The Return of the Severn - Mary Hamilton, of Arnside Archive Group and Alasdair Simpson, of Arnside Sailing Club reveal Arnside's fascinating maritime heritage

IN 2018, with the help of a Heritage Lottery Grant, Arnside Sailing Club bought Severn, a Rivers Class yacht built by William Crossfield and Sons for the Royal Mersey Yacht Club in 1912, in order to have an example of a Crossfield boat in the village. The Severn sailed for the first time on the Kent estuary in beautiful sunshine on the weekend of July 14 and 15 to coincide with an exhibition of Arnside’s maritime heritage put on by the Arnside archive group.

For nearly 150 years, from 1838 to the 1980s, Arnside was an important centre for boat-building.

The Crossfield family was active in Arnside from the 1840s to the 1950s. Across four generations, they greatly influenced the village as it developed as a resort.

As well as making boats, they hired boats to holidaymakers, acted as village joiners, built coffins, opened shops and built houses.

The first Crossfield to move to Arnside was John, who set up a village joinery business in the early nineteenth century.

He and his family arrived before the coming of the railway viaduct, when Arnside was still just a small hamlet of (how many – see 1841 census) dwellings.

His younger son Francis developed the boat building side of the business, launching his first boat in 1838, while his elder brother Thomas concentrated on house building.

The heyday of the Crossfields was the period leading up to the First World War from the 1890s. They were the leading builders of Morecambe Bay Prawners (or Lancashire Nobbies), serving an area from the North Wales coast to Southern Scotland. Lancashire Nobbies were designed to cope with the shallow waters of the North West Coast, pull a heavy trawling net and get a perishable catch back to market as quickly as possible.

By the mid 1880s the business was being run by Francis’s sons William, Francis, John and George as the Crossfield Brothers, operating from the Top Shop yard on Church Hill.

Boats were rolled down the hill to the shore and launched from the beach.

In 1892 William, the eldest son, set up the Beach Walk Boatyard on the shore, operating as William Crossfield and Sons, taking his brother Francis with him. The Top Shop Boatyard continued to operate as Crossfield Brothers, run by his half brothers John and George.

In 1906 John moved to Conway, opening a boat-building business there that lasted until 1983. The Top Shop boatyard was then run by his younger brother George.

When George died in 1909 the business was taken over by his two sons. In 1915, they moved to Hoylake in the Wirral, the business lasting to the early 1920s.

The Beach Walk Boatyard, still standing in Arnside, continued to be operated by William's sons until the early 1950s, though after the First World War, the demand for yachts and prawners declined. The Top Shop Boatshed has recently been demolished to build new houses.

Around 25 per cent of Crossfields' output was yachts. They also built rowing boats, bay boats, and sailing dinghies, including Arthur Ransome's Swallow.

Bay boats were sailing boats used to take holidaymakers on excursions from resorts such as Morecambe.

An important commission was the Morecambe Fisherman’s lifeboat Sir William Priestley, which is now in Lancaster’s Maritime Museum awaiting preservation. Unlike elsewhere fishermen provided the town’s lifeboat. The boat was named after a Bradford mill owner and MP.

The boat was paraded through the streets of Morecambe and named by the Lord Mayor of Bradford.

In 1909 they built a Windermere steam launch, which was towed by traction engine from Arnside to the lake.

Many of the boats are still in existence, a testament to their quality and craftsmanship.

These include Ziska (1903), which has been sailed across the Atlantic to America and is due to take part in a race to Alaska in 2019; Bonita (1888), which was the oldest boat to take part in a Round Britain Challenge in 2013 and Moya (1910), which came second in the classic boat class in 1975 Fastnet Race and featured in Italian TV programme in 2017.

Other Crossfield boats are raced in the annual Liverpool Nobby Race, which has been featured in TV.

Severn: The life story of a Crossfield boat

Key Statistics:

Built 1912

Length Deck Level 23 ft ( 7.01m)

Length Water Line

19 ft 6 in (5.94m) Beam: 7 feet (2.13m)

Draft: 3 feet (1.14m)

Weight: 3.4 tonnes

Construction: Wooden, carvel pitch pine planks on sawn oak frame and blackbone. Rounded Nobby stern. Full keel Rigg

Gaff Rigged: Mainsail, two foresails and topsail

The Severn raced successfully in the 1912 Royal Mersey Regatta, taking joint first place.

According to the Birkenhead News: “The Royal Mersey Regatta took place in glorious sunshine with 84 yachts taking part offering a fine display of sailing. The crimson sails of the Rivers Class were much admired by the spectators, including ladies in the watching steamer.”

However, the Severn sank, probably in an abandoned race, just two years after this and was rediscovered in 1927 on the bed of the Mersey at Rock Ferry.

She was in good condition, with all her equipment intact, except for the sails.

In 1928 she was brought from the Receiver of Wrecks by 24-year-old Joe Wallace of West Cheshire Yacht Club, New Brighton for £25 and lovingly restored.

Severn changed hands several times and is next recorded in the 1970s and 80s as being based in Essex.

Then, in 2013, David Pearce, of Lee-on-Sea, discovered her languishing in a neglected state in a boatyard on the River Medway. He moved the boat to Rochford in Essex and over the next two years restored her to a high standard.

In March 2018 the Severn returned to Arnside by road and after some final painting and renovation to the engine, she was launched and moored off the promenade for the summer.

She sailed for the first time on the Kent estuary on the weekend of July14, proudly showing off her red sails.

She will be spending the winter months under cover and be kept in the estuary in the summer.

A Friends Group has been set up to help fund and maintain Severn - see

Pictures|: Morecambe Bay partnership/Keith Willacy collection

* Arnside archive group has many photographs and documents about the Crossfield family and boatbuilding activities in Arnside. It can be contacted on