Nostalgic return planned for Blogg's boat

RICHARD BATSON Paint peels off the hulk of a battered old boat chocked up high and dry by a coastal roadside.Brambles lap over the planks where fish once breathed their last, while brimming nets have given way to birds' nests.

RICHARD BATSON

Paint peels off the hulk of a battered old boat chocked up high and dry by a coastal roadside.

Brambles lap over the planks where fish once breathed their last, while brimming nets have given way to birds' nests.

But 70 years ago it would have been hard at work on the seas off north Norfolk, under the expert seamanship of the nation's most famous lifeboatman.

The historic "hoveller" belonged to Cromer's legendary Henry Blogg at the height of his lifesaving heyday.

Now, after years lying derelict and escaping death by chainsaw, there are hopes that the boat can be restored and returned to his home town.

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And ironically the move comes from just a few miles down the road - Cromer's "rival" resort of Sheringham.

If it comes off, it will be the latest rescue connected to a man whose 53 years' service on the local lifeboat, including 40 as coxswain from 1907-47, saw it launch 387 times saving 873 lives.

His seafaring skills and bravery earned him a tally of honours which remain unbeaten to this day - three RNLI gold medals, four silvers, a George Cross and British Empire Medal.

But during his "day job" as a fisherman, one of Blogg's boats was the QJ and J - a hoveller, much bigger than the standard crab boat, whose three-man crew would have gone further offshore in search of herring and whelks too.

It was made at Sheringham in 1915 by the well-known boatbuilding Emery family - then headed by Robert "Calla" Emery, son of Lewis "Buffalo" Emery who fashioned the town's Henry Ramey Upcher lifeboat which is still on display there as a tourist attraction.

That was the plan for the QJ and J too, when local preservationists heard in 1996 it had ended its sailing days as a pleasure craft on the Blackwater estuary in Essex - and faced being broken up.

"It was going to be cut up with a chainsaw, so we decided to bring it back to Sheringham," said Tony Sadler, who is in charge of the local museum trust's historic boat collection.

Three of the town's other old lifeboats will form the centrepiece of a new £1.1m seafront museum due to open in the summer of 2008, and which will also have a handful of local fishing boats on show.

"We wanted to put the QJ and J on show near lifeboat plain, just yards from where it was built, but we have run out of room - so we thought the next best place for it was Cromer."

Asked if that was a tough decision because of the so-called rivalry between the two towns, he added: "It was Blogg's, so it was the right thing to do. If they can preserve her, then good on 'em."

The hoveller is currently stored by local fisherman Jim Lingwood just outside Sheringham beside a popular coast road, where many Sunday drivers will have cruised past without realising its historic significance.

Cromer Town Council has agreed to take on ownership and insurance of the QJ and J, while North Norfolk District Council says it can be put in the Rocket House Gardens near the walkway to the cliff lift.

That would see the fishing boat close to the Henry Blogg museum which showcases local lifeboat history, and has his HF Bailey boat as a centrepiece.

Local museum helper Tony Rogers, who has agreed to maintain the QJ and J, said it was used by Blogg between 1931 and 1937. It was built for Blogg's stepfather John James Davies, and took its name from his grandchildren Queenie, Jack and Jimmy.

There archive pictures of it on Cromer's Gangway, including one with a young woman tourist seated by the bow. It was later heightened and had portholes added in its pleasureboat days.

In 1938 it was sold to a Wells fisherman, and played a role during the Dunkirk evacuation, ferrying soldiers to larger ships offshore.

Mr Rogers said the opportunity of bringing the boat back to Cromer was a "chance not to be missed" and now aimed to talk with the authorities, regeneration group, and boatbuilding sector about funding and skills to move the project forward. Anyone who can help should contact him on 01263 512768.

See today's EDP Sunday for an interview with artist Mick Bensley, who has spent 10 years charting the daring deeds of Norfolk's lifeboatmen, including Henry Blogg.