The ballad Captain Ward sung by Gavin Atkin – who learned it from the singing of Roy Harris.
This is a striking if historically inaccurate short ballad about an amazing character – a Faversham fisherman who became a pirate in the period following the Armada, then returned to fishing, was then pressed into the Navy, led a group of rebels who stole a ship and sailed to the Mediterranean, and after a series of battles and acts of villainous piracy accepted Islam along with his entire crew, and at the same time changed his name to Yusuf Reis.
Now, my history is pretty ropey – I make no claim to that discipline – but some say he taught the Moors how to be successful pirates.
If that’s true, there are some remarkable ramifications to consider, for nothwithstanding that there are various other people involved along the way, it would make Ward at least partly responsible for the extensive piracy and taking of slaves by Moorish pirates seen along the coast of South West England during the following decades. Anger over the Navy’s failure to deal with this issue contributed to turbulence of 17th and 18th century England, including the English Civil War, the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution that brought the Prince William of Orange to the English throne.
If that is all true, then our own Royals have old Captain Jack Ward to thank for their position today – or should we refer to him by his Islamic name, Yusuf Reis?
But that is not all. Should the rest of us also thank him for the bright colour of our carrots – which, we’re told are orange in homage to William of Orange?
Well – what do you think folks of Faversham and elsewhere?
I have to say, I’m reminded that there’s a house in Faversham’s Abbey Street that bears a plaque in memory of an earlier resident, Michael Greenwood, mariner, who lived from 1731/2 to 1812. Greenwood, it seems, was shipwrecked off Morrocco in 1758, and then enslaved and ransomed by Moors. See his plaque here.
PS – I’ve just found Roy Harris’s original 1975 recording on the Topic label here.
The spring’s always a busy time here at Intheboatshed Towers, but in between the rushing about and the chores, I’ve been greatly enjoying A C Stock’s volume, In Shoal Waters, published by Dick Wynne’s excellent Lodestar Books imprint.
The book’s available in hardback (£18) and paperback (at a democratic £10), and well worth every penny in either edition.
I think this short extract about Barking Creek exemplifies the careful way old Charles Stock, now sadly departed, was able to mix his history and his impressions…
‘Sunday dawned cold and overcast, with a strong wind from the north. I prefer a head wind for exploration as it makes it easy to get out again if you don’t like the place. The creek entrance was blocked by the construction works for the new flood barrier but open marsh on the western edge has allowed a temporary bypass to be cut, which I looked into at low tide. There didn’t seem to be much water there and it was too narrow to beat in comfortably so I brought up and ate a lazy breakfast. An hour later, with the first of the flood, Shoal Waters turned her bows towards Barking Mill.
‘In days long gone I would have been crossing tacks with a mass of other craft all working in on the young flood, but today I was alone. A coaster lay dried out against one of the busy wharves dominating the eastern bank where new machinery contrasted with ancient buildings. The western banks were still open and marsh fringed with Norfolk reed, and lively with duck. Barking, I reflected, was once an isolated village two miles upstream, a place where artful fishermen had their nets burned publicly in 1320 because the mesh was too small.
‘The centre-plate whispered as it touched the shallows each side and I pushed the helm down with one hand and lifted the plate a few inches with the other to bring her round on the other tack. The tide was running strongly now. The first of the bridges, the one carrying the A13, came into view and although it marks the limit for coasters, being so early on the tide I was able to sail straight through, where crumbling buildings merged with modern office blocks. A few weathered motor cruisers were being fitted out and a small lighter sat waiting patiently to be rigged as a spritsail barge. One thing was clear, the bricked-up doorways along the riverside indicated that they had all turned their backs on the river in favour of the motor vehicle. Yet here was once the largest trawler station in the kingdom – if not the world. Barking men claim to have been the first to make use of the trawl.’
‘The centre-plate whispered… ‘ That’s exactly what they do as they slice the mud.
Barking was once famous for its trawlers and colliers… And there’s an old song about it. Hear it performed by our great friends Annie Dearman and Steve Harrison. (By the way, they’re performing during the afternoon and evening of the Frittenden Old Fashioned Night Out on the 6th April.)
[THIS BOAT HAS NOW BEEN SOLD AND IS BEING RESTORED] By coincidence, down at Fowey, boat builder and restorer Marcus Lewis tells me one of his clients has a Fairey Falcon for sale. I guess it could either be returned to its former condition as a good-sized, good performing dinghy (there don’t seem to be too many around now, so she might appeal to a vintage dinghy enthusiast), or converted in much the same way as Shoal Waters was just 50 years ago.
The Falcon hull is a big boat for its 16ft length, was what Stock started with when he built his own boat - to the hull he added a small cabin, and fitted the gaff rig from his previous boat. (I should add that Shoal Waters is still sailing and doing well in the hands of ‘Creeksailor’ Tony Smith.)
Here’s what Marcus has to say about the Falcon:
‘Hi Gavin – I have a customer who has a Fairey Falcon dinghy in need of some serious tlc. She is getting on a bit, and some of the interior ply is a bit soft, but the hull seems strong, as proved recently when she spent six days underwater, after sinking on her mooring during the gales and floods.
‘There are some bits, mast boom, old mainsail, but her jib and spinnaker were lost. The owner is keen for her to have a new home where she will be looked after and cared for. She is available at very low cost to a sympathetic purchaser, so is there one out there? (Combi trailer not included.)’
For information, contact Marcus via his website.
Montagu whaler – a boat type that inspires a deep affection among some of those who have known them well
There’s a song about everything in my experience, and I’m not shy about reminding folks of this important cultural fact. I find they nod and smile, and pull expressions that show they think I’m being silly.
But this is an important matter, and I know I’m right, and that the evidence is there for those who look for it. So I was delighted this week a thread on the astoundingly bonkers Mudcat forum that led me to a song that pays tribute to a famous boat used by the British Navy – the Montagu whaler. Made and sung by a chap called Bernie Bruen, it’s available from the British Library sound archives website.
Bernie has a nice way with words, I’m sure you’ll agree. Listen to it here.
For more Intheboatshed.net posts about whalers, click here.
The words come from an old printed ballad – a ‘broadside‘ – made to be sold by street hawkers and around markets, fairs and doubtless pubs also.
Although there’s no indication of what the tune should be, the lyrics leave not doubt that the printer meant it to be sung to the tune used for the better known song Swansea Town.
Barking’s a very different place today, but in the first half of the 19th century it was a centre for the trawling trade, and only began to decline as a fishing port after about 1860.
This was partly because of the discovery of the ‘silver pits’ fisheries 70 miles off Spurn Point, after which most of the local fishing boat owners moved their home ports to Yarmouth, Hull or Grimsby.
However, another factor in the decline of trawling at Barking was was the development of the railway network, which made it quicker to transport fish from the new ports directly to London, and yet another was a dreadful storm off the Dutch Coast in December 1863 in which 60 Barking men drowned.
Annie comes from coastal Essex, and research by a family member has revealed that she might well have a family connection to the disaster off the coast of Holland and for her this knowledge has made this appealing little song seem very personal.
The story is that Edward Melvin (Annie’s great-great-grandfather), who was born between 1810 and 1820, lived near Barking Creek in the 1840 and 1850s; his father was a sailor and Melvin himself was a fisherman.
There are no records of Melvin’s death, but his wife (Elizabeth, nee Arnold) is listed as a fisherman’s wife in the 1861 census and as a widow in the 1871 census. Of the 60 who died, only about 15 men are named in press reports of the time – so it is therefore very possible that he was among those who were lost that day.