Herefordshire builds a new River Wye trow for the Queen’s Jubilee

Wye trow being built at boat builders T Neilsen of Gloucester Docks for the Royal Jubilee

We’ve just heard the exciting news that the folks of Herefordshire are building a new Wye trow to represent the county during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June 2012.

My thanks to regular Chris Perkins for alerting me to this story. As he says, the new Wye trow will make great company at the Queen’s rowing event for the St Ayles skiff Ulla, which is also taking part.

Not that Ulla will be short of company: the boating pageant will involve some 1,000 boats led by the Queen in a Royal Barge passing from Battersea Bridge to Tower Bridge on the 3rd June. As many as a million spectators are expected to turn out to watch.

When Herefordshire was asked if it would like to take part, Deputy Lord Lieutenant Bob Tabor recruited four retired naval personnel living in the county  together with the rowing director of Ross Rowing Club to work with him and embarked on the project to build a new Wye Trow. It will no doubt be the first such vessel to be built for more than a century, if not a century and a half.

The building work, which is being paid for by private sponsorship, is being carried out buy boat builders T Neilsen & Co at Gloucester Docks. ) Larch trees for planking, some oak for the frames and a Douglas fir for the mast were donated by Major David Davenport from the Foxley Estate, while the rest of the oak was been provided by Sir John Cotterell of Garnons Estate and Michael Stern of Ty Olchon Timber. The timber was transported by local company ABE (Ledbury).

(Sam Llewellyn author and publisher of the beautifully made Marine Quarterly has been in touch to say that much of the timber for the Wye trow was chosen and sawn by Willy Bullough of Whitney Sawmill. Thanks Sam! I’ll be reporting on the latest MQ when I’ve finished enjoying it!)

Following lofting the new boat began to take shape during December 2011. Some 36ft long and with a 9ft beam, it will have eight oars. Following the Jubilee, it will be fitted with a mast for sailing.

Trows were used to transport freight on the Rivers Wye and Severn in the 18th and 19th centuries: they were flat-bottomed barges with shallow draught, and were powered by sail, or drawn by horses or men. The River Wye trows were built at Hereford and at other places along the river used to move general cargoes including coal and wood, cider and wool up river as far as Leominster on the River Lugg. Their heyday ended with the coming of the railway. Only one complete trow still exists, a River Severn trow that is kept at the Ironbridge Museum in Shropshire.

The story of the trows is described in this interesting Village News article. I was particularly struck by the reference to the Purton hulks: a particular point on the river became a graveyard for unwanted vessels starting from an exercise in 1909 in which a series of redundant craft were placed there to stop the river bank from eroding. More and more craft, including trows, were placed there over the years and it became a tremendous repository of historic craft – and has now been recognised by British Waterways, which now owns the site. Read about the Purton hulks here, here and here.