Albion’s Working Life
In The Beginning.
Albion was built for the firm of Bungay maltsters, W.D. and A.E. Walker. It was planned that she should operate mainly on the river Waveney and the Bungay navigation. The original specification was for a steel vessel to reduce maintenance and keep costs under control. This was changed due to the poor reputation of these hulls for sweating. Instead she was built as a carvel (flush planked) wherry in oak on oak frames. She was unique in being of carvel construction whereas all other trading wherries were of the traditional clinker construction. There is some speculation as to the reasons for this type of construction. Ease of repair and therefore lower maintenance costs is a logical reason, whilst her main area of operation included the bricked locks of the Bungay navigation and her smooth sides would allow free passage within the lock walls.
Her builder was William Brighton and she was built at his yard on the north bank of Lake Lothing, between Oulton Broad and Lowestoft. Her shed was an old ice house which was demolished after she was launched in October 1898. She cost £455 to build and, when launched, she had a green bottom and a brown oxide top – a far cry from the typical tar coating of other wherries.
The general appearance followed that of the typical trading wherry. An Oregon pine, counterbalanced mast, set well forward and supported by a single stay from the stem, to promote a large space for the cargo hold in the centre of the hull and crew quarters at the stern. Steering was by rudder and tiller operated from a small, deep well, from which the single (main) sheet was also handled. The only major difference between Albion and other wherries was the fact that her hull was of smooth carvel construction, whereas all other wherries were clinker built.
Albion measures 58ft. x 15ft. x 4ft. 6ins. (17.69m x 4.57m x 1.37m), or, if the rudder is included 65ft. overall. Her registered tonnage is 22.78 and her official number is 148735. The fore and aft rig is carried on an unstayed mast of 42ft. (12.80m), finely counterbalanced at the heel with approximately one ton, allowing for easy lowering of the mast to navigate the many Broadland bridges. The mast and counterweight assembly is supported by an enormous tabernacle, braced by tabernacle knees, with the whole supported by the main beam.
Earning Her Keep.
Albion’s first skipper was Jimmy Lacey, and the mate was his nephew Jack Powley. Jimmy it is recorded was a strict disciplinarian, so young Jack, one of that famous family, learned his job the hard way. His own account tells of sleepless night trips when the cabin doors were lifted off their hinges and put away until the Wherry moored. The cuddy was too draughty to sleep in with no doors on.
Albion’s first freight was coal from Lowestoft to Bungay for a shilling a ton. She was intended to carry a load of 36 tons, but later proved herself to be better than this, on one occasion making the same journey laden with more than 41 tons of cattle cake. In 1900 Jack became skipper – an association that would last twenty years.
After Jack left Albion, she met with varied fortune. In January 1929 she sank near Great Yarmouth Bridge, to be raised three days later. In 1931 she lost her mast, and had it replaced with that from Sirius. About this time she was bought by the General Steam Navigation Company, and her name changed to Plane and was given George Farrow as master, who kept her trading the Norwich river under sail right up to the war years. Eventually stripped of all her gear, she became a lighter, and was still doing this work when the Trust found her in 1949.