Oral history tells that 'Charlotte' was built by Crossfield of Arnside in 1893. She is likely to have been constructed as a fishing vessel – a Morcambe Bay Prawner – though her overall proportions and rakish stem might suggest lines of a yacht; or at least having been rebuilt along the lines of a yacht in later life. Of course, Crossfield was known to produce both fishing boats and yachts, and whilst the archives have yet to reveal 'Charlotte’s' earliest history, her construction with robust grown oak frames, long keel and shallow draught speak of working-boat heritage in the north west coastal region of England.
What is sure is that by 1975 she was lying on her side in a boat yard at Watermouth Cove, North Devon. Julian Lamb recalls that, as a young lad, he fell in love with 'Charlotte’s' elegant abandoned hull and spent many hours playing on her decks and in the cockpit during regular camping holidays from the Midlands. Returning each year, he went looking for 'Charlotte'. In 1977, he discovered she had been renovated: fresh paint, new rigging, and upright once more. In 1979, she was afloat and moored in the cove, but in 1980 she had gone: and Julian didn’t see her again at Watermouth.
'Charlotte' had been bought by brothers Ray and Mike Johnson in Cardiff and in 1980 she was on a ‘trot mooring’ at Cardiff Yacht Club. Graham Cuthill, a long-term friend of the brothers recalls that 'Charlotte' was actually in poor condition and a third brother, Jim, was appalled at the state of her. Work was carried-out to keep her afloat including some new planking and reinforcement of cracked frames. During this period, her decks and cabin were also rebuilt and her sheer aft raised by several inches.
When Ray Johnson died aged in his 50s, brother Jim stepped in to help Mike continue with the boat. Ray’s ashes were placed in a purpose made wooden box and, together with another box containing the ashes of a sailing friend, Fred Patterson, they were wedged into 'Charlotte’s' deck beams. Whilst 'Charlotte' was occasionally under sail she was often used as a place for the friends to gather and drink tea with her ex-British Rail coal stove providing warmth on cold days.
By 2015 she was still afloat but very tired. When the last Johnson brother died a plan was devised by local gaffer enthusiasts to save and restore her. The Charlotte Restoration Group was formed – soon to be known as the Charlotteers – and accommodation was found in the workshop at World of Boats in Cardiff.
Hope was high that she could be returned to the water with only light recommissioning work. However, as is often the case, close inspection revealed that she needed major rebuilding of frames and planking. The Charlotteers committed to the rebuild and she was stripped and dissembled with all usable parts placed into storage. One or two planks at the sheer line were left in place with a scaffold of stout batons to ensure her hull remained in shape. Her frames were removed one at a time and remade using green oak obtained from Coedcochwyn Park near Cardiff and her stern post was remade using wood from a lock gate. Regrettably, World of Boats ceased trading in 2018 and the future for 'Charlotte' became uncertain. Options to relocate 'Charlotte' were explored but none seemed ideal. Work continued into 2019 and by some remarkable happenstance a new custodian stepped forward: Julian Lamb – the lad who had played on her decks over forty years earlier.
'Charlotte' had gained something of a folklore status in Julian’s family – she was his first love after which many restoration projects followed: classic cars, houses and even an aeroplane. One Sunday afternoon in 2019 Julian recounted the story of 'Charlotte' to his youngest son, Ted, who then searched her out on the internet. Julian was astonished to discover she still existed and was in need of assistance. Contact was established with the Charlotteers and a trip to Cardiff was arranged to see 'Charlotte' again. Several return trips followed, including one with an 18-ton HIAB lorry! Over the autumn of 2019 'Charlotte' was transported to the Midlands to start the next phase of her restoration.
Julian has a background in engineering and industrial archaeology and says that enjoyment of 'Charlotte’s' restoration is the most important objective: it is not about a rush to the finish line. Having said this, he plans to sail her from Watermouth Cove sometime between 2025 – 2030 to mark fifty years since he played on her decks as a child.
If you know anything about 'Charlotte’s' life prior to 1975 Julian would be delighted to hear from you.