Restored Lighter to dock at UCS Ipswich Campus

Sep 19 2012 11:30AM

A scene that would have been familiar to the landscape painter John Constable will soon be a reality again with the completion of a project to restore a River Stour ‘lighter’.

The project, which UCS is an official partner of, is one of the most exciting outcomes of the Heritage Lottery funded Managing a Masterpiece programme and will see the lighter (a type of horse drawn cargo barge) used again for the first time since it was scuttled at Sudbury in 1914. However, instead of carrying coal, bricks or corn, the lighter will now be used as a fare-paying vessel for interpretative trips along the River Stour.

The lighter was originally rescued by the River Stour Trust in the 1970s and remained at Sudbury until June 2010, when it was raised out of the silt at Great Cornard Lock before being transported to Brightlingsea ready for restoration by the Pioneer Sailing Trust. The work has been completed and the vessel will be on display at UCS Ipswich on Wednesday 26 September for public viewing.

On leaving Ipswich the John Constable will return to Great Cornard where it will spend the autumn and winter being prepared for service in the of spring 2013, when it’s formal launch will take place. Fittingly, it has been named after the painter who did more than anyone to capture the special beauty of the Dedham Vale and River Stour valley.

David Gill, Professor of Archaeological Heritage at UCS|, said “I am delighted that University Campus Suffolk has been an active partner in the Managing a Masterpiece project. The restored Stour Lighter is a tangible reminder of the heritage of East Anglia and it draws together the strands of art and history.”

James Hasall, Chairman of the Managing a Masterpiece board said: “For over a hundred years or so River Stour Lighters were an important feature on the river, immortalised in paintings such as John Constable's ‘Boat building near Flatford Mill' (1815). Thanks to the Managing a Masterpiece programme and the dedicated and skilled restoration work carried out by the Pioneer Sailing Trust, the restored lighter will once more be a feature of the river”.

River Stour lighters worked their way up and down the River Stour from Sudbury to Mistley Quay, carrying coal up river and bricks and corn on the return trip. Uniquely, the lighters operated in pairs, being shackled bow to stern, with the rear lighter being used as a rudder for the pair. The stern vessel had a single hold with a small cabin at the rear. Each boat was capable of a load of 13 tons, making a total of 26 tons for the pair. They were towed by a single horse, which was trained to leap on and off the foredeck as the towpath changed sides.

To find out more about river trips aboard the John Constable, please contact the River Stour Trust.

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