Restored barge ready for passenger trips

BACK ON THE WATER: The boat being restored.
BACK ON THE WATER: The boat being restored.

A boat – scuttled nearly a century ago to prevent it being used should German troops invade – is to be relaunched.

The River Stour lighter barge John Constable, which was discovered in Ballingdon Cut in the 1970s and moved to Cornard Lock, where it remained in mud and silt for almost three decades, is to welcome passengers aboard next weekend.

An extensive restoration project, costing more than £100,000, has been completed on the barge since the skeleton of the vessel was raised in 2010 and it is now ready to undertake river trips along the River Stour.

“It is ready for the next stage of its life and will hopefully bring lots of people to the area,” said Catherine Burrows, from the River Stour Trust, which owns the boat.

Believed to be more than 150 years old, the boat was originally used to carry up to 13 tons of cargo and was pulled by a horse.

However, the Royal Navy ordered the barge, along with many others, to be scuttled in 1914, fearing it might fall into the hands of invading forces during the First World War.

The sunken boat was discovered by members of the River Stour Trust, but was in very poor condition through years of decay. It was put in silt to preserve it in preparation for its restoration.

This became possible thanks to Heritage Lottery funding many years later and, with support from the Managing a Masterpiece Project, two years of painstaking work on the wooden boat were carried out.

Fitted with an electric motor and with room for more than 12 people, the barge was finished in September.

It is hoped that as well as being used for river trips, it could also become a “floating classroom”.

“It will be used for half and full-day trips, but educational visits are something we are looking into,” said Mrs Burrows.

“It is great to have the boat here in Sudbury and it will hopefully be enjoyed by many future generations.”

The boat will be based at The Granary in Quay Lane, where an official ceremony unveiling it for passenger services will take place on May 12. Griff Rhys Jones, vice-president of the trust, will attend the event.