River Heritage

The Spry

By Brian Bailey

RIVER HERITAGE

Severn Trows were part of everyday life on and around the waterways of Saul Junction and the River, up to 100 years or so ago.

Unfortunately not a single vessel of this type now remains anywhere in this area.  To my knowledge, only two complete crafts exist anywhere, one somewhere in Somerset and the Spry at Blists Hill Museum, Ironbridge.

The Spry

In 1996/97 I had the great privilege to be asked to help on the Spry after she had been at the Festival of the Sea, Bristol.

There has been much written on Trows by people more knowledgeable than myself.  It is sufficient to say here that the Spry was built at Chepstow in 1894 and registered in Gloucester. She was 71.5ft. long and 18.2ft wide and spent much of her life hauling stone in the Bristol/Gloucester area.  In her later life, she became a floating workshop and dumb barge towed by tugs.  Her final resting place was in Digliss Basin in Worcester where in the early 80's she was lifted from the mud, transported to Ironbridge Gorge, Blists Hill Museum where, over the next twelve years or so, she was lovingly rebuilt.

This story is about my involvement with the Spry from first seeing her partly restored, to her leaving Sharpness Docks to return by road to Ironbridge, the last Trow to travel on the Gloucester/Sharpness ship canal.  I hope that from this, people may become more aware of our local involvement with the River in the past.

Interview with Alan Williams and William, crew member

The story starts with a visit to interview Alan Williams, one of the principal persons involved in restoring this historic craft.  This interview cemented my interest in the Trows of the River Severn, what were they like and the men who worked in them.  As well as the clip from Alan Williams on rebuilding the craft, there is also a clip of William, crew of the Elkstone, recorded in the early 50's.  Unfortunately I do not have William's surname, and if anyone can help identify this gentleman I would only be too pleased to hear from them.

It was not until after the Festival of the Sea, that the Spry once again returned to her rightful home in the Bristol Channel making her way to her home port of Gloucester.

The Journey from Sharpness to Dock in Gloucester

The Spry entered Sharpness Docks on the noontide and waited until the next day to continue her journey up the canal to Gloucester, passing Frampton and Saul some two hours later, a time for the crew to relax, but not the man on the tiller.  All journeys were not as uneventful as ours, as Sam Aldridge relates in his piece "bad weather".  Eventually we docked in her homeport of Gloucester.

The return journey to the estuary and away

Over the next few months a great effort was made to keep the Spry in her homeport, but it was not to be.  In June of 1996 with full honours she left Gloucester docks, to journey down the Gloucester/Sharpness Canal once more and sail for the last time in the Bristol Channel, passing Splatt Bridge on the way.  After two weeks sailing, the last of the Severn Trows returned to Sharpness where the crew participated in a last supper on board before she returned to the Ironbridge Museum area where she remains to this day, 30th July, 2009.

William, crew of the Elkstone

Talking about the Trows

Docking in Gloucester

The Spry and her crew arrive in Gloucester Docks

Photo:This picture by Eric Aldridge of Arlingham is of the trow Alma and was painted in 1995, it clearly shows many of the characteristics of the lower Severn vessel.

This picture by Eric Aldridge of Arlingham is of the trow Alma and was painted in 1995, it clearly shows many of the characteristics of the lower Severn vessel.

By Brian Bailey

Photo:Working the Spry at sea off Denny Island is Brian Littlejohn, skipper of the vessel for her time in the Channel.

Working the Spry at sea off Denny Island is Brian Littlejohn, skipper of the vessel for her time in the Channel.

By Brian Bailey

Photo:Coming into Sharpness.  Working vessels like the Spry into Sharpness Dock was no mean feat in the days of sail.

Coming into Sharpness. Working vessels like the Spry into Sharpness Dock was no mean feat in the days of sail.

By Brian Bailey

Photo:Tug into Sharpness.  Lucky for us we had the assistance of a tug.

Tug into Sharpness. Lucky for us we had the assistance of a tug.

By Brian Bailey

Photo:Out of Sharpness Docks into the Gloucester to Sharpness Canal

Out of Sharpness Docks into the Gloucester to Sharpness Canal

By Brian Bailey

Photo:A time to relax for the crew

A time to relax for the crew

By Brian Bailey

Photo:But no time to relax for the man at the helm! (Brian Bailey)

But no time to relax for the man at the helm! (Brian Bailey)

By Brian Bailey

Photo:The Spry in Gloucester Docks, 'Full Honours"

The Spry in Gloucester Docks, 'Full Honours"

Donated by Brian Bailey

Photo:Out of Gloucester

Out of Gloucester

Donated by Brian Bailey

Photo:The Spry at the Splatt

The Spry at the Splatt

Donated by Brian Bailey

Photo:The Last Supper

The Last Supper

Donated by Brian Bailey

This page was added by Iris Capps on 09/07/2009.

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