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Pictures and video: Sharpness 150 launch event

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Saturday saw the launch of Sharpness 150, marking the 150th anniversary of the New Dock at the port on the River Severn, as well as capturing memories of people who have lived, worked or have connections with the area.

Sharpness 150 launch 14 | Pictures and video: Sharpness 150 launch event
The launch was held at Sharpness Sports and Social Club.

Held at the former Dockers Club, now the Sharpness Sports and Social Club, the event included a display by the Stroud Vintage Transport and Engine Club, exhibitions of photographs and memorabilia relating to the docks, talks by local historians and one of the Severn Area Rescue Association (SARA) boats was on show.

The original dock was opened in 1827, allowing access to the then-new Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, but soon proved to be too small as the size of ships increased, so the New Dock to the south was opened in 1874.

Volunteer Bryan Whifield explained: “Sharpness 150 came about as an idea from the Vale of Berkeley Railway Charitable Trust, our heritage railway organisation which is based in the former diesel locomotive shed at Sharpness Docks.

Sharpness 150 launch 10 | Pictures and video: Sharpness 150 launch event
Bryan Whitfield.

“We’re lucky enough to have a lot of support from the people of Sharpness, Berkeley and surrounding area, and we wanted to put something back into the community. One of our members, who was born and raised in Sharpness, pointed out that 2024 would be the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Sharpness New Dock. It was a pivotal point in the growth and development of Sharpness and seemed something worth celebrating – hence Sharpness 150.

“We’ve been developing the concept, including the possibility of staging an event. Our close friends at Stroud Vintage Transport and Engine Club (SVTEC) offered to help, as they organise and run the Gloucestershire Vintage Extravaganza at South Cerney each year and have masses of experience. Their expertise and support has been crucial to making Saturday’s Launch Event happen.

“We’d like to acknowledge the invaluable advice and assistance we’ve had from Gloucestershire Archives and the Gloucestershire Heritage Hub. During the Launch Event and afterwards, we will be recording the Sharpness stories of local people and anyone whose lives have been touched by the port and its community. These oral histories will be ultimately stored in our Sharpness 150 online archive and in the Gloucestershire Archives, for current and future generations.”

Sharpness 150 launch 7 | Pictures and video: Sharpness 150 launch event
Carole Mills.

Carole Mills, a volunteer with the Vale of Berkeley Railway, instigated the idea of Sharpness 150.

“I thought it was important to commemorate the 150th anniversary and I wanted to capture some of the more recent history by recording peoples’ stories – we’ve already found some people who worked as dockers, and we have a website, sharpness150.org.uk where people can contact us if they have a story to tell.”

Sharpness 150 launch 1 | Pictures and video: Sharpness 150 launch event
Martyn Slater (third from right) with members of SVTEC.

Martyn Slater, Chairman of SVTEC, also has a close connection to the area: “My father was evacuated to Sharpness during the Second World War – his family was from Plymouth, and he was sent here when he was 11 years old. He didn’t have a particularly happy childhood as he was wrenched away from all his friends – they couldn’t go back after the war as where they lived became part of Devonport Dockyard.

Sharpness 150 launch 12 | Pictures and video: Sharpness 150 launch event
The breakwater in the River Severn.

“Sharpness has very much been my playground growing up, and I’ve loved living here, I love the area but there are plans for the Docks and there’s going to be development here and I think if we can get people interested in the heritage we might have a sympathetic planning application.”

In 2017 an unsuccessful planning application was submitted to build 300 new homes on the land owned by the Canal and River Trust, along with leisure and tourism development, land for industrial and warehouse development, and development of the marina.

Sharpness 150 launch 13 | Pictures and video: Sharpness 150 launch event
Sharpness New Dock.

SARA’s lifeboats have been stationed in Sharpness since 1975, and Helmsman Will Thorogood told Stroud Times about their presence at the launch event: “We’ve brought SARA 4, which is our D-class lifeboat which operates in the Severn Estuary. The lifeboat station has been at Sharpness for 49 years and we’re a part of the operation of the docks and provide a search and rescue facility if anyone enters the water, or if a craft is in trouble in the estuary.”

Sharpness 150 launch 2 | Pictures and video: Sharpness 150 launch event
Will Thorogood and Rob and Mina Burrows.

The 150th anniversary of the opening of the dock is on November 25th, and other events are being planned for the summer. Find out more at the website, sharpness150.org.uk

Pictures and video by Matt Bigwood

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