailing barges, demobbed warships, a floating dock and the Ross Revenge, once home to pirate Radio Caroline.
In fact 2017 marks the 30th year of family run heritage business Topsail Charter – operators of the ochre-sailed barges Hydrogen, Kitty, Reminder and Thistle. Like the tea clipper Cutty Sark, Thistle was built on the Clyde but had strong links to the Port of London while Kitty and Reminder were part of the Fred Horlock fleet – renowned for high speed sailing.
Built of pitch pine on oak in 1906 by John Gill & Sons of Rochester, Hydrogen was a large boomie (gaff ketch) rigged coasting barge capable of carrying 200 tons of cargo. Her owners were Burt, Boulton and Heywood, chemical manufacturers of Silvertown, and she was one of three similar barges built for them by Gills: named Oxygen (now wrecked near Maldon) and Carbon after the elements that make up oil.
Launched on 9 May 1906, she was built with tanks to carry tar, creosote and oil from the Thames and Medway to Grangemouth on the Firth of Forth, and could take over 200 tons. George Dines, of Grays, was her first skipper. In 1912 her tanks were removed and she was sold to George Andrews (and Arthur Coward as a minority share-owner), of Sittingbourne, and used for general cargo trade, mainly cement to the Humber and coal back to the Thames and Medway.
Arthur Coward, a respected racing skipper, became her master, a position he held for 20 years. HYDROGEN was converted to spritsail rig, which could be handled by a smaller crew, and continued to trade to the Humber, as well as further afield to Cornwall, the north-east, and the near continent. Arthur Coward drove the barge hard and carried a gilded cockerel at HYDROGEN’s masthead. This annoyed the other skippers who told him to ‘take that thing down’. Coward said he would when anyone managed to beat his record in 1921 of 24 hours from Spurn Head to Milton Creek, Kent, but no-one did!
Moored at Maldon since 2005 was Tug Inshore Dock (TID) 159 now named Brent and cared for by the Steam Tug Brent Trust. Built for the Admiralty in 1945 and just too late for war service, Brent became the last steam powered vessel of the Port of London Authority.
Nearby landmarks included Northey Island, now an RSPB reserve but in August 991 the site of the Battle of Maldon between Saxons and invading Vikings. Despite heavy losses, the Vikings won the battle but were paid to go home – the first time that Danegeld was issued in Britain. In memory of this event, Maldon’s premier trip boat is named “Viking Saga”. Another memory of the so called Dark Ages was the Chapel of St Peter on the Wall, founded by St Cedd in 654AD and contrasting with the nearby Bradwell B Magnox nuclear power station of the 1960s.
Filling in the historical gaps meanwhile was Osea Island, home to drying out clinics both in the 19th and 21st Centuries. The first was founded by Christian philanthropist Frederick Charrington – who renounced his family’s brewing fortune but whose work was undone by fishermen bringing in secret supplies of liquor to the wealthy patients. The second, named the Causeway Retreat, was operational from 2005 to 2010 and in 2008 included Amy Winehouse as one of its residents. In between, the First World War saw Osea island hosting the British Deperdussin company and its experimental floatplane as well as the coastal motor torpedo boat station HMS Osea.
For its Monday 13 February meeting the World Ship Society Gloucester Branch enjoyed a presentation by Branch member Ted Tedaldi entitled “A Year In Gloucester Docks” – chronicling the twelve months from October 2015 and concluding with a Good Friday voyage down the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal aboard Britain’s Scottish built twelve metre 1958 Americas Cup competitor “Sceptre”. Also seen under restoration were the three masted barque “Kaskelot” with its variable pitch propeller, schooner “Den Store Bjorern” (pictured) and the Bristol Channel pilot cutters Mascotte – dating from 1904 – and Fleetwood built Alpha of similar vintage. Ted’s splendid photography also captured the steel hulled Tug Swallow – built in 1937 and the first such diesel powered vessel on the River Thames.
The presentation began with historic views of the barge Olive May and the Severn Trow Spry before focusing on – among others – pleasure craft Queen Bodicea, King Arthur, Conway Castle and Pride of the Midlands, classic Bermudan Ketch Halcyon and Kytra, a plastic motor yacht built in 1939. Similarly depicted was the 178 ton GRT three masted barque Earl of Pembroke being eased into the larger of two dry docks at Gloucester by powered inflatable dinghies.
