Thursday, 18 February 2010

In celebration of Albion


THE TIGHT-KNIT world of wherrydom will be celebrating tomorrow as an epic restoration project finally comes to an end. Albion – one of only two surviving trading wherries - has had £200,000 spent on her over the last ten years. But now at last the job is done. “She's in the finest shape that she has ever been in since she was first built,” skipper Paul Henry Gowman told the EDP. "Albion will be back on the water this spring, as spruce and as beautiful as ever.” The tale of how she was rescued and restored is told in the classic Broads book Black-Sailed Traders. Sadly it’s out of print,but here’s a flavour as author Roy Clark and wherryman Jack Cates return to Albion at Buckenham on the Yare:

Jack cocked an eye at the banks of cloud galloping away to the south-west. “Be some shovin’ to do if it don’t back a bit,” he murmured. As he spoke I caught a glimpse of red bunting through the bare branches of the alders and poplars. It was the Albion’s weather vane whipping and straining in the stiff breeze. And from its direction it certainly looked as if we were in for “some shovin’”, a delightful understatement for the back-aching grind of quanting when the wind comes foul.

We clambered up onto the stretch of rough planking which served as a landing-place and where the Albion was secured. In the cold, grey morning light the gleaming vermillion, white, blue and yellow of her deck works would have cheered the dullest heart….

We were surprised to find the village constable leaning on his bicycle looking at her. “Morning,” said Jack “’bout early aren’t you?”

“Always on the job that’s us you know,” answered the constable with a broad grin…”Came along to get a few eggs from the farm yonder and thought I’d have a decko at the old girl we all read so much about in the papers. Gets photographed like a film-star doesn’t she?”

We had to agree. Ever since she had been converted back into a trading wherry under canvas, the Albion had received her full share of publicity. Now wherever she went, people stopped and looked at her, because she was the last of her kind, rigged out and painted as a wherry should be, and doing the work such craft have done on the rivers of Norfolk and Suffolk for centuries past.”

This was written circa 1950. The years when we might have lost her forever. But thanks to people like Cates and Clark and hundreds of others who have followed in their wake, she’s as good as new in 2010 …and still being photographed like a filmstar.

* Thanks to Mike Sparkes for the period photo. For more on the restoration see earlier post.

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