Photo gallery: Bringing Baden Powell back from the brink

A dedicated band of enthusiasts is restoring a beautiful boat built by a remarkable Norfolk family. CHARLOTTE PATON tells the story of the Baden Powell - and it's Worfolk builders.

She was built to harvest the rich banks of cockles in the Wash in the last full year of Queen Victoria's reign. Now the Baden Powell – named after the Boer War hero and later founder of the Scouting movement – is poised to have a new lease of life in the 21st century.

By next year a group of enthusiasts, headed by Tim Clayton, hope to be able to offer boat trips from the pontoon at King's Lynn down the Great Ouse and out to the Wash. The trip will have the added pleasure of being aboard this traditional cockler, built in the town in 1900 by Walter Worfolk.

Walter arrived in Lynn with his young family in 1899, having come down to the county from Yorkshire. His family had been boatbuilders for generations, building canal barges, sloops and keels - 60ft wooden trading ships that served the East Coast ports from the Humber to The Wash. Walter already knew that Lynn had no boatbuilding facilities to service the fishing fleet, and he put his skills to immediate use by building his first boat in Lynn, the 34ft Baden Powell, in a boat wright's yard he set up on the River Nar, close to the Boal Quay. Walter built her for local fisherman Harry Cook for £50. He liked her so much he gave Mr Worfolk a £5 tip - and a cruet set to Mrs Worfolk.

And then for almost 100 years Baden Powell and her crew braved the storms, the treacherous currents and the shifting sandbanks to gather the cockles and return them to the town until she was then - literally - left high and dry.


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Then in the 1990s the True's Yard Fishing Heritage Museum, the much-acclaimed community museum which has done so much to preservbe the memory of Lynn's ancient North End fishing quarter, were given two Worfolk-made boats. One was the Gladys, and the other - the Baden Powell.

When plans to have them restored fell through, they sat unrestored on the South Quay in Lynn for some years, until talk of a new complex of shops and houses meant they had to be moved.

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Local jeweller Tim Clayton, a trustee at True's Yard, agreed to take Gladys, who was built in about 1930 into store at his home in Terrington St John. Realising that the Baden Powell was an older boat, Tim took her back to his Marshland home too.

The Baden Powell is a 34ft double-ended cockler, a vessel of carvel construction, in which the planks are placed end to end round a frame. Double-ended boats are easier for the fishermen to handle while putting onto a sandbank to go and gather cockles at low tide. 'Cod head, mackerel tailed,' Tim describes it.

It was to restore the glory days of this beautiful built and thoroughly useful boat that Tim set up the charity The Worfolk Boat Trust, and in 2006 set about restoring the Baden Powell. The aim of the restorers is that in 2015, when the hull and the first deck beams are in place, she will be lifted by crane on to a low loader and driven the few miles into Lynn.

They then plan to lower her into the Purfleet, the town's historic inlet by the Custom House, to complete restoration and hopefully catch people's imagination while work is in progress.

If all goes well she will ready to be moored at the pontoon off the South Quay later in the year, in readiness for her new career, taking trippers on joy rides.

Chris Ward, a cabinet maker by trade, works with the group of restorers one day a week. He loves it. 'I am enjoying a sense of achievement, gradually seeing the boat transformed'.

He likes to keep busy: Chris also spends his retirement making beautifully-crafted rocking horses.

Ron Gray is another of the men who turn up every Wednesday to work on her, He admits he is 'no carpenter', but pitches in to help wherever he can, and make the tea. He modestly fails to tell me he is also treasurer of the charity.

The men talked to me of the pleasures of turning a traditional 'fid', a conical tool traditionally made of wood or bone. The fid is used to hold open knots and holes in canvas, and to separate the 'lays' (or strands) of rope for splicing.

The team need 4½in copper boat nails (if anyone has some kicking about spare, see contacts details below) and they also need advice and help with the engine fitting. It is a Thorneycroft Perkins 6 cylinder, similar to one put on during the 1930s. It has been refurbished in readiness for its refit.

They admit that work has been slow, and the setback of twice failing to gain lottery funding has been a blow - but the trust won't give up and is applying again. This year they found more problems in the planking, but once again they are determined they won't be beaten, and still hope to have the boat in the Purfleet next year.

Several of Baden Powell's oak frames needed replacing with new timber. Tim has scoured West Norfolk for suitable pieces to replace those that are beyond repair.

Of course, they could simply have had her craned onto a lorry, trucked off to Lowestoft for professional refurbishment, and brought back pristine six months later – for about £250,000. 'We could probably have had a replica built for half that!' Tim said.

But I get the feeling that even if the money had been available Tim and his group of restorers are enjoying the romantic thought that the boat is being brought back to life by local men, close to the place it all began. They are all adamant they don't want to see another piece of Lynn history disappearing. 'It would have been a crying shame to leave her just to rot and throw her away,' Tim said.

The Worfolk Boat Yard has a proud place in Lynn's maritime history. Firstly Walter, and then his sons Gerald and Bill crafted boats from oak and pitch pine, copper nails and caulking.

The Baden Powell was the first in a line of 600 or so vessels that took shape in their Lynn yard. The biggest boat they built was the Grace and Edna, at 65ft long, and she was the first motor fishing vessel they built. She was a prawn and whelker, built for Ben Culey.

They always made a scale model of the proposed boat so that customers could see what the final product would be like. It took them four months to build a smack, but could make a dinghy in four days. The brothers were used to hard work; their father had them hard at it six days a week, from six in the morning until often eight at night.

Patricia Hart (nee Dodd) is Walter's great-granddaughter. Gerald, her grandfather, lived in 6 George Street with his three children.

Pat said her mother Geraldine Dodd was not interested in the restoration at first, saying it was not one of the best Worfolk boats, but was now pleased to know the progress of the restoration, and glad that Baden Powell was going to return to her rightful place – the Lynn river.

The brothers officially retired in the 1970s but both continued to 'tinker' until Gerald died in 1981. William lived on to just past his 100th birthday, in 1994.

Vic Pratt, who was apprenticed to them for seven years, continued the boat building trade in Lynn until his retirement. He was the last boat builder in the town.

It is to honour the memory of boatbuilders like them that Tim and his team are determined to finish the job. 'Lynn boatbuilding has a proud place in Lynn's history, the Worfolk family in particular. As a maritime town we feel it is important to honour the tradition of this important part of the town's history,' he said.

From what I have seen, I am sure the charity and the men who work so devotedly, will do the memory of the Worfolks, and the Baden Powell proud.

A fund-raising CD has been released in which Bill Worfolk talks about his family's boatbuilding trade. The historic CD was compiled in 1978 when Bill was interviewed by the National Maritime Museum, in Greenwich, about his family, building boats, and the changing face of life in Lynn. Sales from the £10 CD will aid the Baden Powell project. Copies are available for £10 at True's Yard in North Street, King's Lynn, or Clayton's Jewellers, in Chapel Street.

If anyone has Wednesdays free or can help the men with knowledge of engine fitting (and those copper nails), please get in touch. More information from info@floatourboat.co.uk

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