Category Archives: Medway, Swale and the Kent coast

Medway, Swale and the Kent coast

The bawley Emma

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Vic Maynard, who lovingly rebuilt the bawley Emma in 2009/10, told me about her story over a pint at The Shipwright’s Arms at Hollowshore over the weeked.

She was originally built in in clinker 1845 by Thomas Bundock at Leigh on Sea, probably for the purposes of cockling and shrimping, like other bawleys.

Vic says she was not built by Haywards as has been suggested, as there are no records of similar boat being built at that yard before 1850. Bawleys built after 1850 or so were built in carvel.

Bundock had served his apprenticeship at the Maldon yard of James Williamson at the time that the well known smack Boadicea was built in 1808, and Vic reckons the bawley and the smack have something in common.

Bundock had daughter called Emma, who married her skipper and likely owner, a Henry Cotgrave, who seems to have been locally known as ‘Benson’, probably as a result of a connection with a Mrs Benson in London.

Vic suggests this is the same ‘Benson’ that is mentioned in the excellent 1893 book by H Lewis-Jones Swin, Swale and Swatchway, which is currently available in reprint from Lodestar.

It is thought that Emma came to Kent around the turn of the century, first into the hands of the Jemmet family of Faversham, and that she was then owned from 1928 until 2010 by Jim Gregory.

She remained a clinker-built craft until 1917, when she was converted to carvel. Rather than do the job wholesale, which would have created a completely new boat, Vic had Dan and Barry Tester of Hollowshore rebuild her piece by piece so that she would remain the Emma, and in doing so found that in converting her to carvel all those years ago, her clinker strakes had been filled out with feather-edged boards and tar. She had remained like that for more than nine decades…

These days, he has her beautifully sorted out inside and out, with just a tiny space under the foredeck that suffices as a cabin.

In a shady spot in Kent, ancient sea creatures lurk

In the village of Staplehurst close to Maidstone on the Medway, and only 13.5 miles from the old and long silted-up South Coast port of Smallhythe, you can find these 12th century wrought iron representations of sea creatures on the village church’s south door – some a bit more fantastical than others.

I think I can see octopuses or squid, snakes, conger, a sea bird, a ray, a lobster and a flying fish. So the inhabitants of a remote village in Kent nearly a thousand years ago had heard stories of flying fish… Can anyone add creatures I haven’t noticed?

Pilot Cutters and the Victory: books from Seaforth Publishing

Layout 1

I must read this book by seasoned sailor and writer Tom Cunliffe some time. Here’s what the Seaforth Publishing’s blurb says…

‘The pilot cutters that operated around the coasts of northern Europe until the First World War were among the most seaworthy and beautiful craft of their size ever built, while the small number that have survived have inspired yacht designers, sailors and traditional craft enthusiasts over the last hundred years.

‘They possessed a charisma unlike any other working craft; their speed and close-windedness, their strength and seaworthiness, fused together into a hull and rig of particular elegance, all to guide the mariner through the rough and tortuous waters of the European seaboard, bought them an enviable reputation.

‘This new book is both a tribute to and a minutely researched history of these remarkable vessels. The author, perhaps the most experienced sailor of the type, describes the ships themselves, their masters and crews,and the skills they needed for the competitive and dangerous work of pilotage. He explains the differences between the craft of disparate coasts – of the Scilly Islesand the Bristol Channel, of northern France, and the wild coastline of Norway – and weaves into the history of their development the stories of the men who sailed them.’

I notice that whoever wrote it has managed to capture the characteristic Cunliffe persuasive and salty style.

PS – A more recent release from Seaforth is Brian Lavery’s book Nelson’s Victory: 250 Years of War and Peace, which is published this month to coincide with the 250th anniversary of her launch.

Brian is also guest curator of an exhibition at the Chatham Historic Dockyard, if you have time to get over there.

The publisher’s notes promise the book is the most comprehensive book yet published on the topic and includes new and surprising revelations, including that:

  • she was almost wrecked on her launch
  • diplomacy conducted onboard her played a crucial role in provoking Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1912
  • 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm set the First World War in motion sitting at a desk made from her timbers

The book also tells the story of Horatio Nelson, who was born a few weeks before his most famous ship was ordered.