Skylark X

Boat Specification
Boat Name: 
Skylark X
Boat Type: 
Motor Vessel
Boat Length: 
50ft
Boat Beam: 
16ft
Boat Draft: 
3ft 3ins
Boat Displacement: 
47 tons
Boat Engine: 
Gardner Diesel
Boat Construction: 
Pitch pine on oak
Boat Builder: 
J Bolson & Son, Poole
Boat Year: 
1936

Bolson's of Poole built a whole series of passenger launches called Skylark. Eleven of that name went to Dunkirk. Skylark X is one of these. She started life in 1926 as a Poole harbour ferry but was soon sold on to P.J. & R.F. Jackson of Hammersmith, who ran a service from Westminster to the Tower of London.

It was here in London that she was commandeered to serve in the Small Boats Service and then went to Sheerness. From there she was taken to Ramsgate in 1940 and on to Dunkirk, commanded by a Sub-Lt. RNVR, with a Petty Officer and two Naval pensioners as crew.

After her return, Skylark X continued as a passenger boat on her old route until 1974, when she was laid up under Charing Cross railway bridge. In 1978 she was bought by Bob and Marian Balcomb who used her as a popular pleasure boat at Kingston and discovered that she had a disconcerting, but friendly ghost whom they named 'Fred Bloggs' .

'We first became aware of him in the summer of 1978, while we were moored to a buoy in the middle of the river, dismantling the starter. We heard someone walking on deck but when we went to look, we found no-one there. Then a chair was being moved in the wheelhouse and suddenly it was thrown out onto the deck. We made a rapid retreat home! A fortnight later, after an evening party, two ladies asked us: "do you know you have 'a presence' on board?" We looked amazed and they went on: "No need to be scared, he's only looking after the boat. We felt he was there as soon as we stepped aboard". A fortnight later, I was taking the boat from Hampton Court to Kingston when Skylark started to veer to starboard and however much I corrected the wheel, she wouldn't come round until we nearly ran aground and then she suddenly answered the helm. I'm told that Fred still walks the deck!'

When Skylark X was no longer economical in 1980 she was sold, ghost and all, for a houseboat, first to Kingston Bridge Boat yard and then to Ian Scott Taylor who lived on her very happily for three years. Then, when he planned to sell her, he met strong opposition from Thames Water, who seem determined to reduce the number of houseboats on the river.

Source: 2, 3, 4, 19 & 20

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