An Art Gallery on a Boat? You Must be Mad! Part Nineteen.

A break, occasioned by a cluster of migraines and the onset of winter, has allowed me to tidy up my studio and, whilst so doing,  I unearthed the Glevum’s visitors’ book. It makes interesting reading but it proves that my memory, like most peoples’, is distinctly fallible.

During the winter of 1984/5, or to be more precise, from the beginning of November until the beginning of April, that I wrote about in the last blog, there are ten pages of names and addresses in our visitors’ book, so it was not quite as deserted as I had remembered it. A lot of my recollections are probably based on the fact that our visitors were mostly at at weekends but during the week I often saw nobody all day. Between the beginning of April and the end of September, forty three pages were filled! There are twenty-seven lines per page but, as on some pages people have left occasional gaps, I have estimated that, at twenty-five signatures per page, forty pages must contain about one thousand signatures. Since far from all the visitors even signed the book, we certainly did not want for numbers.

A gentleman from Bath wrote in the comments column “You should charge admission.”

Perhaps he was right.

Before I continue from where the last blog left off, I must mention a very strange thing that happened that summer.

We had been told by the Industrial Museum staff that no paperwork had survived from the Albion Dockyard. When the site was cleared by the council workers, all the plans, letters, models and everything had been burnt! As an act of shortsighted vandalism it beggars belief. The historical value of the information destroyed is incalculable. John and Michael Hill confirmed this when I spoke to them at our opening.

However, that’s what had happened, and the only bit of the Glevum’s history that was left, was the half-hull model that the Industrial Museum had loaned us.

One day a chap came on board and had a look around at the exhibition. Then he came to me at the desk and said that he thought he had some builders’ plans and documents for the Glevum. I explained what I’d been told and said I thought he must be mistaken, but he was adamant, and said that it was for a barge with the yard number 404.

Well, that was certainly the Glevum!

A few days later he came back and laid a large manila folder on the desk and invited me to take a look.

Inside were sets of plans and dozens of letters between Reynolds Flour Mills in Gloucester and Charles Hill and Sons in Bristol covering every aspect and detail of the building of Glevum, as well as all the correspondence with the registry of British Merchant Shipping, Customs and Excise and all the other various officialdom that have an interest in such matters!

I was astonished and asked how he’d come by them. He told me he had worked for a time at Avonmouth and that some time after Jefferies Ship Repairers  closed down, he was told to clear out a building in which they’d dumped all their paperwork. Apparently most of it was very badly damaged. Not only had the roof leaked and rats nested in the piles of old files and folders, but somebody had driven their car onto it and let their oil drain out so that all the paperwork would soak it up!

Only three files had survived, one for the lock gates at Porlock Weir, one for a boom and, the only file relating to a boat, one of grain barge No 404. He had taken them home and put them in his cupboard and they had lain there ever since!

I was astonished. Why should the Glevum’s papers have survived? Why was the paperwork in Avonmouth at all?

I asked if he’d mind if I made copies of the papers. But he said he had no interest in them and insisted I should have them.

They made fascinating reading. From the first letter from Reynolds to Charles Hill, saying that they wanted a steel barge to be built to replace the Fanny Jane, a dismasted ketch that they used as a grain barge, right through to the launch of the Glevum and how she handled in her sea trials. A few modifications were made but in general she was an excellent craft.

They also revealed that part way through her design process, Reynolds had decided that, at some time in the future they might like to convert her to a motor barge,  and so the design of the stern was changed to facilitate this.

There was a second batch of correspondence from 1959 concerning Glevum’s conversion to a motor barge. The job was to be done by Jefferies Ship Repairers in Avonmouth, by now a subsidiary of Charles Hill and the letters actually mentioned the paperwork being sent there. But Reynolds changed their minds and the Glevum stayed a dumb barge. The paperwork was never returned and hence,  had not only survived, but by a very circuitous route and many coincidences, had ended up reunited with the Glevum.

To be continued