Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Zetland and other maritime encounters

Last week I had the good fortune to visit the Zetland Lifeboat in Redcar. Zetland is a remarkable and venerable boat built in 1802, comparable in size to Peggy. She's the oldest surviving lifeboat in the world and her significance is attested to by her inclusion on the National Register of Historic Ships.

The Zetland lifeboat museum

I was very well-looked after by the volunteer staff who run the museum in which she's housed, particularly by Fred Brunskill of the Friends of the Zetland Lifeboat. It was fascinating to learn of the problems faced by the custodians, so similar and so different to those we face with Peggy. The main difference is that Zetland has a sealed deck, making her hard to study. Lately, under some raised deck planking, they have been able to ascertain that the tarred buoyancy 'boxes', designed to keep her afloat in all seas, are substantially rotted. More similar to the Peggy is the historic building in which Zetland is housed - it will be challenging to say the least to reduce and maintain a lower level of humidity in the building than that which it enjoys naturally.

A modern coble on the sea front in Redcar

One of the most striking things is that the hull-form of Zetland - the traditional coble common right up the NE coast of England and into Scotland - can clearly be seen in modern fishing vessels nearby. It's a flat bottomed hull ideally suited to launching from sandy beaches. A peculiarity of Peggy is that she is possibly the last surviving example of the shallop hull form, the once ubiquitous workhorse of inshore waters in the NW and cousin to the cobles of the NE.

I also visited the Grace Darling coble (1818) which, by contrast, is displayed as the centrepiece of a purpose-built museum in Bamburgh, and HMS Trincomalee in Hartlepool, a man of war of the same date, now a fully-restored visitor attraction. Both visits were very interesting.

HMS Trincomalee, a fully restored visitor attraction

Phase 2 begins...

Though it has been a while since my last post, we have not otherwise been idle. Paul Drury of the Drury Macpherson Partnership has been working very hard on the compilation of a Conservation Management Plan for the Nautical Museum which incorporates, of course, George Quayle's boat house. His research includes not only a detailed study of the buildings, their history and origins, but also a systematic perusal of all the relevant archival sources. Paul and his team have already unearthed some fantastic and hitherto unrecognised material, such as plans and sketches in George Quayle's hand from around 1812. Paul is hoping to organise a seminar on matters arising from his research later this year, to which we hope to invite knowledgeable and interested parties.

Meanwhile, Andrew Johnson, MNH Field Archaeologist, has been drafting a brief for the archaeological excavation of the dock outside the cellar. We have, with Paul's help, hit upon a means of removing the c. 100 tonnes of spoil from the dock through to the adjacent stable yard without the use of a crane. It'll involve reversing some alterations made to be buildings in or around 1950. We hope to put the brief out for quotation by commercial archaeological contractors soon, and to have the excavation completed within 6 to 8 months.

We are also hunting in earnest now for a suitable location on the island within which to study and conserve Peggy herself. We are aiming to have this facility fully prepared to accept her by late summer, 2014.

Finally, we have this week held an inaugural meeting of a steering group charged with defining and directing the various projects and sub-projects that our work on Peggy is generating. Amongst these are the management and interpretation of the Nautical Museum in the absence of its largest and most significant exhibit, and the conception and design of the visitor attraction in the long-term, including a new display space for Peggy. Happy days!