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Sunday, 05 July 2015

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Historic scenes from a family album

W HEN Geoff Graham was a boy, he liked nothing better than to hang around his grandfather’s ship chandlers yard at Whitehaven’s Queens Dock, soaking up the atmosphere and earwigging the crack between Grandad, his customers and the salty old seafarers that would regularly drop by.

Grandad was Thomas Kennaugh, who was born in Whitehaven in 1887 and died in 1969, aged 81. His daughter Nellie Graham (née Kennaugh) was Geoff’s mother.

Kennaugh is a name that comes from the Isle of Man and has a long association in Whitehaven with the business of ship’s chandlery and sailmaking.

The business had been handed down from William Kennaugh, who at one time had his own fleet of coastal steamers, known as West Coast Shipping. Each of his vessels would have ‘Force’ in its name, such as Greta Force, Skelwith Force, Dalegarth Force, Stanley Force, Rydal Force and Holme Force (torpedoed on August 8, 1940). His good friend was one Captain Murphy, ships master.

Geoff himself, now retired, has had a military career spanning many years spent mainly in Germany, and before that Singapore. Nowadays he and his wife live at Greystoke.

But he is ever-mindful of his family’s connection with Whitehaven and seafaring, and, thanks to his mother, is today’s custodian of a collection of old family documents and photographs recalling times from another century. The photos are of course almost all of ships, in particular ships in Whitehaven harbour.

These were the days of sail. And sails, each tailored to the type and size of vessel, all had to be hand-made to specification.

Geoff has a large pattern book from Kennaugh’s sailmakers that gives all the measurements and dimensions for the sails of most Whitehaven vessels. It dates from 1867 and gives information on many local ships. Pencil drawings and technical calculations fill all the pages of this well-thumbed historic record.

Later, Kennaugh’s would also make and supply canvas covers for horse-drawn or motorised carriages.

Geoff also has in his possession a large book recording plans and reports submitted to Whitehaven harbour trustees during the 1800s for expansions and alterations to the structures of the harbour.

They date from 1792, though the first report is from a Cockermouth engineer John Smeaton, dated April 1768, setting out ideas to build a North Pier to lengthen North Wall “till the heads of the two piers should be within a 200 ft distance of each other”.

The book was printed by R Gibson in 1836 at the Cumberland Pacquet office in King Street, Whitehaven. It reveals that in 1804 a Captain J Huddart, a hydrographer of Allonby, submitted plans for extension to quays in north harbour but by 1806 a number of ship owners and masters had got together calling on Lord Lowther and the trustee to take measures to help protect their vessels during gale conditions. Of the 90 names, which included Thomas Brocklebank, Richard Kelsick, William Plaskett, William Corhill, William Creighton and William Peel, only one was female – Ann Powe.

In 1814 engineer John Rennie complained the harbour was too small and high winds and heavy seas caused damage to ships. He presented plans for alterations and extensions to West Pier and North Pier which would have cost just short of £120,000. They were not adopted.

A further scheme in 1821 put forward plans by William Chapman to extend North Pier and create a new tongue south of the Bulwark Quay. Chapman said it would cost £52,000 and there was excellent stone to be obtained locally for the construction at a cheap rate.

A year later in 1822 John Brocklebank junior, supported by the names of 150 masters and owners, tried again before Sir John Rennie’s 1834 plans for extending the North and West Pier were accepted, partially. In 1836 however, while construction was under way at West Pier, severe gales and storms hit the coast and some vessels were damaged. The brig Musgrave was totally wrecked after it got caught up in temporary projecting cranes.

Geoff’s grandfather, Thomas Kennaugh, was born at Prospect, Whitehaven, in 1887. He married Margaret Elizabeth Cowen at the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Howgill Street, in 1914. The couple lived at Holmewood, one of the first bungalows to be built at Monkwray Brow.

Thomas Kennaugh was one of 10 children of Robert and Hannah Kennaugh of Quay Street and Robert was in turn the son of William Kennaugh born in 1820.

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