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Hugh Perks - Sailor, Writer and Artist

Hugh at the wheel of Cambria after her restoration

Tribute by Brian Pain

I first met Hugh more than forty years ago when Caroline Ware and I were first getting to grips with restoring the Lady of the Lea to sailing condition. He was very supportive and a font of knowledge. He accompanied us on the first trip up the River Lea to Waltham Abbey and wrote an amusing article in the East Coast Digest about the adventure.

Over the ensuing years we had many long conversations about Faversham, the Creek and architecture. He was a stalwart supporter of our attempt to retain Standard Quay as a working shipyard and contributed regularly to the Faversham Eye.

It was distressing to watch his health deteriorate towards the end but uplifting to see his spirit and good humour still shine through.

We include one of his whimsical cartoons with this tribute.


Tribute by Julian Mannering

Hugh Perks, who was a founder member of the Kentish Sail Association and a keen supporter of the Swale Smack & Sailing Barge Match for these past 45 years, died quietly in his sleep on 28 October. Hugh was a man of many talents and enthusiasms, with an encyclopaedic mind and, a huge capacity to pass on his knowledge, whether in the lecture hall, through his books and articles, or just in conversation, generously sharing anything and everything he knew.

Hugh was born on 14 March 1939, and though christened Richard, his mother adopted the name Hugh at an early age. He was educated at Bedford School before joining the merchant training school ship HMS Conway on Anglesey, by that time a ‘stone frigate’, the ship having been lost in 1953. His first ship was Exhayne, a Faroe Islands trawler out of Grimsby, and he made his debut trip on a Thames barge in 1955. He spent a short spell working deep-sea for the New Zealand Shipping Company, and then returned to England in 1956 to work as a barge mate. He was only 17.

He had a short spell in army intelligence, ending up in Hong Kong as an army photographer where he learned his camera skills. Returning to England, he trained as a chartered surveyor, and after qualification specialised in medieval buildings, particularly churches. He then took lecturing posts at Anglia Ruskin College and Canterbury College where he was known for his originality and encouragement as a lecturer and teacher.

All this time Hugh was researching and writing extensively on shipping and fishing and the traditional craft of the Thames estuary. He was an advisory editor on that cult journal East Coast Digest, and he wrote articles and books, the latter including Sprits’l: A Portrait of Sailing Barges and Sailormen and George Bargebrick Esquire, as well Sailing Barges of Faversham published by the Faversham Society.

And he still had time to become a lay preacher, and to involve himself in any number of societies and organisations connected with the world of traditional sail. He was, as previously noted, a founder member of the Kentish Sail Association, and of the Society for Sailing Barge Research, as well as a member of the Cambria Trust, which oversaw the rebuilding of the barge Cambria.

Hugh was a fine photographer and a skilful draughtsman, and, even in his last years, and despite his frailty, could be spotted sketching the medieval buildings of Faversham that he loved so much. It goes without saying that he was horrified by the sprawling developments that have recently been unleashed on the town. He was married to Sue Harman, whose family own the barge Edme, who survives him along with their two children, Victoria and Oliver.

Hugh's drawing of the barge Portlight at Standard Quay in 1999


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