Labour of love as traditional narrowboat project takes shape in Ringmer

Narrow boat built in Ringmer.''Tony and Toby with staff at Architectural Fabrications.
Narrow boat built in Ringmer.''Tony and Toby with staff at Architectural Fabrications.

THE natural home of a narrowboat is a canal. And canals are few and far between in this part of the world.

But one of the traditional steel plate craft is being built from scratch in the East Sussex countryside.

It’s a labour of love for Toby Ombler at his workshop in Ringmer.

He and his team are building the narrowboat, based on the specifications of one dating back to before the First World War, as a tribute to his late mother.

The 61.5ft long craft is taking shape at Arc Fab Sussex Ltd, based at the Caburn Enterprise Park.

Director Toby was raised on a narrowboat in Rickmansworth. They were happy days, and following his mother’s death he decided to build one in her memory and name it after her – Jennifer Grace.

He said: “The challenge was to build a new boat full of character and with echoes of days gone by.”

His quest took him to Milton Keynes and the berth of the Lion, a Saltley-built FMC motorboat dating back to 1913. He took detailed measurements and templates, a host of photographs and videos – and the visual resource to work on was born.

The build began with the clear purpose of providing Toby and his family with a holiday boat, but it has turned out that the project itself is the first great adventure.

“The guys who make up the team are hugely experienced metalworkers and love a challenge,” he said. “Our workshop is well equipped and we soon made space to lay the bottom plates.

“It made sense to try to copy the method of construction as well as the curves and proportions.

“So I decided to investigate the concept of hot riveting the hull and copying the plate sizes and rivets like for like. The process of riveting is more labour intensive than welding and presents a completely different approach to putting a hull together.

“The last 12 months has been quite an intensive year of studying, experimenting and developing skills in order to achieve our goal.

“We have invested in equipment, forges, jigs and templates but we have made good progress.”

Toby added: “Local interest has grown so much that we began to think about maybe producing another boat or two after Jennifer Grace and so we formed the Riveted Narrowboat Company.”