Dragons, Barges & Heroes Never Forgotten
By Graham Saunders
A few random thoughts came me upon reading this months (November 2007) “Rye’s Own”. The first concerns the famous first Rye Dragon, built as we know on Mr. Bellhouses premises, the fire breathing mechanism was the brain-child of that fine engineer Mr. George Manktellow of Rye, and the entire coat of scales was cut out and fashioned by Miss Ethel Hickman of East Guildford.
Further inspirations were raised by mention of the River Barges and their crews. The late Mr. Dick Doby of Snargate was at one time writing a history of these craft. Unfortunately I do not know if this was ever finished. However, the Cutting Brothers did many years on various barges with varied cargo and went as far inland as Bodium, often carrying coal, and hoping the water level would stay down, to allow them passage down- river with an empty barge sometimes having to wait before they could pass under the bridges en-route. Propulsion was a problem and sometimes they had the services of a horse to pull from the tow-path. When this was impossible they resorted to pulling by man-power known as Tracking. My father Frank Saunders sometimes used to help out in the 20’s when any work was welcome. Stories of happenings were told years afterwards and of these, I remember a couple.
The first relates to a journey to Bodium with coal, a 10 ton order I believe for a local man, sent by Vidlers of Rye. They had a good trip and moored at Bodium by evening, and were ready to unload the following morning. As they prepared for an overnight stay, one of the brothers went and gathered some coal for the stove, the customer happened to see him and objected. “That’s my coal and I bought 10 tons for me not your stove” no more was said but when he returned in the morning his coal was bagged up and stacked on the bank. “What about all the rest in the barge”? He said. “You’ve got your 10 ton weighed guvnor, that pile belongs to Mr. Vidler and goes back to Rye with us” – so he didn’t gain much. On another winter trip they were laying up waiting for the water to drop when they saw Humphrey Ellis steaming up river to shoot duck at Blackwall. He used an old sea-plane float as a punt and had a punt-gun mounted in the bows. Later they saw him coming back down, with the craft very stern heavy. It transpired that he had stalked a bunch of duck and had a shot, forgetting to take the cover from the muzzle of the gun, used to stop water getting down the barrel. The resulting blast burst the gun and blew the bow from the punt.
In conclusion lets not forget that three Cutting Brothers were lost in the Mary Stanford and anyone who has attended the annual life boat service at Rye Harbour will know that there is no immediate danger of them being forgotten.