WALTER WORFOLK’S BADEN POWELL
Written by Malcolm Doughty, grandson of the Worfolks.
The first boat that Walter Worfolk built at his Friars boatyard is now fully restored and moored in King’s Lynn on the pontoon in the river. It is available for trips in the River Great Ouse and out to the Wash. She has a full set of sails which are used whenever possible and can carry seven passengers in the hold. She is fully seaworthy and ventures on occasions round to Wells-next-the Sea.
To get her to this condition was not an easy task, Baden Powell’s fishing career ended in the early 1990’s and she was donated to True’s Yard, a local independent fishing museum, with a view to keeping her afloat and using her as an exhibit. Pulled up on the Boal Quay, within sight of her place of birth, she suffered from vandalism and the elements. Plans soon ground to a halt after the initial costings of the work were revealed and the boat came close to being cut up and carried away.
Eventually she was transported inland to Terrington St John where she was covered with tarpaulins to protect her from the worst of the weather. The hulk was surveyed to find out the extent of restoration. Professional advice suggested that it would take two years and £250,000 to fully restore her. In 2009, the King’s Lynn Worfolk Boat Trust was formed and ownership of the boat was transferred from True’s Yard on condition that it did not leave King’s Lynn permanently.
Fundraising for the restoration began and a grant of £76,300 was received from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2014. In 2015 Baden Powell was moved to a boat yard in St Osyth in Essex. It was decided that as so many timbers were failing, nothing short of a rebuild would do. Each replacement piece of the hull and decking was matched to the original and then substituted directly, so that the lines of the boat haven’t changed. Brian Kennel and Shaun White made a superb job of restoring the hull. In 2016 Baden Powell returned to Terrington St John where she was placed undercover for making the spars, the installation of the engine and ballasting which took place along with all of the finishing work. In 2017 Baden Powell returned to the water and she was fitted with her sails. She now regularly sails the Great Ouse with visitors and supporters.
The East Coast of the United Kingdom has always been known for its seafaring traditions with some large ports that trade internationally and smaller ports that trade with other European ports. Another tradition on the East coast is fishing and boat building where in the past there were large fishing ports such a Grimsby, Hull, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth that had fleets of trawlers that fished the seas around Iceland, Norway and into the Arctic Circle. There were also many smaller ports that had fleets of boats that fished offshore around the coastal waters. These smaller fishing boats caught the smaller fish and shellfish. These boats brought in cockles, whelks and winkles from the sand banks and around the nearby coast. King’s Lynn was one of these smaller ports that had a thriving dock that traded with European ports and ports as far away as North Africa, Scandinavia and Russia. There was also a thriving fishing fleet that fished for all the seasonal fish and shellfish. With all of this marine activity were the craftsmen who designed, built and repaired the ships and boats that worked to and from the port. One of these craftsmen was Walter Worfolk.
The Worfolk family came to England from Germany in 1612. They helped to build various wooden battle fleets at Southampton and later moved north to Yorkshire.
Walter Worfolk was born in the small village of Stainforth, near Doncaster, South Yorkshire in 1864 and was one of several sons of Joseph Worfolk, a master shipwright and boatbuilder. The Worfolks had built canal craft for generations with yards at Agbrigg, Castleford, Worsbury and Rotherham.
They built Humber Keels, the workhorses of the canal system connecting to the Humber, and sloops which traded out to the East Coast ports including King’s Lynn. The sloops of timber or steel were up to 60ft long with fore and aft rig and until the late 19th century, the wooden ones were the largest clinker-built craft in Europe. The Keels were functional craft with a square rig and the hull length dictated by the smallest lock on the canals on which they would work. Sloops and Keels were all built for capacity, flat bottoms and long straight vertical sides.
Walter married Lily Maria Florence Silvester in 1886. Lily’s father, Thomas Silvester, traded with King’s Lynn from the Humber. They in turn had six children, including sons Gerald and William. Lily’s uncle, William Lancaster, had moved to King’s Lynn and was involved in carting, removal and farming and eventually owned the Hulk pub in Bridge Street. William offered Walter work and accommodation and the family moved to King’s Lynn, arriving by train on 26th February 1899.
Walter set up his yard in the Friars area of King’s Lynn on the River Nar and in 1900 started his first boat to be built in King’s Lynn. The boat was ordered by Harry Cook. It was to be a 33ft, double-ended, shellfish boat which made it easier to handle for cockling out on the sandbanks in the Wash. The craft was patriotically named Baden Powell after Britain’s Boer war hero, later founder of the Scouting movement. When the boat was delivered, Mr Cook liked it so much that he gave Walter an extra £5 on top of the agreed £50 and a cruet set for Mrs Worfolk. This was the first of over 600 boats built by the Worfolk family in King’s Lynn.
By 1906 Walter’s sons, Bill and Gerald, joined the business serving a full seven year apprenticeship. Boat building was in their blood and they knew nothing else.
The Worfolk’s Boats
Walter’s boats became very popular with the local fishermen and businesses. He received commissions from the Royal Navy for dinghies and whalers and they also built pilot cutters and yachts.
By 1910, they were building their 30th boat which was a 50ft barge called ‘Nellie’ which was for the West Norfolk Farmers Manure and Chemical Company – the old Muckworks factory in Saddlebow Road. This was powered by a steam boiler built by local engineers, Messrs. Dodman, and the engine by Hayes of Stoney Stratford.
In April 1912, ‘George and Charles’ was launched. She was 50ft long with a 14ft 8ins beam and a 6ft draught and she was built for Bill’s father-in-law, Henry Lemon. Bill and Ethel were married in 1917 and when Henry died in 1920, Bill sold the boat to Boston owners who changed the name to ‘Freda and Nora’.
