Visitors were welcomed to the Albion Dockyard in Hanover Place, Bristol from 12 noon and a short re-dedication ceremony commenced soon after 2pm with Project Manager Bob Stokes acting as Master of Ceremonies.
After speeches by Councillor Faruk Choudhury (the Lord Mayor of Bristol), Marshall Vine (MQPS President), Brian Burton (MQPS Chairman) and David Abels of the Albion Dockyard the traditional bottle of champagne was cracked on the ship’s bow by Evelyn, Emelia, and Elizabeth, daughters of Andrew Summerell (MD Albion Dockyard Ltd.).
A gathering of vessels of the Steam Boat Association waiting outside the dry dock then gave a rousing whistle salute which was followed by the National Anthem and a further prolonged whistle salute. The ceremonial party also included Sir William and Lady McAlpine, John and Noreen Chambers (MQPS Vice Presidents), Lucy Perry (representing the Heritage Lottery Fund), John Kempton (MQPS Vice Chairman) and representatives from The Merchant Navy Association. The ceremony was witnessed by over 1000 visitors and guests.
The Albion Dockyard band performed beautifully from the fore deck of Medway Queen herself, both before and after the ceremony. The band previously played at nearly all the launches at the Albion Dockyard since 1942, when the yard was operated by Charles Hill and Sons until its merger with the Potterswood Band in 1966. It also performed at a ceremony marking the start of Medway Queen’s rebuild in 2009.
The event proved a popular one. Besides society members who came on a weekend coach trip to Bristol from Gillingham in Kent, enthusiasts from all over the UK and many Bristol residents came to the yard to see the ship pass this milestone in her restoration. Before the ceremony they were able to admire this historic vessel in her pristine new coat of paint and discuss her history with members of the society.
Medway Queen’s story includes seaside excursions, wartime minesweeping and the Dunkirk Evacuation as well as a rather different reputation as a nightclub on the Isle of Wight in the 1960s. Souvenirs, books and draw tickets were on sale and the inevitable collecting boxes were filled beyond expectation. Several new members were welcomed into the society.
The ceremonial party and guests assembled on board and were given a tour of the ship by Andrew Summerell before the main event. Afterwards, members of the Medway Queen Preservation Society and the public were allowed on board to admire the work done so far and to appreciate how much remains to be done.
The hull rebuild and the establishment of the society’s apprentice training workshops on Gillingham Pier have been supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and funding from the European Regional Development Fund via the INTERREG IVA 2 Seas Programme. The ceremony marked the end of this major phase of the ship’s restoration and the beginning of the refit to working order.
The timescale in which this refit can be achieved is entirely dependent on the success of the society’s fund raising and to that end grants, sponsorship and individual donations are all being sought. The priority areas are the upper aft saloon as a dining space and the engine room as a visitor attraction and the central part of any working vessel. A new boiler will be required for which the society does not yet have funding. Any offers of help in cash or in kind would be welcomed at the Medway Queen Project Office, Gillingham Pier, Gillingham. ME7 1RX.
The ship will not be leaving the dry dock immediately. There is more work to be done in preparation for the tow and then the tug has to be available and the weather outlook acceptable. When these conditions are all met the ship will be moved without further ceremony. Predicting exactly when this will happen is not possible but the details will be posted on www.medwayqueen.co.uk
as they become clear. It is intended that the ship’s arrival in Gillingham will also be marked in a suitable way but notice for this will be very short. The fitting out phase will then commence in earnest.
Further events celebrating the tow home include a Music Festival on 7th September and the society’s Gillingham Pier workshops will be open to society members and to the public on all 4 days of the Heritage Open Days weekend of 12-15 September.
Details of both events will be posted on their website
All photo's by Richard Abels.