Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas on the Goodwins

Christmas on the Goodwins
By David Chamberlain

In the past there were five Lightvessels standing guard over the Goodwin Sands. Life on the Goodwin Lightvessels was mainly a routine that appropriated certain types of men. Being at sea for a month was not everybody’s idea of a perfect job, however, for many ex deep-sea fishermen and deep-sea mariners it was a suitable way to make a living. An ability to get along with your fellow crewmates was also an essential qualification.

The six crewmembers were answerable to the master, who was in turn accountable to Trinity House if things went wrong. The lightvessel had to be manned 24 hours of the day, every day; and a good lookout was always necessary in foul weather conditions that often occurred in and around the Goodwin Sands. Although the crew were paid extra in their pay packets for the days when the incessant foghorn blared out they soon got used to the noise – and few bothered using the earplugs that were issued.

Another dilemma was the weather. Storms would make the lightvessel not only roll but also pitch in a ‘heel and toe’ motion. Nevertheless, the men had faith in the four-ton mushroom anchor that held the ship on station and the 600,000 candlepower light that warned approaching ships of the dangers of the Sands. In their spare time they would often fish off the stern of the vessel to supplement their victuals that each man had to supply himself. The galley and quarters were spotless and every brass part on the lightship was polished to a shine … the men took pride in their vocation.

Christmas was a time of celebration ashore, however, for the sentinels of the Goodwin Sands it would be another working day. The disappointment of having to spend Christmas afloat was dulled by the kindness from the population of the surrounding towns; who realised the hardships that these men had to endure to safeguard shipping. Many extra food parcels and gifts were collected along with a Christmas tree and a large turkey for distribution to the seven sailors.

Even the angling clubs contributed with Deal Angling Club (1919) adopting the East Goodwin lightvessel as their chosen one; Kingsdown Angling Club went for the South Goodwin, as it was closer to the club. When the weather was calm the boatmen managed to take their boats out and delivered the presents alongside the lightvessel. However, that close to Christmas the sea was normally to rough for them to undertake the trip. It was then left up to the lifeboat to make the journey with a few selected guests.

Eventually, and with technology, the Lightvessels became unmanned and were replaced by large buoys that marked the dangerous sandbank. The South Goodwin was towed away on the 26th of July 2006 and of the original five ships there is only one left on watch, the East Goodwin Lightvessel. She can be seen seven nautical miles from Deal Pier flashing a single beam of light every 15 seconds … which can be seen for 26 miles.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


With a light southwest wind and foggy conditions, the ketch Fearless slowly groped her way across the Channel from Nieuwpoort. The cargo of two hundred tons of Belgian bricks made her sit low in the water. Even with all of her limp sails set, the craft was hardly making headway and the strong tide made her difficult to handle.

The vessels captain, Ernest Leek, had calculated that they would shortly sight the coast off Deal. As soon as their position could be verified, they would hug the land, down Channel, to their destination of Shoreham. On board were four of his seasoned crewmen along with his twelve year old son and a new decky learner, Joseph Sennet. Joseph was eighteen years of age and this was his first ever voyage.

Tragedy almost struck on that peaceful Sunday, the last day of September, 1923. The white chalk cliffs of the South Foreland suddenly loomed up out of the mist. As the kelp covered rocks came into view, Joseph shouted out the danger, but the helmsman had already seen it. The wheel was put hard over and everybody on deck waited with bated breath.

The ketch was slow to answer, and the shallow water and rocks almost seemed to reach out to the Fearless. Gradualy the vessel went about and she cleared the rocky shoreline. Captain Leek decided to wait for more favourable conditions and steered his boat north towards the Downs. An hour later the anchor found a good hold a half-mile from the town of Deal.

After laying at anchor for four days they watched the dropping barometer and black squally clouds scudding in from the north. Ernest Leek knew it was time to continue his passage but first he needed some provisions. He, his son and crew rowed their small punt to Deal pier to buy victuals from the town. Leek had left his greenhorn decky leaner, Joseph Sennet, in charge of the anchored craft.

Within a few hours the tide had changed and with the ever freshening northwest wind the seas became quite lumpy. The captain of the ketch recognized that it was going to be difficult to get back to the Fearless in his punt. Leaving his crew ashore,Leek hired a galley from the beach at North Deal; which managed to get him to his vessel just before the force of the gale was unleashed.

