A trip to Sharpness

By Peter Harrison

Photo:A Bowker and King tanker passing through the High Level Bridge at Sharpness

A Bowker and King tanker passing through the High Level Bridge at Sharpness

by Hugh Conway Jones

In the 1970's I worked in an oil depot in Monkmeadow Dock in Gloucester and my colleague Norman Harris was friendly with the skipper of a Bowker and King oil tanker, a man named Arthur Pennington.  Bowker and King operated a fleet of  tankers and in about 1969/70 they started bringing oil products from the refinery at Swansea to the Shell depot at Quedgeley. It's not there now, but it was just north of the Pilot Bridge on the east bank of the canal. They also delivered smaller quantities to the Esso depot in Monkmeadow Dock. All the Bowker and King boats names started with the letter B, and I remember the Bude, Borman, Bisley and Budleigh plying up and down the canal.

The Budleigh

My friend arranged for me to take a trip from Gloucester to Sharpness on the Budleigh, skippered by Mr Pennington. I went on board in Monkmeadow Dock and we set off for Sharpness. These tankers carried about a thousand tons of product and were probably some of the largest ships to use the canal and so passing through the bridge holes was quite a skilful business with only a couple of feet to spare on each side. The ship passed so close to the bridge that when we arrived at Sandfield Bridge one of the crew members who was going off duty and who lived in Saul was able to jump down onto it as we passed by.  I'm not sure what a Health and Safety Officer would have to say about that these days!

Splatt Bridge to Sharpness

In my opinion the best part of the trip was from Splatt Bridge to Sharpness, because there are beautiful open views across the River Severn to the Forest of Dean beyond. The trickiest section was at Purton where there are two bridges, Purton Upper and Purton Lower, quite close together and after passing through the first one the canal bends to the left so the boat had to be lined up quickly to pass through the lower bridge The crew hung fenders from the ships bow to prevent collision with the bridge work but we came through unscathed.

When we reached Sharpness, the High Level Bridge had to be swung to let us through and then we moored in the Dock to wait for the tide so that the Budleigh could lock out into the Severn  and carry on to Swansea to pick up another load of fuel. Sadly I had to leave the ship but I had a most enjoyable afternoon on the canal.

This page was added by Peter Harrison on 30/06/2009.

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