Family fleet with names reflecting times past

PORTAHOLICS will doubtless envy me when I tell them that I have been browsing through a book containing a myriad of information and photographs of a shipping company that was a principal mainstay of Great Yarmouth harbour for most of the 20th century. Its vessels were as familiar on our quay-sides as our elegant blue-and-cream corporation buses were on our roads.

The Thames-based F T Everard and Sons operated a fleet of coasters, tankers and other ships, several of which were built or repaired at Fellows/Richards Dock and the neighbouring engineer Crabtree on Southtown Road.

Everard of Greenhithe has 238 pages brimful of 400 pictures, records and details of the family fleet, which totalled more than 800 vessels down the decades. The author and compiler, Captain Ken Garrett, comprehensively details the shipper’s history and development, and includes an explanation for the distinctive and often high-falutin’ names of many of its vessels which often intrigued those, like me, not in the know.

Unfortunately, his book is out of print, but he is working on a second edition due out next year. More information can be obtained from the publisher, the World Ship Society (honorary secretary: Jimmy Poole, 101 The Everglades, Hempstead, Gillingham, Kent, ME7 3PZ). I am indebted to the society and the author for allowing me to draw on its contents.

In 1924, Everard added the tanker Agility to its fleet, the first of “the now famous range of names ending in -ity”, reports the author. These names were originally selected by Miss A E Everard from a pronunciation dictionary belonging to her mother, and “since the series was started, over 100 different names have been used, many of them more than once, the majority beginning with A or S but some also with C, F or T.

“The etymological derivation of some is a little dubious and a few were quite definitely manufactured, but nevertheless they created a house style and, in retrospect, none has turned out to be ridiculous.

“Some show quite a sense of humour – for example, ship number 333 was being built by Fellows at Great Yarmouth where progress was very slow. On one of his regular visits to the yard Mr W J Everard, asked if he had decided upon a name for the ship, replied that it would be an antique before it entered service. On his next visit he found the name Antiquity painted on the stern.

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“Others like Scarcity and Austerity described the difficult period when the ships were built just after the second world war.” Other notable names included Tankity, for a little tanker, and Centurity, devised for the 100th ship in the fleet at the time to fit in with the -ity endings.

The family company came into being in 1922, founder Frederick T Everard having a background in traditional spritsail barges. So passionate about them was he that in 1925-26 he ordered the four largest ever built, all steel-hulled and entrusted to our Fellows yard. They were named after Will, Fred, Alf and Ethel Everard, achieved record passages and performed well in the annual Thames and Medway barge races.

The fleet expanded steadily, and Everard became financially associated with Fellows and neighbouring engineer Crabtree in 1931, taking full control of both in 1948 plus associated shipping agent Gorleston Port and Dock Co (renamed Anglian Marine services in 1965). Everard sold them in 1970.

“Ships were built and repaired at Great Yarmouth until the shipyard and works were sold in 1970. Fellows also built a number of tank and dry cargo lighters for the Thames lighterage business.

“At one time Great Yarmouth probably ranked next to London in commercial importance to the company and...many ships loaded and discharged their cargoes there. Many more passed through on their way to deliver coal to the power station at Norwich and then again on their way back out to sea with beet sugar from Cantley.

According to Captain Garrett, the steady trade of carrying coal from ports near pits to gas works ended almost overnight (in the late 1960s) when oil replaced coal, unbalancing other business: for example, a cargo of coal shipped through Yarmouth to Norwich was often followed by sugar from Cantley, but that became unviable.

An inevitable result was “the decline in the importance of Great Yarmouth to the company’s operations”.

On a whimsical note, the author writes: “Due to their frequent visits to Great Yarmouth, it is not surprising that a number of the crews were either local men or had married local girls. There is a story that a local widow with ten daughters often took them to a public house frequented by sailors. Eventually she managed to get all of them married, but there is no known record of how many became wives of Everard sailors...”

During the war, many Everard craft were sunk, mainly victims of German mines in the shipping lanes. Among those attacked by Nazi aircraft was the Sedulity, which suffered twice.

In 1942, she was bound from Cantley to Selby with sugar when a German aircraft dropped a bomb that passed right through her, but the ensuing explosion and machine-gun fire severely damaged her steering. Two wounded men were put ashore at Cromer and the stricken ship was towed to Yarmouth by the Charles M.

“The steering ear had been temporarily repaired but unfortunately failed just in the harbour entrance, the two ships going on opposite sides of the pier – but all ended safely.”

The list of Fellows-completed vessels included: coasters Frivolity and Festivity (1960s); barge Greenhithe (1923); Ability and Amenity (1928), Aridity (1931), Actuality (1931), Aqueity (1934) and Adaptity (1935), all sunk by wartime mines; Antiquity (1933) broken up 1975; barges Fred Everard (1926) and Alf Everard, sunk after collisions (1953, 1956); Sonority (1952), sold 1975; Severity (1954), sold 1975; second Frivolity (1963), sold 1976, sunk (1978) in heavy weather; second Festivity (1963), sold 1974; second Fixity (1966), sold 1976; tugs F T Everard (1928), sold 1951, S A Everard (1939), sold 1990, Joker (1944) broken up 1963, and Jester (1949), sold 1990.

Crabtree built the Glen Mary (1921), acquired by Everard (1940); Tartary (1923) acquired 1929, grounded on the Haisbro Sands (1938), refloated, sank off Winterton when she exploded.

In 2006 Everard sold out to James Fisher and Sons in the �24 million deal; one of its acquisitions, the tanker Audacity, visited Yarmouth recently.