History of IRENE

IRENE is our newly acquired and very beautiful vessel, complete with canopy. She was built in 1920 in Mahogany and Oak and has an interesting past, mainly carrying passengers on the Norfolk Broads, the Ouse and the Thames.

Irene is available for private hire for small groups. Let your captain guide you down the River Rother towards Rye or Bodiam Castle in comfort; sit back and enjoy the ride!

Price: £120 for the first hour, then £90 per additional hour.
Maximum of 6 adults and 2 children passengers.
Optional extras: Bottle of Prosecco £25
Scones, Clotted Cream and Strawberry Jam £6pp

Dannie Lee and Irene are available for private hire
April to October (weather permitting)

`HISTORY OF IRENE: In the city of Ely there was a family called Appleyard, who had been building boats for use on the rivers and Norfolk broads for seven generations. In 1902 a boy was born into this family called Ted, and of course his life was deeply involved in boats and boating.

In 1920, after the Great War, Ted, who was 18 at the time, embarked on building a boat for himself, she was to be 21feet long, 5 feet 6 inches in beam and smooth and sleek in shape. He built her of the best mahogany planking on oak frames, for in those days such wood was still readily available. The rear and fore decks were built up in planks of alternating different types and colours of wood, as was the fashion at the time, creating a smart striped effect. He called her ‘Irene’, and later added a cabin, also built in mahogany.

Little is known of what happened to Irene for the next 75 years, except a few tales that have been traced of her use. Ted used her frequently on the broads and The Ouse, and during the second world war, due to the difficulty of getting petrol for the Benz engine that drove her, he fitted a set of rowlocks and was seen rowing Irene about Ely’s waterways. In 1955 for reasons unknown, Ted took her out of the water and stored her in a shed on his land at Ely. There she remained for the next 40 years until Ted died in 1995, at the ripe old age of 93. Not long after this, The Appleyard family joined up with a man called Lincoln and the well known company of boat builders Appleyard Lincoln was born, building broads cruisers, not of mahogany and oak now, as that much maligned material Fibreglass had been invented.

A friend of the family called Robert Durrant was offered the chance to purchase Irene and, knowing the quality of the skills that Ted had mastered, he happily agreed. His only request was that he should take Teds hat from its hook in the hall! Ted was easily recognised in Ely, as he always wore this hat as he went about his work. Robert felt that it should remain on board Irene.

Over the next few years Robert restored Irene to her original beauty. To his surprise, only one piece of planking in the hull needed replacing and otherwise she is totally original. The original Benz engine had been removed many years ago and was lost in the stores of the Science Museum, so Robert fitted a ‘modern’ power unit; a neat little two cylinder Volvo engine of 1955 vintage. Producing 13 hp this engine is smooth and quiet and more than capable of propelling Irene’s sleek hull through the water at up to around 10 knots.

Robert loved this little boat too much to sell it immediately and would often be found on a Sunday morning sitting in her cabin with a flask of tea and the Sunday newspaper; what better way to get away from the cares of daily life. However, the time came when Robert had to accept that his livelihood was in restoring and dealing in old boats and she finally had to go.

She was advertised in a national magazine and before long, her next owner turned up. His name was also Ted and he had a beautiful old house by the broads and added Irene to his collection of boats in the large purpose built boathouse at the bottom of his garden, where she lay for the next two years.

Around 1999 Sean Wiles had been shown the boat; just before she had been purchased by Ted. Sean fell in love with her instantly, but sadly could not raise the cash to buy her. The thought of Irene stayed in his mind and two years later his wife, Delane, suggested he should try to find her again.

This turned out to be a long and difficult piece of detective work, as the person who originally showed the boat to Sean had since retired to Australia and no remaining records of her existed.

Eventually, as in all these kinds of tales, a piece of good luck turned up in the form of an internet site written by a man who spent many holidays on the broads and who had kept and recorded a list of every boat he saw afloat there, and as Sean had a photo from the original advert, he knew that Irene had a very early and unusual broads registration number of ‘8C’. Sure enough there in the list was this number, so Sean wrote to the Broads Authority and asked for some information. Quite rightly they refused to tell him who she was registered to, but after some persuasion agreed to pass on a letter to her current owner from Sean asking if Irene was available for sale.

It’s here that another amazing coincidence occurred. One morning Ted and his wife were sitting at breakfast discussing the fact that they were no longer using Irene and that she should be sold on to someone who would have the time and interest to use her more, when Sean’s letter fell through the letter box. A deal was quickly struck and Irene finally arrived at Sean’s house near Southampton, a little tired with two years of weed on her hull and very black bronze fittings; she was tucked away into Sean’s large garage. After a little TLC, Irene and Sean spent countless hours on the Thames, which is Sean’s favourite river. Every year Sean took her to the famous Thames Traditional Boat Rally in July where many other beautiful examples of these boats can be seen and in 2006 Sean and Delane took her up river from Maidenhead to Henley for the regatta.

In January 2013 Bodiam Boating Station had the good fortune of acquiring Irene with Newenden resident, Alan. Together we are very much looking forward to returning her to the water and to her roots as a working boat again, working alongside our passenger ferry, the Dannie Lee. She will be chartered for private party hire on the River Rother. We will be offering an onboard catering service and hope Irene will become a popular part of Bodiam Boating Station for many years to come.


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