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Our living history - Freshspring

6 November 2020

Since the article we ran earlier in 2020 on maritime museums, readers have been writing in with information about their own local historic ships around the UK – many of which use the expertise of volunteers from the seafaring community for restoration, maintenance and even operation. Here we have the story of the Freshspring, sent in by the chairman of the Steamship Freshspring Trust John Puddy

Built in 1946, SS Freshspring is now the last of a class of 14 ships built through the Second World War and the only remaining small cargo steamer with the potential to go to sea. Recognised as being a vessel of National Importance, it is number 28 on the UK Register of National Historic Ships.

SS Freshspring spent much of its working life in Malta. It steamed there from the maker's yard in Lytham in 12 days using some 42 tons of coal. Its role was to replenish naval ships with purified water for use in their boilers, and it also acted as a fire tender and salvage vessel when required.

Its form reflects its role as a Royal Navy water carrier. With its pre-Second World War configuration, it represents the type of general cargo vessel that was the workhorse of the British coasting mercantile fleet from the turn of the century to the 1950s.

SS Freshspring now enjoys life alongside in Bideford, North Devon. With a crew of over 30 volunteers, it is being lovingly restored as a static exhibit with the long term aim of returning to sea. The triple expansion steam engine is in good order, and the boiler survey looks promising.

But things haven't always looked so rosy for this little ship. In 2010 it was in a very different state of repair, lying in a scrap yard after years of neglect and pounding by the Severn tides.

It was spotted in 2010, the Trust was formed in 2013, and in 2016 – with a grant from The National Heritage Memorial Fund – SS Freshspring was towed to a dry dock. Sections of the hull were overplated with some 100 square metres of steel and the vessel was then towed to a permanent berth in Bideford.

The Steamship Freshspring Trust is currently applying for funding to carry out two essential studies: Feasibility, to determine operating potential, and Viability, to determine a future sustainable role for the ship. These studies will inform the Trust how best to achieve its vision to return SS Freshspring to operation, ensuring that sustainability is at the heart of its future. The Trust aims to add to steam power by utilising a hybrid propulsion system, providing a valuable learning platform for students and cadets.

As a Trust owning a maritime heritage asset, it plans to grow its work in education. The tag line 'Preserving the past to inspire knowledge for the future' feeds nicely into its primary school engineering project and the maritime careers advice and support offered to secondary school students.

The Trust has an important and growing role to play in opening young minds to the rewarding careers that engineering and maritime can offer. SS Freshspring is the ideal vessel to facilitate this learning. During these Covid times, the Trust has been active in the development and delivery of virtual reality experiences to enable people to tour the SS Freshspring safely and in more detail than with a physical visit. The development is being substantially supported by The Heritage Lottery Emergency Fund, BMT Global and The University of the West of England. It is proposed to advance to simulation and new technology such as 'actual reality' to support the promotion of maritime careers.

The Trust requires volunteers both on the ship and remote to deliver its valuable objectives. We greatly appreciate any donations to support our work. To find out more and to join, please visit


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