Crossfields of Arnside

The site of the Crossfield Boatyard in Arnside is owned by the City Livery Yacht Club member Stephen Bernhard.

Crossfields of Arnside were leading builders of Morecambe Bay Prawners and yachts from the 1840s to 1950s. Their heyday was the period leading up to the First World War from the 1890s.

Morecambe Bay Prawners (also known as Lancashire Nobbies) were fast gaff rigged fishing boat 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. Railways enabled the catch to be taken to the industrial towns of the North West fueling the expansion of the fishing industry. Morecambe Bay Prawners were common in the Irish Sea from North Wales to Southern Scotland, with large fleets at Morecambe, Fleetwood and Southport. They fished for shrimps rather than prawns. Distinctive features of Morecambe Bay Prawners are the elliptical stern, central cockpit with a large deck area and low freeboard to facilitate the working of nets, high bows to cope with rough sea conditions, a large sail area and shallow draft.

Arnside is located in Cumbria at the top of Morecambe Bay on the Kent Estuary. Historically the estuary was the port for Kendal. Unusually for the North West Coast the area is wooded providing the source material for boat building. The village did not really develop until the coming of the railway in 1857. The railway crosses the estuary on a viaduct there. There are views across the estuary to the Lake District Hills. The village’s first yacht club was formed at the early date of 1852. Tides come in with a bore.

The boat building business developed from the village joinery business. The first Crossfield to move to Arnside was John, who set up a village joinery business in the early nineteenth century. His younger son Francis developed the boat building side of the business, launching his first boat in 1838. By the 1890s the business was being run by Francis’ sons.  William, the eldest son aided by his brother Francis ran the Beach Walk Boatyard, now owned by Stephen Bernhard, whilst their half-brothers, John and George operated a yard on Church Hill. In 1906 John moved to Conway and set up a boat building business there. After the last Crossfield retired the Beach Yard continued as Crossfield’s Successor till the 1980s.

Conditions in the Boatyard were primitive with each plank of wood having to be sawn by hand. Working hours were limited to hours of daylight. It took four men 6 weeks or 120 working days to make a 32 foot prawner. It is said that the boats were made in silence with each man knowing what to do. Prior to the start of work, half models of the boats were made rather than plans. As well as making boats, Crossfields hired boats to holidaymakers, acted as village joiners and built coffins.

Boats built by Crossfields include

Bontia (1888), the oldest boat built by Crossfields still in existence. She took part in a Round Britain Event in 2013 and sailed to the Baltic in 2016. She has belonged to the Beckett family, since 1938 when Allan a young civil engineer brought her. Allan was involved in the design of the Mulberry Harbours used in the invasion of Normandy.

Ziska (1903), based in Port Townsend on the West Coast of America. In 2019 Ziska took part in the Race to Alaska up Canadian Inside Passage. Ziska was sailed across the Atlantic to the West Indies and the USA in 1999 by Ashley Butler who now runs Penpol Boatyard near Falmouth. She featured in a documentary by the explorer Tim Severin investigating the different inspirations for Robinson Crusoe in 2000.

Moya (1910) now in the Mediterranean. Moya featured in an Italian TV documentary in 2017. At one time owned by John Llewellyn Moxley, a TV and Film Director, Moya took in the Fastnet Race in 1975 coming second in the classic yacht class. Her history is recounted in “Il segno dell’onda, Moya 1910 -2010- the Mark of Tide” a book in Italian and English.

Pacific Moon (1913) built by John Crossfield in Conway rather than Arnside. In 1931/32 she was sailed to Tahiti by Sidney Howard. The voyage is recounted in his book “Thames to Tahiti”.

Laura (1910) Featured in Edward Delmar Morgan’s 1954 book “I brought a Prawning Boat^ and his daughter Miranda’s magazine article “Spawned in a Prawning Boat” In the late 50s Edward lived aboard Laura with his young family starting his daily commute from Burnham-on-Crouch to London rowing to the shore wearing his suit and bowler hat

Swallow (1912) Owned by Arthur Ransome. Arguably the most important sailing boat of the twentieth century. After Arthur Ransome, Swallow was brought by Roger Fothergill, aged 15 and kept on the estuary at Arnside. Roger went onto become a head of a yachting school, partner in a West Indies yacht charter business and owned Tern IV, a 62-foot yawl. Another of Arthur Ransome’s boats Coch-y-bonddhu was used to teach sailing at a prep school in Arnside in the 1950s. Coch-y-bonddhu is now in the new Windermere Jetties Museum.

Severn (1912) – Arnside Sailing Club’s Crossfield Yacht

In 2018 Arnside Sailing Club brought “Severn” to have an example of a Crossfield’s boat in the village with the help of Heritage Lottery Grant. Severn was one of 10 Rivers Class yachts built by Crossfields for the Royal Mersey Yacht Club. She was joint winner of the Rivers Class series in 1913. In 1914 she was brought by Captain Harvey Broadbent RNR who was commandant of HMS Conway a ship of the line used for training merchant navy officers anchored in the Mersey. Captain Broadbent was involved in setting up the London Company of Master Mariners and the Severn Seas Club in the 1920s. On July 23rd 1914 just days before the start of the First World War, Severn capsized in a race and sank. She lay under water for 13 years till she was rediscovered and raised to the surface by the Mersey Dock Board’s salvage vessel “Salvor”. Severn was sold by the Receiver of Wrecks for £25 to Joe Wallace, aged 24 of New Brighton. Between 1972 and 2018 Severn was kept on the East Coast in Essex or Kent. Arnside Sailing Club are currently raising £40,000 to restore Severn and fit a new engine. For more details about Severn and to donate to her restoration

2nd Crossfield Conference, Saturday 16th October

Arnside Sailing Club are holding a second conference on Crossfields and their boats, building upon the success of their first conference in 2019. The conference provides a chance to learn about the history of different Crossfield’s boats. Ticket prices are £24. There is an optional visit to the Windermere Jetties Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories.

Details of the conference are on with Arnside in background William Crossfield and workforce, Beach Walk Boatyard, Arnside a