In 1914 the Worfolks built the ‘Britannia’, ordered by Alf Rake of Lynn at a cost of £290. Sails were extra, her mainsail costing £99. The frames were made from selected oak trees from the Sandringham Estate and planked with Archangel Redwood fastened with 5 inch galvanised spikes. ‘Britannia’ was one of the largest at 58ft in length with a beam of 13ft 6ins and 8ft draught. She was launched on 10th April 1915 and worked from Lynn for 15 or so years and was regarded as the fastest boat afloat capable of 14 knots in the right conditions. ‘Britannia’ was built for whelking on the Dudgeon further off the Norfolk coast so speed was important.
In the 1930’s, the whelk fishery died out and ‘Britannia’ was sold to Boston where she had an engine fitted and was used for trawling. When her fishing days eventually finished, she was sold for conversion to a house boat and was moored in Lowestoft for many years and then moved to Bristol and other West Country ports. In 1984, she was restored to a seaworthy condition and sailed to the island of Canna in the Inner Hebrides. ‘Britannia’ stayed in the Hebrides for two years then moved to Skye doing charters around the Western Isles before sailing off to the Canaries for the winter. She returned to the south coast in 1996 and after a few years she was lying in poor shape in Brixham. One of the previous owners found her and formed the Britannia Sailing Trust with the aim of restoring her and keeping her working. Britannia’s relaunch after restoration is due to be in September 2023.
‘George and Annie’ was built in 1921 at the Friars yard and was a 45ft fishing boat for G. Bone and Sons. This boat, along with many more local boats, was commandeered during World War 2 where she was lost after striking a mine.
‘John and Rebecca’ was launched in 1924, one of the last to be built using sail power. Like many vessels, it changed names over the years, changing to ‘Three Brothers’, and ending with ‘Rob Pete’ after the names of two sons of the owner, John Garnett.
1931 saw the launch of ‘Valiant’, built as an offshore schooner and later converted to a ketch. ‘Valiant’ sailed round the world which took three years to complete.
The largest fishing smack to be built was ‘Grace and Edna’, which was the first motor fishing vessel in the King’s Lynn fleet. She was 65ft and she was a prawner and whelker and built for Ben Culey.
Much work was done during the War for the Royal Navy, building and repairing many different types of craft ready for war service.
In 1950, they built a 33ft. Norfolk coast whelker named ‘Amethyst’ for Harry Loose of Brancaster. For many years, the crab boats used by Norfolk fishermen had been made by builders in the Sheringham area. These Sheringham craftsmen used to boast that no-one else could build a crab boat. But that was proven incorrect by the Worfolk brothers. In 1952, they built their first crab boat, ‘Why Worry’, for Mr Leslie Harrison of Cromer. It performed so well that Mr Harrison’s brother ordered an almost identical craft which was one of the biggest crab boats ever built at 18ft. 6ins. overall, 7ft. 6ins beam and its construction was entirely of oak and larch.
1958 saw the first boat to be built for over 30 years launched into the Great Ouse. The boat was ordered by the Castleton family for general fishing in the Wash. The boat was named ‘Agnes C’ after the owners wife who launched it on a cold damp morning.
The boat was of a different design with a wheelhouse at the cruiser stern, fitted with echo-sounding equipment and wireless. It was 36ft. overall, 11ft. 6ins. beam. It was fitted with a 52hp engine that was remotely controlled from the wheelhouse.
1978 saw the last boat, of over 600, to be built by the Worfolk Brothers launched into the Dock at King’s Lynn. The ‘Lady of Lynn’ was a 32ft 6ins vessel, based on the old Wash shellfish boats, which took the brothers, by now both in their 80’s, two and a half years to complete. Gerald was taken ill six months after the project started but Bill carried on to finish the boat. The boat was ordered by keen sailor, Dr Richard Huntsman, of Brancaster, and registered as a Lynn fishing boat, LN107. After launching, the next day the boat was taken on a trial run down the river. A few days later she set sail for her new home in St John’s, Newfoundland. It took the three man and one lady crew about 21 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean via the Azores. 1985 saw her return to King’s Lynn for some repairs, a few improvements and engine work. After the work was completed, Richard Huntsman’s son, Tim, set sail for Vancouver, British Columbia coincidently named after an 18th century sailor and explorer, Lynn born Captain George Vancouver.
Gerald and Bill had retired many times but could not stay at home idle. They always found a way back to boat building. Bill spent many hours giving advice to restorers and amateur boatbuilders. Gerald passed away at the age of 90, and Bill at the age of 100.
(Click on images to enlarge)
♦ To help preserve the maritime heritage of King’s Lynn and promote it through the restoration and public use of a historic boat.
♦ To keep her in sound condition for future generations to enjoy.
♦ To use her as a sail training vessel for Youth Organisations.
♦ To use her as an historic learning aid for schools, bringing Lynn’s ancient fishing, sailing and discovery heritage to life.
♦ To make her self sufficient in upkeep by the use of chartering, donations, grants and other forms of funding.
♦ To take passengers out to The Wash to see the seals, upriver to see the Fen landscape, and along the waterfront to learn about the town’s maritime history.
♦ To recreate the cockling trips she did for more than 80 years with the original boat.
Your donations of money, materials, services or time will help us to achieve all these objectives and more.
The age-old question: is the result of restoration the same boat or is it a new boat? When restoring the Baden Powell, we preserved as many original parts as were usable. Timbers were replaced one at a time during the restoration and so BP still has the original shape, design and concept as when Walter Worfolk built her in 1900.
Please watch the video below. Leo is doing a marvellous job restoring the Tally Ho, and we subscribe to his restoration theory.
As discussed in Leo’s video, a human being’s cells are constantly dying and being replaced. So does that mean that they aren’t the same person as ten years ago?