Tonight I bring you news of a HUGE treat which you might like to avail yourselves of. Thanks mainly to Mark Chapman you can now buy aboard, for the very attractive price of just £10 a DVD of the Restoration of Cambria. Throughout the build and before, Mark was frequently all over the barge armed with a video camera and has hours (probably days, even weeks!) of footage starting as the old hull was towed in her lighter from Sheerness to Faversham, of her poly tunnel cover being erected, of the dismantling stages and new framing. It continues through the finishing, painting, and then Flotation Day, rigging and then first charters and races back at sea.
I loved watching this for this review and it brought back so many memories of first frames, deadwoods, keelson, carlings, deck beams and all the other bits we saw coming together over the 3 and a bit years of the project. I am, however, in a bit of a compromised position about giving this a fair review as it is my voice on the commentary. Obviously, I think it’s good, but I know I was really only the ‘guinea pig’ used to get some kind of sensible commentary down on tape. The real intention was to get a choice of far more knowledgeable, experienced and expert voices on this job but (no names, no pack drill) in the end none of these folk could commit to the time, so Mark has gone with my comments. I have had some generous feedback since; it seems that folk like my non-technical, simplistic style because I explain things well to non-experts. I think that’s a compliment; it might mean I am a dunce!
Either way, you get for your £10, 54 minutes of lovely footage with plenty of skilled work and lovely baulks of wood to linger over. Mark got literally everywhere – in, under, between, over and round the ends. You see the pitiful state of the old structure and see it transformed into the gorgeous barge we know today.
AND THAT’S NOT ALL!
Mark has added at the end a series of “Bonus Features” which are themselves, well worth a look and a lovely thing to have in your own private records and archives of barging.
These are, in order
- (6 minutes) The early footage from Seven Seas film “When the Wind Blows” which features Cambria in the opening credits, has some stuff about London Docks in the old days and then commentator AP Herbert talks us around a working model of a sailing barge. This is in The Queen’s English as you’d expect but APH amusing drops into trying to ‘do the accents’ when talking about the “topsail, or torps’l as ‘they’ used to call it”
- (11 minutes) Of film shot by Mark on board the Cambria as she was making her way up the Thames for the Jubilee Pageant. As well as shots of Cambria from the decks, including a nice bit looking up through the rigging as they went under QE2 Bridge (Dartford), you see some of the other vessels making their way up river, including an MTB and a ‘Vic’ boat. We also go under Tower Bridge (towed, if I remember correctly, by the tug which then went on to pull the bell-ringer carillon vessel in the Parade of Ships) and there is nice footage of SB Cygnet crewed in period costume.
- (26 minutes) My absolute favourite bit of this whole DVD! There is a long section from Mark’s archive (which came to him from the late Chris Chipchase, former Cambria Volunteer) of Captain Bob Roberts chatting away to the camera and recordist as he and Dick Durham (then 18) sail Cambria in the Orwell, delivering cattle cake and then heading for Pin Mill for his daughter’s wedding. I regret that I cannot currently tell you where this film came from and I am checking with Mark, but when I do find out I will edit this post accordingly. Bob chats away for the whole time about barging and sailing generally as well as expressing his sadness at modern changes and the fading out of his days-of-sail lifestyle. He talks about Nelson and the naming of the Medusa Channel, of how he (Bob) won a Choristers’ Scholarship to Grammar School, and of how, when told to smear cold tallow on 700 eggs so that they would keep in the ship’s provisions store, he took a shortcut, heated the tallow and dipped the eggs in hot, cooking the eggs and making them go off. He talks of the variety of tasks a bargeman would need to be able to do and of his trips to the Americas during the Great Depression lay-ups. We see the barge being unloaded of the cattle cake. He talks proudly of the Orwell and its fame – of his daughter’s wedding to come, of the big houses on the river banks once owned by the likes of Admiral Vernon who introduced ‘grog’ to the Navy. He bemoans the appearance of slab-sided “ugly” container ships and recounts yarns about smugglers. In one pub a sign of a cat was put up to announce the all-clear (No Pussy, No Sail, he says). One old boy had his wife buried face down because she’d threatened to scrabble up out of the grave if he went with another woman after her death – he thought she’d scrabble down deeper by mistake and he’d avoid the haunting. There were also stories of smugglers using Shotley Church (Shotley Church without no steeple; Drunken Parson, wicked people!). At the end he is a bit rude about us, the new barging ‘amateurs’ (They need to earn their bread and butter under sail; then they’d know what life is about!) but I understand that is just Bob’s jaundiced style. All in all it is a brilliant film. Bob is talking most of the time while frequently looking away from camera at sea or sails and turning the wheel this way and that. We see Dick scrambling nimbly up the rigging at one stage, too.
That is about enough on that one – I seem to have got carried away! As I said, £10 very well spent, and currently available on board or through the shop.