Sailing barge historian and author Richard Hugh Perks recently retold the story of Standard Quay in an interview. It’s a story he will know well, as among his many publications is a 30-page history of Faversham’s sailing barges published by the Society for Sailing Barge Research.
Here’s what he had to say:
‘We know that ships have been built at Standard Quay for at least 300 years. Since about 1700, somewhere in the region of 120 sailing vessels have been built here at Standard Quay. The vessels that were built here in the early days were basically the oyster smacks. The fishing and oyster industries were the major industries. The type of craft that carried cargo up to London tended to be small coasting hoys. These were vessels of around 55-60 feet in length.
‘At least one packet boat was built here, the Prince Oscar, in about 1818. We know the names of the various builders who built here in the mid-18th century back to about 1818. The builders were the Bennett family and after that the Redmans came and built large fishing smacks, sailing barges and various other craft.
‘The most famous shipbuilder here was John Matthew Goldfinch who came to Faversham and built his first barge in 1853 and Faversham is probably best known for the Goldfinch barges including his famous schooner, The Goldfinch, which in 1930 was sailed out to British Guiana.
‘So the history of Standard Quay has always, as far as recorded history is concerned, has always been concerned with the loading and unloading of goods, the storage of goods, the building of boats and in particular, the repairing of boats. That was the most important part.
‘A ship, built out of wood, basically had a life of about 30 years. But of course they were always in collision, they were always in trouble or strandings. So maintaining and repairing these vessels was almost the most important work of the shipyard. If you look at the accounts of shipbuilders, most of them lost money building ships. Somebody like Goldfinch was an artist, his barges were beautifully built, they were soundly built. Out of something like 70 sailing barges that he built, their average life was just over 60 years. Now if a wooden vessel was designed to last for only 30 years, it meant there was a lot of repair work going on, a lot of refurbishment.
‘We’ve got records out of the newspapers of colliery brigs and timber ships coming alongside Standard Quay to be worked on and repaired. Local ships got into the papers when they were built or when there was some form of accident or tragedy. In fact while a brigantine was being repaired here in the 1870s, the staging around it collapsed and one of the shipwrights was killed.’
Against this background, it is surprising and unfortunate that a Swale Borough assessment in support of a controversial planning application to open a restaurant in a listed building on the quay recently suggested that boatbuilding began on the site just over ten years ago. I’d say that looking at the site itself, what Mr Hugh Perks has to say has a strong ring of truth about it.
There’s still time to let Swale Borough’s councillors know what you think about the restaurant proposal by the way – see this earlier post. For more information, also see The Quay website, the Faversham Creek Trust website and the Visions of a Creek website.