Photo: Illustrative image for the 'NEWHAVEN HARBOUR IN THE 1950'S' page

A Memoir

By B. R. Funnell

A duty I enjoyed when I was employed in the harbour office in the 1950's and 60's was showing school parties around the port. The weather and working operations sometimes restricted the tour, but something of interest could usually be found.

The harbour dredger 'Testside' was an attraction, especially when working near the quayside. Large dollops of silver-grey mud were scooped up by the bucket chain, then slipped down a chute and slopped into the hopper barge moored alongside. When full the barge was towed by a tug to the spoil grounds, southwest of the Breakwater. On a hot afternoon the incessant clanking and groaning of the dredger nearly sent the accounts clerks to sleep.

Sometimes we could look into 'L' Shed, which was the customs examination floor, and see various packages opened and displayed for checking with the declarations. I still remember the distinctive smells of that shed - a mixture made up of pinewood crates and wooden wool, wine and spirits, oiled machinery, perfumery and essential oils, with an occasional whiff of musty dried rabbit skins. On the top floor of the shed were stored thousands of cases of wines, spirits and liquors, and southward was 'K' shed, were fabrics and textiles were dealt with.

Not many children had been abroad in those days; this made a walk through the passport and customs area an experience, and a little talk about smuggling and the list of prohibited articles, (to which flick-knives and horror comics had recently been added) held their interest.

Further up the quay was the wine shed, where casks were stored in neat rows "bungs up and bilges free", ready for dipping and gauging by customs. The Cooper, wearing a sack apron, would be in attendance with his box of tools. These included; a wooden mallet for loosening the bungs and pieces of Hessian to use when replacing them; a valinche for drawing samples, lead patches for repairs, and a scriber for scratching the custom rotation numbers on the casks.

Sometimes there would be a vessel in the 'Grid-iron', a platform of bulky timbers over which ships floated at high tide, and were left high and dry at low tide, enabling work below the waterline to be done.

If the sea was rough the large Dredger, 'Foremost Prince' could not work at cleaning the approaches and would be moored alongside the old London-Paris Hotel, where the crew would be busy chipping and painting.

There were rail wagons of containers and varied merchandise being emptied or loaded , and cranes working.

I suppose many things had not changed since Victorian Times, but the next decade, with a 'Roll on - Roll off' ramp built, and the movement of cargo in bulk on lorries and trailers began a new era. Sheds closed, the worn out cranes disappeared. No Engines or railway trucks could be seen. Things have become visually less interesting. Even the despatching of the lifeboat does not compare with the excitement of the old slipway launch, with the impressive splash into the water, But no doubt things have become more efficient, - or have they?

This page was added by Stuart Young on 22/01/2008.

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