Throughout that night, great seas swept over the Fearless as she strained at her anchor. Dawn was slow to break and the wind had not abated at all. Reluctantly Leek hoisted a signal of distress.

Coxswain William Hoile, aboard the Deal lifeboat Charles Dibden skillfully brought his craft alongside the stricken ketch. Leek and Sennet thankfully scrambled aboard the seaworthy craft leaving the only living thing aboard the Fearless, the ships’ cat, a black kitten … mewing piteously in the scuppers.

Just before 5-30p.m. the Fearless went down stern first. She settled on the bottom with both her masts still visible and torn sails flaying in the wind. All that remains of the vessel to this day are the 200 tons of bricks on the seabed.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Deal's bass wreck

For many boat anglers the wreck of the Mahratta has been a popular venue and over the years has proved to be the downfall of many bass. The shipwreck lies approximately three miles due east of Sandown Castle and her rusting remains lie just below the surface at low tide.

At the beginning of the Second World War the anchorage in the Downs was full to overflowing with ships awaiting naval officers from the Contraband Control. Neutral vessels had their nationality and countries flag painted upon the side of their hulls – this hopefully deterred the Germans or the British from attacking them on the high seas. Allied merchant vessels had their house and companies colours painted out with black paint to confuse the enemy on their origin.

The Mahratta had started her voyage from Calcutta at the outbreak of the conflict, and had received her paint job at a quick stopover in Gibraltar. After her long cruise, she was still obliged to anchor up in the Downs for inspection from the Contraband Control.

This was an unpopular task with the skippers, as they were always in a hurry to either complete or start their journeys. For the pilots who escorted the Allied ships through the British minefields, or to their destination, their painted out colours made it a nightmare to identify them amongst the other vessels in the anchorage.

On the night of October 6th, 1939, the Mahratta’s master, Captain Hill, had received orders, on the arrival of the Trinty House pilot, to proceed to her destination. His impatience cost him his ship.

Tod Carlton was the 37 year old Pilot that had been assigned the job of shepherding the Mahratta out of the Downs and up the River Thames to the London docks. He was looking forward to re-visiting the Mahratta, as he had spent time aboard her when he worked for the Brocklebank Line as 3rd officer.

Unfortunately, Captain Hill had already up-anchored and was slowly proceeding through the maze of ships. As he eased the helm to the east, to clear the tightly packed anchorage, he ran his vessel aground on the Goodwin Sands. With the calm sea and the ships slow speed the Captain thought the Mahratta’s halt was due to engine failure.

At this time the Trinty House pilot, Tod Carlton, had been searching for his charge in the darkness of that autumn evening. He found her hard and fast on the edge of the Sands, north-east of the anchorage.

As he boarded her, he reminded the captain of the dangers of the Goodwin Sands, and requested that he took all precautions to alleviate the situation. Over the next few day’s six tugs and the help of the deal boatmen could not assist in the Mahratta’s predicament and, eventually, when the weather became inclement the ships hull split in half.

If the captain had waited for the pilot, this disaster would have never happened. After the war Tod Carlton settled in Deal and in his later years opened an antique shop in Kingsdown. He died at the age of 81 and was sadly missed by his family who still reside in the area.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Deal's tackle shops in the early 60s

Back in 1963 there were three tackle shops and two bait dealers in Deal.

Finn’s Tackle Shop was situated at 123 High Street, and yours truly used to work there as a shop assistant and occasional bait digger. Duncan Finn was a rotund jovial ex- miner, who, with his limp, I surmised was pensioned out of the pits after an accident. His selling power was to be marvelled at; he could have sold Mohamed Al Fayed a Duke of Edinburgh award. You only had to look at a rod or reel and I guaranteed that you would not leave the shop until you made a purchase. If you couldn’t afford it, he then had a scheme going with the Co-op where you paid a £1 down and the tallyman collected the balance over a period of weeks. Dunc could always be recognised in his fishing garb of thick zip-up jumpers; normally blue and white with large fish motifs knitted in or just plain red and orange stripes. He also wore a woolly pom-pom hat to match each outfit.

