July 2008

Keeping the Trust Afloat

Sorry no Picture
HANDY MEN … the restoration team, from left, Ted Smith, Peter Weightman, Gordon Brown, Abiy Shiberu Zegeye and Fred Crowell
ETHIOPIAN Abiy Shiberu Zegeye may be a long way from home but he’s found real friends among a group of maritime enthusiasts in South Tyneside.  Since becoming a Friend of the North East Maritime Trust (NEMT) earlier this year, the 28-year-old asylum seeker has proved he is invaluable in the work to restore traditional sailing craft. The former merchant seaman spends most days working at the NEMT workshop in Wapping Street, on the riverside in Shields, gaining valuable experience and helping on other projects. These include the careful restoration of the Rachel Douglas, a traditional seine-net fishing boat which was used off the north-east coast. Abiy, a volunteer Community Connection team member with CSV Training and Enterprise North East, will be honoured by the Trust with a certificate of achievement at the NEMT’s first anniversary open day on Saturday. It’s hoped that more people will follow Abiy’s example and lend their support by becoming one of the official Friends of the charity, a core number of who have used their time and effort to start restoration work on the workshop and lifeboat. Alec Renwick, honorary secretary of the Trust, said: “Abiy has been a tremendous help to us in our restoration work, and I hope he feels he has made some friendships as well. He was one of our original Friends membership number 12 and we wanted to recognise his hard work and his enthusiasm for our project.” As well as saving and restoring traditional craft, NEMT is also keen to provide training opportunities to people. young and old, who are interested in the construction, care and restoration of wooden boats, including cobles or any traditional boats specific to the region. As I mentioned earlier this week, the Henry Frederick Swan, recorded by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution as being the longest-serving lifeboat in the UK, is currently the Trust’s biggest restoration project. Anyone visiting on Saturday can learn more about the interesting restoration projects the Trust has lined up. As well as restoring the 90-year-old Henry Frederick Swan to its former glory, the charity is also currently restoring a traditional north-east sailing coble, which will also be on show. South Tyneside Council is backing the NEMT by giving it the use of the workshop at a nominal rent. A feasibility study will shortly be carried out, funded by the Lottery Development Fund, to set targets and investigate the possibility of a long-term lease of the workshop. It is hoped that the charity can also shortly obtain funding to help set up its own website. Alec said: “Our members will celebrate the first 12 months of operation and to show visitors the kind of work we are doing in the workshop. We would love to meet people with boatbuilding skills, as well as those who just have an interest in the wonderful maritime heritage of our region and want to share their experiences.” The Trust’s workshop in Wapping Street, next to Fred Cowell’s, the boat builder, will be open on Saturday between 11am and 3pm. If you are interested in becoming a Friend of the North East Maritime Trust on the day, registration for annual membership costs 10, payable to NEMT Friends.. By JANIS BLOWER

