Unique historic ship brings thousands into Bideford economy

PUBLISHED: 14:13 01 December 2020

SS Freshspring is more than a steamship. Photo: Pete Gillet

SS Freshspring is more than a steamship. Photo: Pete Gillet

Archant

Trust hopes to make popular North Devon visitor attraction even more prominent

SS Freshspring welcomed over 3,500 visitors during 2018/2019. Photo: John PuddySS Freshspring welcomed over 3,500 visitors during 2018/2019. Photo: John Puddy

During the Second World War, a fleet of 14 fresh water carrying steam ships was commissioned by the Royal Navy to deliver water to warships. SS Freshspring served most of her time in Malta before being retired to the Clyde in the late 1970s.

Now the sole survivor of her class, SS Freshspring was sold into civilian life in Bristol. However, in the late 1980s she ended up moored on the banks of the River Severn where her machinery was kept in good order by her then owner, though externally she was deteriorating.

In 2013, the Steamship Freshspring Trust acquired the ship. Major funds for hull repairs were gained and on 16 October, 2016, SS Freshspring, towed by the tug Severn Sea, made her way to a new home in Bideford. It was an amazing journey, managed by a team classed as mad for even attempting it.

During her early days in Bideford, SS Freshspring could not be opened to the public, but volunteers stepped forward and worked miracles. Some of the work needed funds, and thankfully, with Heritage Lottery Funding, local financial support and in the safe hands of the people of Bideford, SS Freshspring is today a very different ship.

Freshspring's new wheelhouse being lowered into place. Photo: John PuddyFreshspring's new wheelhouse being lowered into place. Photo: John Puddy

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In October, 2016, SS Freshspring, towed by the tug Severn Sea, made her way to a new home in Bideford. Photo: SS Freshspring TrustIn October, 2016, SS Freshspring, towed by the tug Severn Sea, made her way to a new home in Bideford. Photo: SS Freshspring Trust

Welcoming over 3,500 visitors during 2018/2019, the trust’s 54 registered volunteers have been working hard to make sure that the visitor experience is truly memorable.

From 2017-2019 the Steamship Freshspring Trust contributed over £18,000 to the local economy. With its own brand of beer, sponsored and brewed in a local brewery, and branded clothing, locally supplied, the trust is proud to be part of a movement to cultivate maritime pride back into Bideford.

SS Freshspring is more than a steamship. She’s a place for volunteers to meet, learn new skills and have a sense of purpose. She’s a classroom for local schools where education involves hands on learning, she’s a venue for art classes and helps young people to understand careers in maritime. She has the potential for so much more.

In recent months, it’s been impossible to safely open the ship to the public. However, a virtual reality tour, currently being created in partnership with BMT Global, will provide a valuable education resource and let the public tour the ship without leaving the comfort of the fore deck. This is a really exciting piece of work using cutting edge technologies.

In the late 1980s SS Freshspring ended up moored on the banks of the River Severn. Photo: Brian GoodingIn the late 1980s SS Freshspring ended up moored on the banks of the River Severn. Photo: Brian Gooding

The next challenge is to secure funding for two essential studies: feasibility and viability. Once funds for this work are obtained, the trust will learn exactly what needs to be done for SS Freshspring to operate and become economically sustainable. These studies are pivotal pieces of work.

Want to find out more? Contact the trust chairman, John Puddy on 01237 479730 or visit the website.

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