Sunday, 24 May 2015

The incredible hulks

The proportions of this timber Severn barge are awesome
The largest collection of historical vessels in the UK is probably not in one of the boat museums or in London or in Liverpool docks but here on the banks of the Severn estuary.
The Purton Hulks is a collection of more than eighty craft of all ages and types, from topsail schooners to concrete hulled freight barges that are in resting in the mud flats in various stages of decay.
How they came to be there is a fascinating tale; visiting them now is a poignant and evocative experience which will grip anyone with an interest in ships or just an enthusiasm for photography – the picture opportunities are endless.
One of several ferro-concrete hulled barges embedded in the silt
You can find them all along the estuary edge from where we are moored a mile or more up river to Purton and for much of the time it is possible to walk among them. And it's possible to walk because they have done their final job of work which was to halt the erosion of the river bank with the potential danger that meant to the retaining wall of the canal.
The story began back in 1909 when erosion was first noticed and a group of redundant timber barges was hauled up onto the mud with the aim of causing silt build up over time and easing the problem. Over the years, particularly from the 1950s through to the '70s more vessels of all sizes and types were laid up along the bankside.
Decaying gracefully by the riverside
Time and tide has caused them to decay over the years but so too in many cases, did theft of timber and fittings and vandalism for this unique collection lacked and still lacks any form of legal protection. What a bizarre and shameful situation that is: if they were a collection of stones and grassy humps of some ancient castle English Heritage would be jumping all over the site.
A tribute column lists the craft that have been identified
As it is the volunteer Friends of Purton group has painstakingly recorded, photographed and researched the boats, identifying fragmentary remains, campaigning for their protection and giving each a memorial plaque beside it where details of its age, size, builder and date beached are recorded. 
I can't tell the story better than their website so here are some more photos of this unique group.

Eerily, this timber barge seems to be floating through a sea of grass

The sun sets on another ferro-concrete boat

This Hulk has done its job and allowed the bank to build up around it

Each identified Hulk has its own simple memorial panel 

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