New life for Lydia Eva

A priceless piece of the region's history is to be restored to her former glory. The drifter Lydia Eva will be transformed into a floating museum and will once again grace the waters of the North Sea.

In her heyday, she was one of more than a thousand fishing boats filling the harbours of Yarmouth and Lowestoft laden with freshly caught cod, haddock and herring.

Today, almost 80 years on, the Lydia Eva is the last surviving vessel from an industry that shaped the towns of the east of England.

In the early 1900s the fishing industry was booming. As fleets of boats followed the fish around the British coast, more than 1,000 drifters could descend on the east coast at any given time.

And with hauls of up to 800,000 herrings netted each day, workers from around the country flocked to the area, eager for the employment in the booming fishing industry.

But by the time the Lydia Eva was built in 1930, the tide was turning. Overfishing, foreign competition and the collapse of overseas markets took their toll, leaving thousands of fisher-men and onshore workers unemployed, and countless drifters redundant. Just eight years after she was built in King's Lynn, the Lydia Eva had netted her last catch.

But through a twist of fate, which saw her picked for service for both the Ministry of War Transport and later the Royal Navy while the other drifters were cut up for salvage, the Lydia Eva survived.

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Now, thanks to the tireless work of the Lydia Eva Trust, which was founded in 1989, the priceless piece of the region's history is to be restored to her former glory.

Over the coming months, thanks to a grant of £839,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the drifter will be transformed into a floating museum and next spring will once again grace the waters of the North Sea.

Work has already begun to survey the steel hull of the drifter, which is currently in dry dock in Lowestoft, with the trust expecting to replace up to 60pc of it.

Then in June, specialist workmen will begin restoring the superstructure, woodwork and the engine and boiler room, making her seaworthy once again.

Finally, the fish hold will be transformed into a museum charting the historical importance of drifters like the Lydia Eva to the fishing industry, as well as recording the lives of those who sailed in her.

Last night, chairman of the trust Alan Bagley said watching the restoration begin had been quite emotional.

“It's hard to describe,” he said. “It has taken us a long, long time to get here. The Lydia Eva is the last piece of the jigsaw, she is the last one and that is what makes her special.

“The hull is very thin, so our first task has been to take her out of the water, clean her up and carry out a survey of the hull. The risk is all in the hull because without her being water tight we haven't got a project,” he said.

“Once that is complete, we will have a much better idea of what needs repairing, but we are expecting to have to replace around 60pc of the hull.

“Then we can go on to working on the superstructure, the electrics, engine and boiler room and the museum.

“We are hoping to sail her to Yarmouth next spring, where she will port and officially be opened as a museum,” he said.