Lugworms used to be dug from Whitstable or Seasalter, and I can remember many mornings, before first light, trying to doze in the back of his old Bedford Dormobile as we made our way for a dig. No chance, the other diggers kept me awake or the bait forks used to fall on me as we took a corner. I soon decided that the warm shop was more my style.

Frozen bait was non-existent and squid (cuttlefish actually) was stored in a bucket of salt along with another bucket where surplus worms were also salted. Needless to say when the salt got moist it began to pong. It was then my job to buy large blocks of coarse salt and crumble it up on top of the smelling mess. Consider what it was like sorting through that lot with cuts on your hand!

Another tackle shop was Terry Franks, which used to on the corner of Middle Street and Coppin Street. He had a small range of tackle, however, his main stock comprised of shotguns, air rifles, air guns and ammo. Attached to his shop door was a large bell on a spring, and after entering and the bell became silent, he would emerge from the back room with a scowl on his face. Whatever went on in his back room must have been more interesting than serving customers. He did not sell bait.

Last, but not least was ‘The Foc’sle’, opposite Deal Pier. J.B.Hurd was my hero! This large imposing man had done more for angling over the years than most. When he went fishing he was always recognisable by the duffle coat and beret that he wore. His shop was allegedly established in 1909 and he was a founding member of the Deal and Walmer Angling Club and the NFSA. His stock was sparse and he did not sell bait; nevertheless, it was his custom made rods and tackles that excelled. His rods were made to measure, and to possess a Jimmy Hurd rod was the ultimate in perfection. Unfortunately I could never afford to own one of his distinctive rods, and my efforts of emulation were very home made, as opposed to custom built.

The Willis brothers, from their house at the top of Brewer Street, specialised in selling Yellow Tails. At 2/6 (12½p) a score they were served up in two empty bean tins (half a score to a tin) full of worms and seawater. They weren’t worms they were anacondas.

The other bait outlet was Tony’s Bait Bar. This was situated at the back of the Guilford Hotel, Beach Street, or, as the restaurant was known then The Salad Bowl. Hang on! Bait bar/restaurant are you sure!!! It did not worry Tony Libby and his Pegwell Bay worms.

Just thinking about 1963 makes my eyes mist up. I was then, a 19 year old angling fanatic. I worked in a tackle shop with an equally fishing mad boss, who would leave the business to be run by his long suffering wife as we went fishing most days. Engaged to his daughter, which ensured discount tackle at all times. I also owned a boat so I could diversify from Pier, beach and freshwater fishing. Two-dozen peeler crabs sent up from Devon every week. Squeezed in 49 comps during that year according to my angling diary (or as I will now refer to it as a historic angling manuscript, sounds less sad than a diary) Ended up Deal Angling Club (1919) club champion in the 1963 beach and pier series comps … I hasten to add with a very low number of points. So was I happy? What do you think! Put it this way, I did not have enough time to phone the Samaritans.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Deal's secret ...

Deal’s hidden treasure
By David Chamberlain

By the year of 1853, the popular tavern Hoop and Griffin had been demolished. This hostelry was situated in Beach Street and comprised of coach houses and stables. The site went up for sale along with thirty feet of capstan ground opposite on the foreshore. The building land was purchased and 12 coastguard cottages were erected upon it.

Reverend Thomas Treanor (author of ‘Heroes of the Goodwin Sands’ and mission chaplain to seamen) purchased the properties in 1882. Within a few years, new coastguard premises were built along at the Marina and the men and their families moved into these in 1890.

Captain George Coleman, then Mayor of Deal, purchased the 12 vacated cottages from Reverend Treanor for the sum of £525. He decided to offer the cottages to old and infirm Deal boatmen and their families. Setting up a charity with a few other worthy folk who were willing to maintain and pay the rates and taxes, he then presented them to the town in ‘trust’.

The spinster Mary Hougham came from a long distinguished family who could boast that their descendents had fought with Richard the Lionheart in the Crusades of 1191, becoming lord of the manor of Hougham (near Dover), Constable of Rochester Castle and Mayor of Sandwich. Her father was an apothecary and surgeon at Deal and she ran a preparatory school for young gentlemen from the years of 1862 till 1882. When her parents died she inherited an estate of £3055 -16s - 2d. Being of benign and generous nature she contributed a large amount of money into the trust; and was honoured with the charity and properties being called the ‘Mary Hougham Almshouses’. Mary had deep religious beliefs and also paid for the oak panelling in St George’s church, in the High Street.

