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Exeter's Maritime Museum

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Maritime Museum button badgeA photo essay by Alan H Mazonowicz - text David Cornforth

Once situated on the canal basin and quay, the Maritime Museum is missed by many, as one of Exeter's most interesting attractions.

Museum entrance 1979 The Museum entrance in 1979 - photo David Cornforth.

In 1969, a collection of 23 boats and sailing craft belonging to Major David Goddard, were put on display, along with exhibits from other sources at a new Maritime Museum on Exeter quay and canal basin.

The museum was situated on 400 yards of waterfront, provided initiall rent free, by Exeter City Council. It was intended that the museum would charter the ketch Result and keep her, along with the other large craft, as floating exhibits.

The museum was opened by Sir Alec Rose on 27th June 1969 - a group of sea scouts rowed Sir Alec up the canal in a replica of a royal barge that had been used in the film, A Man for all Seasons. The ISCA Trust (International Sailing Craft Association) sponsored the museum with the intention that the collection be used to educate young people and become an essential tourist attraction. At its opening the entrance fee was 3/6 for adults and 1/6 for children (17.5 pence and 7.5 pence).

Among the exhibits was a Pearling dhow presented by the Ruler of Bahrain, Shaikh Isa Bin Sulman Al Khalifa, the Kuwait Government gave a 120 ton 2-masted trading dhow, while a Reed boat from Lake Titicaca and some Welsh coracles were also among the initial displays. There were several boats moored in the canal basin including the steam tug St Canute, built in 1931 in Denmark. It had been purchased in 1960 by the Fowey Harbour Commission as a working boat. When first opened, entrance to the museum was from the quay, with the museum using part of the two quay warehouses for exhibits and the ticket office. Butts Ferry was an integral part of the museum, to cross the river to the exhibits in the canal basin. In the 1980's the whole of the museum moved over to Haven Banks and vacated the quay. During the 1990's, the warehouses housing the museum on the canal basin needed to be repaired, causing financial problem, and the museum closed in 1997.

Most of the exhibits in the museum can now be found at World of Boats at the East Berwickshire fishing port of Eyemouth on the East Coast Scottish Border. I bet the people of Eyemouth are baffled that Exeter allowed the museum to close.

Source - Official Maritime Museum guidebooks from 1969 and the Express and Echo - all photos by Alan H Mazonowicz unless otherwise stated.

Museum boats in the canal basinThe Canal Basin
The Canal Basin was extensively used to show off historic boats at the museum. The warehouses by the side of the basin also housed smaller craft, displays, offices and a dry space for renovating the boats.

The Bedford LifeboatThe Bedford Lifeboat
The first boat of the museum that the public would see when they entered the quay was the Bedford lifeboat under the Transit Shed. The boat was built from oak planks fastened with copper, with added cork for buoyancy. Constructed in 1886, she was in active service until the 1930's. She was presented to the museum by the Tyne Lifeboat Society.

CygnetThe Cygnet
An oddity of a boat that was presented to the museum by Mr J H Cookson of Liverpool. She was built as a tender to the larger 'Swan' in 1880. The Swan, in name and shape, could seat sixteen for dinner. The Swan was destroyed by fire, leaving only the Cygnet as a reminder of a certain type of Victorian eccentricity.

CoracleWelsh coracle
The museum had examples of the Welsh and Severn coracle and Irish curraghs. They were lightly built boats that performed well in local, choppy water. This example was of a Welsh coracle, probably built by J C Thomas of Newcastle Emlyn.

Brunel dredgerBrunel's steam dredger 'Bertha'
Built in Bristol during 1844, Brunel's dredger was the earliest steam vessel in the museums collection, and the oldest working steamboat in the world. It was designed for clearing mud from the Bridgewater Dock, and was still working in 1964. British Rail presented her to the museum.

Steam BoatSteam Boat detail
Steam Boat Rally

This was one of a number of steamboats that Alan H Mazonowicz photographed at a, Museum organised, steam rally on the Exe.

Sailing dhowA sailing Dhow or shahoof
A small fishing craft that could be sailed or rowed, it had a unique rudder, only to be found in the Gulf States. This one was presented to the Museum by Gray McKenzie & Co Ltd.

A portable boatPortable boat
I can find no reference to this boat in any Museum publications. However, looking at the photo, it looks like a conventional boat that has been cut into sections to allow it to be carried, by hanging each piece on a pole, of which each end is held by a porter.

A dhowA pearling Dhow from Bahrain
The museum was lucky enough to have several vessels presented to it from various Gulf States. This pearling dhow was presented by the Ruler of Bahrain, His Highness Shaikh Isa Sulman Al Khalifa. It needed a crew of 30 or 40 men and boys, and was built of teak with soft iron nails.

A GuffaIraqi Guffa
Although the photo is labelled shadoof, this is in all probability an Iraqi Guffa. Designed for carrying passengers and cargo down the Tigris, it was built of pomegranate stalks, twine and straw, it was covered with pitch to waterproof it. It is an ancient design and was first recorded by Herodotus four centuries before Christ. A shadoof is a pivoted pole with a bucket at one end and a weight at the other, used for drawing water from a well.

King HarryThe King Harry
The Museum provided a play ship on the side of the canal basin for children to play on. It had rigging and gun ports to lend authenticity. The remains of the ship were left to rot after the Museum closed and could still be seen in 2005 when this photograph was taken. Photo David Cornforth.

QE3 Grand Banks doryThe QE3
This boat, based on a Grand Banks Dory was rowed across the Atlantic in 1971, by cousins Don and Geoff Allum, in a time of 73 days. It was one of several boats that were on display at the museum that had been used to row across different oceans. They included the Super Silver, Britannia II, and the ill fated Puffin.

Steam tug, St CanuteSteam tug, St Canute detailSt Canute - steam tug
This was a working steam tug built in Denmark during 1931 for harbour duties including service as an ice-breaker and fire fighter at Odense. She was known as St Knud.

Dugout canoeEast African Dugout
It origin of this canoe is not certain as it was picked up from the sea in 1968 by HMS Gurka, off the East African Coast. It is probably a fishing vessel from Kenya or Tanzania.

Exe luggerAn Exe lugger
A small, clinker built boat with two sails that was used for fishing in the Exe estuary. It would have been a common little work horse that was used from Topsham to Exmouth and beyond.

A Tagus lighterA Tagus lighter
A general view of the Museum in the Canal Basin. The large boat is a Tagus lighter, used to offload ships in Portugal. This photo was taken in 1975, a year after it arrived at the Museum.

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