New lease of life for wherry Albion

After a century of toil, it is hardly surprising that she has got a bad back. But with a bit of tender loving care the 108-year-old wherry Albion - the last of Norfolk's black sailed traders - could be given a new lease of life.

After a century of toil, it is hardly surprising that she has got a bad back.

But with a bit of tender loving care the 108-year-old wherry Albion - the last of Norfolk's black sailed traders - could be given a new lease of life.

And if a £50,000 fundraising scheme to restore the boat's hog, or backbone, proves successful there is no reason why she cannot continue to represent the county's industrial heritage for years to come.

Roger Watts, who is responsible for maintenance and restoration at the Norfolk Wherry Trust, which has launched the Hog Project, said the problem had arisen over many years since the boat ceased use as a trading vessel and stopped carrying heavy loads.

With no counter balance to correct the weight of the mast to the bow and the rudder to the stern, the central section of the boat has risen.

Mr Watts said: “This bend has existed for a long time and in the 1960s a slipping keel was replaced with a fixed keel to hold the bend. Now we plan to remove this, allow the boat to settle until the hog straightens and then fasten a shaped keel in place.

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“The aim is to make the wherry resemble its original form more closely. She was never the most shapely vessel but she now appears very flat. It should also improve her sailing qualities.

“Finally we hope it will help secure her future. Ultimately she is made of wood and, as long as the support and the will exists, there is no reason why we can't keep removing pieces of wood and replacing them with other ones.”

The trust has already secured a large part of the cost and is working to find businesses and other organisations to contribute. It is also appealing to the public and its members. The work is scheduled to take place in the autumn of 2007.

“We have tried to plan for all contingencies,” said Mr Watts. “But she is very fragile. When you start taking parts off a vessel of this age it is inevitable you will uncover more problems.”

This latest restoration will see Albion return to Lake Lothing, between Oulton Broad and Lowestoft, where she was built in 1898 by

by William Brighton at a cost of £455.

He built her for a firm of Bungay maltsters, W.D. and A.E. Walker. It was planned that she should operate mainly on the river Waveney and the Bungay navigation.

Albion's first freight was coal from Lowestoft to Bungay for a shilling a ton. She was intended to carry a load of 36 tons, but later proved herself to be better than this, on one occasion making the same journey laden with more than 41 tons of cattle cake.

Today she is maintained by the trust to preserve the once common site of wherries on Norfolk and Suffolk waterways. The trust charters her out to both members and non-members.

Visit www.wherryalbion.org.uk