The interiors of the cottages were spartan and there was no running water, therefore, all slops were emptied into a central gulley. A communal washing house was separate from the buildings and lighting was aided by candles or oil lamps. Some improvements were made when the trust sold the capstan ground for street development. In 1956 electricity was installed and water was laid on to kitchen sinks, along with six extra outside wash houses and WCs.

Eventually the buildings became empty and derelict, being vandalised and holding squatters. The charity was at odds, in 1983, over what to do with the property as the cottages were becoming unsustainable. After consultation, the sale of the boatman’s reading rooms and help from the council they were rebuilt. The main entrance was now near the top of Griffin Street with a small car park fronting. A plaque depicting the famous three life boatmen, Laming, Roberts and Mackings was placed above the main entrance to the flats. Unfortunately, they are pictured facing and pointing to the west and not to the east … seaward.

On the twenty-first of December, 1987, the then chairman of the trust, Councillor Richard Whiteside, reopened the Mary Hougham Almshouses as modern accommodation. There are now four one-bedroom and four two-bedroom cottages together with four flats. The charity is still very active and the needs of the residents well looked after. From 1974 it was decided that with the demise of the local boatmen, the trust would extend the opportunity of occupancy to Deal residents over the age of 60.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Death in the Channel

The Dover Straits was shrouded in fog on the night of the 19th of November, 1887, and the 720 ton West Hartlepool steamer Rosa Mary was anchored up near the South Sand Head Lightvessel. Her anchor light was shining from the masthead and a few of her 16 hands were keeping a look-out from the bridge in the cold night air.

In the swirling mist the Red Star passenger ship W.A.Scholten approached the anchored vessel. On board were 156 passengers and 54 crewmen. She had sailed from her home port of Rotterdam earlier in the day and her destination was New York. Many of the passengers were seeking a new life in America and the 2,569 ton Dutch steamship had families and children in the steerage class cabins of the vessel. On a steady course and slow speed of six knots the W.A.Scholten continued towards the Rosa Mary.

At ten-thirty Captain Taat saw the anchored collier ahead of the passenger ship and at the last moment ordered full astern on the ship’s telegraph. In the cold night air the sound of grating steel and wrenching plates were heard as the W.A.Scholten ripped off the bow of the Rosa Mary to her inner bulkhead. An eight foot gash was also torn along the port side of the Dutch ship as she disappeared into the mist.

When the forward way of the W.A.Scholten ceased, the strong ebb tide was to carry her on for another four miles. The sea was gushing in through the hole and pandemonium broke loose as the immigrants realised that the ship was sinking. Screaming passengers careered about the deck as the crew attempted to get the lifeboats away. Only two were launched before the sloping deck plunged below the cold waters of the Channel. Within a mere thirty minutes all that remained of the ship were her masts protruding from the sea.

It was the heartbreaking screams of the drowning families that alerted the crew of the British steamship Ebro, who managed to rescue 78 people. The other ship involved in the collision, Rosa Mary, limped into Dover Harbour with her bow watertight bulkhead still intact.

As many bodies washed up on the beaches of Deal it was deemed that the town should hold the inquest. From the findings some startling statements were made. A Hastings fishing boat’s skipper stated that the Rosa Mary had been underway prior to the collision and had ploughed through his herring nets. Parts of his nets were found on the mangled remains of the steamers bow. Some of the survivors accused the W.A.Scholten’s Captain Taat of keeping the steerage passengers away from the lifeboats. The captain could never defend himself as he and the first officer perished with their vessel. There were enough lifejackets on board for all, but many of the passengers had put them on incorrectly (as some of the recovered bodies had later shown) so inadvertently adding to the death toll.

Monday, 30 May 2011

The un-happy Christmas

On Christmas Eve, 1946, the skyline east of Deal was to be blighted by the sight of a shipwreck which would remain for almost fifty years. In foggy conditions the 7,612 ton North Eastern Victory raced up Channel to enable the skipper and crew to spend Christmas at her port of destination, Antwerp.

Captain Kohstrohs either did not hear, or ignored, the warning cannons being fired from the South Goodwin lightship as they hurtled past. The Victory ship’s 6,000 horse power engine was at full speed and this, coupled with the assistance of a spring tide, was propelling the vessel at a speed of 21 knots.