Built for the Royal Yacht Squadron to challenge for the 17th America’s Cup in 1958, Sceptre, believed to be the only UK challenger for this prestigious event still sailing in British waters. Designed by David Boyd and built in Alexander Robertson’s yard in Holy Loch – later famous as the British base for America’s ballistic nuclear submarine fleet. – Sceptre’s hull was constructed from Honduras mahogany planking on alternate oak and steel ribs allied to a 17 ton lead keel. Although Sceptre was soundly beaten by the American defender Columbia over seven races at Newport, Rhode Island (pictured) ,the 2.99 metre draft British vessel then went on to be a very successful racing yacht in the 1960s. She was converted to a cruising yacht between 1978-86, and since then has been owned and sailed, predominantly in British waters, by the Sceptre Preservation Society.
Following a debate about future meeting hall options, the 13 March 2017 meeting of the World Ship Society featured a presentation by Branch Chairman Ken Guest entitled “A Collage of Memories” – looking back at his years of interest in shipping as well as other mechanical, geographical and natural topics. Highlights of this visual flow of consciousness included Gloucester winning the inter-branch World Ship Society Quiz in 1999, the Royal Yacht Britannia in 1992 and HMS Ariadne (F72) before its transfer to Chile in the same year as as the General Baquedano. Perhaps the most surprising inclusion was one of Dick Emery with his Piper PA-22 150 Caribbean single engine monoplane G-APXO on the Isle of Wight. It wasn’t awful – but we did like it!
Following further debate about future meeting hall options and 2017/ 2018 lecture programme, the Monday 10 April 2017 meeting of the Gloucester Branch of the World Ship Society featured a presentation by Branch member Keith Reed entitled “Malta and Gibraltar” – looking back at two strategically important Mediterranean islands with a strong British influence. Of local interest in Malta was Faith, one of three Gloster Gladiator biplanes that defended the George Cross island during World War Two, along with the screw schooner Amazon – formerly owned by Coronation Street and Dad’s Army actor Arthur Lowe – which has visited Gloucester for the Tall Ships Festival.
Malta has a long and interesting military history from before the Siege of 1565 when the Knights of St John defended against the Ottoman Turks led by Barbary Corsair Dragut Reis to 21st Century multi national migrant patrols which has seen the high speed Maltese Navy working alongside the Irish Flagship L E Eithne. Prior to Independence from Britain in 1964 vessels of the Royal Navy were a common sight in Valetta Harbour, nowadays home to coastal tankers and a floating dock as well as Virtu Ferries catamarans arriving from Sicily and many cruise ships such as the MSC Fantasia that are nowadays avoiding ports in North Africa. Other important features of Malta itself include Red China Dock ( the largest dry dock in the Mediterranean) and the container port at Pretty Bay although the European Union member also includes the islands of Kemmuna and Gozo.
While Malta’s Pretty Bay boasted bilingual signs warning of seven types of jellyfish and how to treat the stings, feeding one of Gibraltar’s apes incurs a fine although killing one is an arrestable offence! The British Overseas Territory – very much in the news after Brexit – is located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula and controls the western entrance to the Mediterranean. Ceded to Britain by the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, Gibraltar shares a land border with Spain at La Linea and is one of the few places in the World where it is possible to see a Moorish castle close to a branch of Marks and Spencers. Another Rock attraction is the only Trinity House lighthouse outside the UK which offers nocturnal guidance to both Royal Navy vessels and such cruising giants as The Independence of the Seas and Cunarders Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2.
The airport at North Front in Gibraltar is rare in having a main road crossing the single runway. The road is closed by barriers when aircraft are taking off or landing and before such movements the road area is swept to pick up otherwise dangerous foreign object debris. Although used by by many civilian low cost airliners bringing in tourists from Britain to a new terminal building, North front has a proud military heritage, including this classic picture of a Douglas C-47 Dakota in front of the limestone Rock of Gibraltar itself.
Future meetings are as follows
Monday 8 May 2017 Annual General Meeting and a talk by Alan Drewett on “Landships and Tanks at Sea” .