THIS year sees Essex celebrate the 400th anniversary of the historic Mayflower voyage.
The 1620 journey of the Pilgrims to the New World is legendary – and so are its Essex links. The ship was built in Harwich and at least four of its passengers were from Billericay. All perished shortly after their arrival in America.
Now, thanks to the efforts of an innovative charity, our county’s notable maritime heritage is being restored to its glorious past.
The Heritage Marine Foundation, based at Downs Road Boat Yard in Maldon, is working to conserve, maintain, and operate historic vessels. At the same time it is also equipping the next generation of craftsmen and women with the traditional maritime skills needed to continue the centuries old trade.
Apprentices from across Essex are getting to experience projects both ashore and afloat – from smaller repair jobs to new builds, major restorations and museum projects, as well as the opportunity to become part of an operative crew.
Maddie Phillips, of the Heritage Marine Foundation, explained: “Essex has such a rich maritime history, not least its connection with the Mayflower.
“Thousands of Thames barges sailed the county’s waterways during the 19th century too carrying bricks used to build many of the houses we see in London today.
“Most of the remaining barges are left in Essex and many come into the yard for repair work. There is still an active, vibrant community of maritime restorers, shipwrights, boat builders and riggers across the county, particularly along the Blackwater estuary.”
She added: “Boatbuilding skills are as relevant today as they were a hundred years ago. They involve some of the most complicated pieces of tech ever built, incorporating many aspects of science, technology and engineering. We can learn so much from the past and apply it to today’s world.”
Subject to securing funding, the HMF is also planning to embark on an exciting new project to transform a 77ft long fishing trawler built in 1923 called the Torbay Lass, into a travelling classroom and maritime history museum. The ship will be restored as closely to her original design as current regulations permit and the process used to establish a training programme for young apprentices that continues well after the project is complete. It will also be used as a base for education and research into marine pollution.
Throughout September, Essex 2020 is taking on a maritime theme in honour of the Mayflower milestone and the huge influence which aspects of science, technology, engineering, arts and maths (STEAM) has on the marine sector.
Essex 2020 is a year of celebrations to mark the contribution our county has made to art and heritage, science, technology and engineering and aims to engage youngsters and adults alike with STEAM events and activities.
Maddie stressed: “STEAM is hugely important to many areas of Essex’s past, present and future, not least the marine quarter. It’s vital the traditional skills behind vessel design, building, maintenance and restoration – which encompass each of these areas – are kept alive and the specialised craftsmanship is not lost, least of all because it can be so useful in the bid to tackle climate change.
“This is a niche area but one that offers such a great opportunity for young people who are not as well suited to pure academic work. It’s incredible to see the beautiful, skilled work these people do and important they are given the chance to develop their natural gifts.”
l Essex County Councillor Dick Madden, cabinet member for Essex 2020, added: “Most of us are aware of the county’s maritime history but perhaps not the full extent and the crucial work of hidden gems like the Heritage Marine Foundation.
“One of Essex 2020’s main purposes is to shine a light on all the fantastic, innovative STEAM related work happening across Essex. Also, to celebrate the county’s rich past which plays such a vital role in the innovation and progression we see in Essex today – and will continue to see well into the future.”
Find out more at www.essex2020.com and on the Essex 2020 social channels