Kohstrohs’ charts of the area did not advise of the dangers from the Goodwin Sands and the American War Administration felt the use of pilots a wasteful source of finance. Within five miles of passing the lightship the North Eastern Victory came to an abrupt standstill as she ran onto the Sands. The force of the grounding carried away her radio aerials making communication useless … and in the swirling fog, her master realised it would have been pointless to set off flares.

Luckily the ever alert Deal boatmen realised that the South Goodwin Lightship’s warning cannon fire meant that there could be a chance of trouble. It was left to old Joe Mercer, in the beach boat Rose Marie, to go and investigate. An hour later he came up against the slab-sided hull of the Victory ship high and dry on the Goodwins. Joe realised that the vessel was doomed and informed Captain Kohstrohs that he would summon the lifeboat.

At five minutes past five that afternoon the Charles Dibden launched in darkness into a calm sea. Coxswain Freddie Upton soon found the casualty and took off 36 of her crew. Only the Captain and six officers stayed aboard the stricken hulk. As he left, Upton noticed a two foot gash had already appeared across the deck of fated ship. By 10 o’clock that night the lifeboat had offloaded her human cargo and had returned to the shipwreck.

As the wind freshened, the men spent an uncomfortable night on the lifeboat, which was standing by the wreck. Their only consolation, apart from a ration of rum, was some turkey that had been prepared in the North Eastern Victory’s galley previously. Christmas Day was greeted with a blood red sky. True to the weather saying of ‘Shepherds warning’ the Charles Dibden’s radio came to life with a gale warning from the Coast Guard. After a brief discussion with the cargo vessels captain, Freddie convinced them it was time to leave.

Over the years the masts of the North Eastern Victory could be seen from the beaches of Deal as a prominent reminder of the dangers of the Goodwins. In January 1995 the remaining rusting mast disappeared in the aftermath of a winter’s storm. Fondly known as the ‘Sticks’ to the Deal boatmen, it was yet another part of Deal history to fade away.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Treasure on the Goodwins

Over the centuries there have been reports of treasure being discovered on the Goodwin Sands. However, it was not until 2005 that these rumours became fact. when the contents of the Dutch East Indiaman Rooswijk’s cargo of a thousand bars of silver and 36,000 pieces of eight were recovered. The Rooswijk had set sail with a full cargo from the port of Texel on the 8th of January, 1740. Her destination was the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC) headquarters in Batavia (now Jakarta). A few days later and at night in a snow storm, which was being whipped up by a severe north-east gale, she ran aground on the Goodwin Sands. The surf was so great, the vessel was instantly swamped and the crew’s actions were rendered powerless. The ship was quickly pounded to pieces and all the crew, plus 250 of the companies solders, perished. Such was the ferocity of the storm there was nobody about to witness the mariners plight. The following day, wreckage was found washed-up on the beach. A Deal longshoreman found a chest that contained letters written in a foreign language; being an honest fellow he retuned it to the customs officials. It was from these letters that the tragedy was realised and the name of the shipwreck known, however, at that time, her remains were never found. . The shape of the Goodwin Sands is changing constantly, as one year there might be an area where the sand has scoured away … then only to be filled the following year. Therefore, if a shipwreck is exposed on the Goodwins, there could be a good chance that it will disappear just as quickly as it was found. In 2002, a diver discovered the remains of the richly laden Dutch East Indiaman Rooswijk close to the Kellet Gut on the Goodwins. He then arranged that the dive support vessel Terschelling assist in his quest to recover her cargo. Although this was done in strict secrecy the Dutch Government, as owners of the wreck and cargo, was also involved in the venture. In the summer of 2005, the Terschelling anchored over the wreck and recovered the boxes of silver bullion. Onboard were archaeologists to record and recover artefacts for the Dutch museums. The immense value of these finds, academically as well as financial, have not yet been totalled. Nevertheless, they would have lain unnoticed, possibly forever, on the Goodwin Sands if it had not been for the dedication of the lone diver that discovered the wreck. The Rooswijk was made a protected wreck site on 18th January, 2007 by the government and English Heritage to enable no unauthorised diving to take place. It is now one of the five historic and protected shipwrecks on the Goodwins.