Stour Lighter Restoration

Over 120 years ago a Stour Lighter was built at Flatford and plied its trade from Manningtree to Sudbury along the 300 year old navigation that is the River Stour. The John Constable Lighter is on the Historic Ship’s Register as being of regional historical interest.

The River Stour Trust, working together with the Managing a Masterpiece team, contracted the Pioneer Sailing Trust to restore the lighter to its former glory. We were delighted that this scheme comprised funding for a boat building apprenticeship.

When restored the lighter will once again be used on the River Stour. A management group liaised with the project team during the reconstruction work and to plan the future operation of the lighter.

The restoration project was a major part of the Managing a Masterpiece project achieving a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of almost £1 million (read more). Managing a Masterpiece was a three year programme, comprising 14 projects covering archaeology, biodiversity, and conservation of historic features; to understand, conserve and celebrate the landscape of the Stour Valley. Click here to find out more.

The Pioneer Sailing Trust was set up in 1999 to restore back to sailing condition the last remaining 1st Class Essex Skillinger Smack Pioneer. She is now fitted out with accommodation for groups of 12, and her 3 professional crew, sailing on the river Colne between April and October. To find out more, visit their website –

Restoration Progress

Gallery: To view images of the Stour Lighter – click here.

September 2012 – The newly restored John Constable Lighter….

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The newly restored John Constable Lighter has taken pride of place on Ipswich Waterfront outside the front of the university campus for two days on 25th & 26th September prior to its return to the River Stour. A launch ceremony is planned for next year when the next chapter of its life will officially begin.

2011/12 – We are starting to see what a beautiful vessel the John Constable will be…

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We are starting to see what a beautiful vessel the John Constable will be. Long lengths of oak planking form the bottom and the sides of the Lighter and the framing of the hull is well advanced. The team have had a complex task to rebuild the strongly curved bow and stern which is of an intricate design. The construction is massively strong because of the heavy oak planking and will give her a long life. She was already over 100 years old when she was sunk in the mud at Ballingdon Cut in 1914.

Detailed planning is taking place for the fitting-out of the Lighter including two electric motors, which will propel her at a moderate speed. The plan is to accommodate the passengers in the fore hold and to place the batteries to power the electric motors in the after hold. The deck layout of the barge will be identical to the original structure, where there was a steering position amidships, between the two holds.

The Lighter will operate on the stretch of river between Sudbury, Great Cornard and Great Henny. We are planning to launch her in Summer 2012 with a special party and she will operate with the River Stour Trust’s other boats on the river. There is no doubt that the John Constable will prove a great attraction for trips on this beautiful stretch of the river.

April 2011 – The dimensions of the lighter have been carefully recorded…

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The dimensions of the lighter have been carefully recorded and the wood cut and seasoned. The keel is in the process of being laid and the outer skeleton built with the help of a boat building apprentice who will submit reports for publication on the Managing a Masterpiece website- click here.

December 2010 – Delivery of the oak was taken to be seasoned over the winter period…

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Delivery of the oak was taken to be seasoned over the winter period. A key issue was to ensure that the Lighter’s final dimensions would enable it to pass through the locks on the River Stour. The final dimensions have been decided to ensure that this will be possible and the rebuild of the Lighter will take place over the next 18 months to be ready for operation in summer 2012. We are pleased with progress and the good working relationships which have been established between the River Stour Trust, Managing a Masterpiece Project Team and the Pioneer Sailing Trust.

There will be ongoing discussions regarding the specifications for the passenger accommodation, the steering and the electrical propulsion of the Lighter. This work will take place over the next few months in plenty of time for the later stages of the Lighter’s reconstruction.

July/August 2010 – The lighter’s restoration commences…

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The lighter’s restoration commences at the Pioneer Sailing Trust’s workshop at Brightlingsea. During July, once the wood had partially dried and the concrete that was placed in the lower parts of the hold has been chipped out, all aspects of the lighter were measured and plotted. By August, scale drawings of the Lighter had been produced and wood was being sourced. The wood needed to be suitable not only in terms of type and size but also in regards to the quantity available. On Monday 2nd August, a superb and informative day out was enjoyed by members of the River Stour Trust. Details of the lighter restoration progress were explained before the group set sail aboard ‘Pioneer’, the last remaining 1st Class Essex Skillinger Smack Pioneer, restored to sailing condition by the Pioneer Sailing Trust.

Tuesday 22nd June 2010 – The John Constable Lighter was lifted…

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The John Constable Lighter was lifted gently from the silt near Great Cornard Lock to begin the next stage of its life. Much preparation was undertaken by Rupert Marks of the Pioneer Sailing Trust to ensure that the lift, carried out with the assistance of Quinto Crane & Plant Ltd, went smoothly. Rupert was present throughout the lifting procedure and was delighted that things went so well, He said, ‘We are looking forward to working on the lighter but after getting it to our yard, we are going to let it dry out before taking many measurements to ensure we use as much information as possible from the timbers that remain’. The River Stour Trust is enthusiastic about the restoration and are pleased the Pioneer Sailing Trust was chosen to oversee this work with their considerable boat building experience. The money received from the Heritage Lottery Fund includes an amount to train an apprentice in boat building skills so not only will an historic vessel be restored, but the associated skills learnt, will be used again in the future.