Bringing boat back to former glory

WOODEN vessels, from collier brigs to pilot cobles, used to be the work horses of the Tyne. But over the years they have dwindled to almost nothing on the river.?But now a new South Tyneside-based group has committed itself to restoring what it believes is the neglected maritime heritage of this region, beginning with an historic lifeboat.?JANIS BLOWER has been looking at the hopes and vision of the North East Maritime Trust. THESE days the Henry Frederick Swan looks as battered a survivor as the Tyne’s maritime traditions.?It could even be said to have fared better.?The new North East Maritime Trust (NEMT) makes no bones of its belief that preservation and promotion of this area’s marine heritage needs a serious boost.?Boat-building skills have almost disappeared, rare vessels are being scrapped, and there is insufficient educational support for passing on the record of our seafaring greatness to generations now coming along.?Even tourism doesn’t tap the wealth of our seagoing legacy effectively enough, they say.?Plus there is a shortage of vessels, local and traditional to the area, on the water, with no guarantee that those that are will still be there for future generations.?What kind of vessels? Well, think of cobles, fishing boats, lifeboats, the double-ended fishing coble known as a mule, to mention just a few: all those largely wooden-built workaday craft that used to fill rivers like the Tyne in profusion but which, somehow, we let slide away unnoticed.?Which is where the Henry Frederick Swan, recorded by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) as being the longest-serving lifeboat in the UK, comes in.?Nearly 90 years after she first came to the river, she has returned to the Tyne to be restored here at South Shields by the newly-formed trust, which hopes she will be only the first of many projects that will redress years of neglect of a great nautical tradition.?With the support of South Tyneside Council and the Barbour Trust, the NEMT has taken premises in Wapping Street on the riverside where the lifeboat will be restored to her former glory.?”I think that the basing of a restoration of a lifeboat in South Shields is particularly apt, given the history of William Wouldhave and Henry Greathead, and the fact that she was a Tynemouth lifeboat originally” said retired naval architect Robert Hunter. ? Directors include such influential figures as Peter Weightman, chairman of the Tyne-Tweed Coble and Keelboat Society, and Alec Renwick, founder, chairman and director of Sunderland Maritime Heritage. ?Individually, some of the trustees have already themselves acquired and renewed traditional fishing craft for display on the water.?But the trust’s work isn’t just about the end result: that is, a fully-restored vessel.?They also want to offer training opportunities to young people with an interest in wooden boat construction, care and restoration.?”We want to hear from people who are keen to get involved, and to participate as helpers,”?It won over other locations on the north-east coast because of its established maritime roots, say the trust, who were looking for a location where vessels could be maintained by people with traditional skills, and where those skills could be passed on to the next generation.?The trust also wants to build on the success, during the Mouth of the Tyne festival last year, of a Small Ships’ Regatta which was organised by the NEMT’s honorary secretary Alec Renwick and which brought more than 20 traditional sailing boats into the Tyne.?The NEMT is also interested in establishing a maritime centre on the river at South Shields, perhaps even with the construction of a replica collier brigantine.?Plus, a link has been established with the Roman fort of Arbeia which, one day, could lead to the construction of a replica Roman ship of the kind that served the fort when it was an important supply base for Hadrian’s Wall.?n If you are interested in becoming a Friend of the North East Maritime Trust, registration for annual membership costs 10, payable to NEMT Friends. Write to Robert Hunter, 2 Westoe Hall, Westoe Village, South Shields NE33 3EG.??* THE Henry Frederick Swan was built during the First World War at the Cowes yard of S E Saunders on the Isle of Wight.?She cost 6,901 to construct, and was a gift from the widow of Henry Frederick Swan who had been prominent in Tyne shipbuilding circles and was also chairman of the Tynemouth branch of the RNLI for many years.?She replaced the previous Tynemouth lifeboat Henry Vernon, which had been transferred to Sunderland where it remained in service until 1935.?The Henry Frederick Swan’s first recorded rescue was in the winter of 1920 when she went to the assistance of a steam trawler, the Current, that had run aground on the Black Middens.?In subsequent years the lifeboat, housed at Clifford’s Fort at North Shields, was called out many times, but it was her last call-out of that era on the Tyne station that was also the most tragic.?Capsized?This was shortly before the Second World War when the Cullercoats lifeboat Richard Silver Oliver capsized while on exercise. Six of the 10 lifeboatmen aboard were lost.?The Henry Frederick Swan eventually passed into the reserve fleet in 1939, being replaced by the John Pyemont.?In 1941, however, an air raid destroyed both the RNLI and Tyne Lifeboat Society boathouses at North Shields, together with the boats John Pyemont and James Young that were inside them.?The Henry Frederick Swan consequently returned to service and during the war assisted several vessels, including the submarine Tuna when she ran aground south of St Mary’s Island in 1943.?Eventually the old lifeboat was replaced with a new one, the Tynesider, and was subsequently acquired by local Sea Scouts, passing into private ownership.

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