It was good to see the grant of £76,300 of Heritage Lottery money to boost the King’s Lynn Worfolk Boat Trust in their efforts to restore the Baden Powell, a cockle boat built by the legendary Worfolk family back in 1901.
The Worfolks built more than 600 boats in Lynn over a period spanning well over half a century, and it is fitting that their work and traditions will live on, and the Baden Powell provide enjoyment for future generations in the port.
During my days as Lynn News Waterfront columnist in the late 1980s, I often bumped into Bill Worfolk, who was still an active and familiar figure around the port, even though he was then well into his 90s.
As well as visiting the shipping agencies dotted around the enclosed docks, the pilotage authority at the Conservancy Board, and the Eastern Sea Fisheries offices, I also used to pop into Shipshape, Vic Pratt’s boat-building business at Austin Fields.
Vic had learned his trade with the Worfolk brothers, Bill and Gerald, and had been the only person to complete a seven-year apprenticeship with them.
Although Bill Worfolk was then approaching his century, he was still extremely active and took great pride in being able to pitch in and demonstrate that his boat-building skills were still burning bright – hardly surprising as it had been only a few years since he had retired.
I often saw Bill around Lynn town centre enjoying an evening drink, especially in the front bar of the Duke’s Head Hotel, and even when he was close to 100, and had moved to Dersingham to live with his daughter and son-in-law, I bumped into him in The Feathers Hotel, which had become his new ‘local’ in his later years.
He had a remarkable memory, and could even recall his first day at primary school, as well as being able to recount in great detail the hundreds of boats he built.
The sturdy qualities of the Worfolk boats were emphasised by The Lady of Lynn, their last boat. The craft’s owner, Dr Richard Huntsman, took up a post in Newfoundland, and decided to sail the boat across the North Atlantic Ocean, one of the most challenging stretches of water in the world. Not only did The Lady of Lynn complete this mission successfully, but was later sailed back across the mighty ocean to Lynn for restoration work to be carried out at Lynn by Vic Pratt.
Bill Worfolk died, aged 100, in 1994. I met many colourful and memorable characters, especially among the Lynn fishermen, during the decade or so that I wrote the Waterfront column, but few spring to mind so readily as Bill, and it is most apt that the Worfolk legend, and Lynn’s centuries-old boat-building tradition, will live on in the 21st century in the shape of the Baden Powell.
During my few short years on the Waterfront beat there were immense changes on the shipping scene: the privatisation of the docks and the subsequent dramatic fall in the workforce, the demise of the roll-on roll-off service between Lynn and Hamburg after Skoda car imports were switched from Lynn to Southampton – you really never know what’s looming just round the corner.
Change will always happen, so it’s important to preserve the past before it is lost forever.