Category Archives: History

A Southwold memorial explained

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UK Home Built Boat Rally member John Lockwood has been in touch with a photo of the ship commanded by brave Captain David W Simpson MBE when he met his death.

Captain Simpson is today remembered by a memorial plaque outside Southwold’s Sailor’s Reading Room.

John writes:

‘I know you like following interesting threads. In connection with the memorial plaque included in yesterday’s post, I have attached a picture of the West Isleta, later the Empire Merlin, built in 1919 in Seattle, managed by Ropners Shipping, and torpedoed by U-boat U48 about 190 miles west of Cape Wrath.

‘The thought of a 70 year old captain working on that open bridge in the North Atlantic in winter makes me appreciate what a tough lot merchant navy sailors were in those days.  Incidentally Captain Simpson was previously Master of the SS Wandy, which attacked and sank a German U-boat in WWI.

‘Regards,  John’

I certainly do like a good story! Many thanks for the old photo and information John.
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Southwold’s Sailor’s Reading Room

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Southwold’s famous Sailor’s Reading Room was built in 1864 in memory of a Captain Rayley, who had been an officer at the Battle of Trafalgar, and had died the previous year.

I knew the building as a boy and remember thinking it was as fabulous then as I think it is now. It really hasn’t changed in close to 50 years, and the only sadness is that photography is forbidden and I can’t show you how splendid it really is.

What I can say without fear of contradiction is that the old reading room is packed with a huge variety of treasures, including photos, models and other memorabilia of the local fishermen, sailors and coastguards of years gone by.

Often generations of brothers, fathers, sons and cousins worked at these trades at the same time, and because they so often bore the same name they were often given colourful nicknames – I particularly like the name of one bearded old salt whose photo appears on the Reading Room’s walls.  He must have gloried in his handle of ‘Crikey’ Rogers!

Of course, many of them were also lifeboatmen, and since we’ve been to the old town recently in a day or two thanks to some great local friends I’ll add some photos of the restored local lifeboat now on show in a new home near the beach, and some shots from the harbour – including the wonderful Leila. Make sure you come back!

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More photos of the traditional wooden clinker-built fleet of fishing boats at Hastings

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As promised, some more photos from the working beach at Hastings (see my earlier set of photos). I haven’t much to say about them, except that I’m awestruck that these old wooden boats are still working in such numbers – at one time I would have said they were reducing in numbers so quickly they I thought they wouldn’t last more than a few seasons. But a few seasons later, here they are still…

These boats have hardly changed since the days of sail, and notice that there are plastic beach boats built along the old fashioned lines. Whether sailing or motoring, it seems there’s still nothing better for fishing off this coast.

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