Viscountess Bury Update

Back in February 2012 I wrote an article about the Leo Robinson motor cruiser Enchantress in which I quoted from the history given for her on the steamboat association website. It stated that the Thames built, former electric launch had been moved to Oulton Broad in 1910 where she had operated as a passenger pleasure boat called Viscountess Bury, before being converted to a hire cruiser by Leo Robinson and renamed Enchantress. I included an old postcard showing the Viscountess Bury at Oulton Broad, however, new information has come to light which shows that this was not the boat which became known as Enchantress after all.

Viscountess Bury at Oulton Broad c1910

I was contacted recently by Tim Sargeant about the Viscountess Bury which had indeed been built on the Thames, but actually spent most of her life on the fenland waterways having been purchased by H.C. Banham in 1910. It seems that she did spend a season or two working as a trip boat at Oulton Broad en-route to Cambridge, which explains my original photograph. Since posting that article, another postcard showing Viscountess Bury at Oulton Broad has come to light (see above right) in which you can clearly see that this is not the same boat which became Enchantress. Tim told me the following about the Viscountess Bury:

In 1888 a syndicate was entered into by Viscount Bury and Moritz Immisch to build various electrically powered equipment, including boats, using Immisch’s ‘patent electric motors’.  Messrs Sargeant & Co., boatbuilders of Strand-on-the-Green, Chiswick, were commissioned by this enterprise to convert an old barge into a floating charging station. William Samuel Sargeant had already been responsible for the design of the first of these electric river launches named ‘Malden’.  With a length of 30′ 6″ she was built by Maynards who also had a yard at Chiswick, the Devonshire Boathouse, but the electrical installation was apparently carried out by William Sargeant.  The name ‘Malden’ appears to have been chosen for this boat after the address of Immisch’s electrical business,  ‘The Malden Works’ at Malden Crescent, Camden NW1.

The electric launch ‘Viscountess Bury’ was both designed and built at  William Sargeant’s Strand Works. She was 65′ 6″ in length and the largest electrically powered boat to be built. Sargeant was paid for her on 28th September 1888 and she was handed over on 29th September. The official launching by Sophia, Viscountess Bury, after whom she was named, took place on 8th October 1888 from W S Sargeant’s Strand boatyard at Strand-on-the-Green, Chiswick. For several weeks during her first four seasons she was reported to have been on charter to HRH Prince of Wales. The Viscountess Bury carried a figurehead representing Lady Sophia carved by Mr David Gibb of Limehouse. She remained in use on the Thames until about 1909 and in 1910 she was bought by H C Banham who fitted a petrol engine and took her up to King’s Lynn and thence on to Ely. She was in use between Cambridge, Clayhithe, Ely and Denver over 36 miles of the Cam and Great Ouse for many years.

Viscountess Bury was eventually sold into private hands, but by the mid 1990s was lying at Brandon Creek in a very sorry state. An article written by David Mercer in the June 2010 edition of The Easterling, the journal of the East Anglian Waterways Association, continued her story. A trust was formed with the intention of saving Viscountess Bury and it was eventually decided to have her fully restored. She was transported via road back to Oulton Broad to the Boatbuilding College (which has since undergone a change of ownership) where some restoration is said to have taken place. The condition of the hull was discovered to be in a far worse state than originally thought, and work on her ceased. In circumstances which still seem to be somewhat of a mystery, she apparently ended up being moved to the nearby Newsons boatyard. Sadly, due to her poor state, she was eventually broken up and burnt.

A sorry end to the story of the Viscountess Bury, but it doesn’t bring us any closer to discovering the origins of Enchantress and whether she did undergo a brief change of name to Viscountess Bury or not. I wondered whether Henry Miller may have given her the name to cash in on the popularity of the original Viscountess of Bury as a trip boat at Oulton Broad? Tim Sargeant had this to say on the subject: “I did have some correspondence about this with Edward Hawthorne in the 1990s prior to publication of his book, “Electric Boats on the Thames 1889 – 1914”. However we were not able to find out why or when the ‘Enchantress’ was re-named. My own thoughts were that there must have been some sort of ‘fiddle’ going on to confuse the identity of one or other of these boats. You may well note if looking at period photographs that the genuine ‘Viscountess Bury’ is always shown with her figurehead. ‘Enchantress’ never carried a figurehead. Also, there was some later confusion about the identity of ‘Enchantress’ and another electric boat called ‘Ray Mead’. ‘Enchantress’ seems to have been built circa 1895 either by William Sargeant or by Kerbey Bowen who had built ‘Ray Mead’ earlier.

Many thanks to Tim for getting in contact and for clearing up one mystery at least! I’m going to finish this article by throwing in another mystery with a photograph taken by the late John Chesney which shows what looks like another, similar Victorian/Edwardian launch. I’ve not really investigated this one yet, but it was taken at Lowestoft/ Oulton Broad (or possibly even Great Yarmouth) in the 1980s or 1990s and shows a very lovely, if rather sad looking, launch which doesn’t appear to be either Enchantress or Viscountess Bury.  Answers on a postcard please!

Update 09/05/2018 – I was contacted by Twitter user The Liquid Highway a while ago regarding the mystery launch seen above. It was identified as being the ex Thames launch The Duke of York and I was sent almost identical photographs of the boat sat in a yard at Hartlepool where she was sadly broken up in the 1990s. She had been used on the Thames as a houseboat in the 1980s – did she find her way to Broadland before ending up in Hartlepool, or was my photograph actually taken at Hartlepool? Answers on a postcard please!

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