Crossfield of Arnside ‘Rivers Class’ yachts

Crossfields of Arnside were prolific boatbuilders on the north west coast of England from the 1840s until 1950s. Sadly, the annual conference held at Arnside Sailing Club did not take place in 2020 due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Arnside, 1922

William Crossfields and Sons, Arnside, built ten yachts for the River Mersey Yacht Club, to be known as the ‘Rivers Class’. The boats cost £50 each, with additional £12 7s 0d for sails. [To build the boats today would cost around £20,000]. All the boats were named after rivers. The design of the boats is based on the Fleetwood Jewel Class and is in many ways a scaled down version of a Morecambe Bay Prawner.

The Royal Mersey was a premier yacht club in the North West of England drawing their membership from the Liverpool elite including ship owners and directors of Cunard. In 1914 they organised a regatta at Holyhead involving the King’s yacht ‘Britannia’. The Rivers Class contract would have been a prestige job for William Crossfield.

‘Deva’ sailed by Jon Wainwright, 1991

The boats were part of a trend towards racing yachts of a standard design, where everybody competed on an equal footing. The boats were allocated to owners by ballot. The Rivers Class were smaller than the typical Royal Mersey Yacht, which on average weighed 55 tonnes. They were designed for short races on the River Mersey with two or three people crewing. Originally there would not have been a cabin. Crews were amateur, rather than paid as in the case of larger yachts

Around nine races were held each season between May and July, largely in the evening. In the summer Royal Mersey members took part in races at Beaumaris in Anglesey. The yachts were raced for cash prizes. In 1914 prize money was £50 10s [about £5000 at current values]. There was an annual regatta in July, which also included races for local fishermen sailing Lancashire Nobbies. A steamer was hired for the regatta to accommodate spectators.

Owners included three 1908 Olympic Silver Medallists, partners in Cunard and other members of the Liverpool merchant elite. The Royal Mersey Yacht Club is located in Rock Ferry, Birkenhead close to an area of large Victorian houses overlooking the Mersey. In 1925 the Earl of Derby, who was Secretary of State for War 1917-18, Commodore of the Club, the uncrowned King of Lancashire and a leading horse race owner bought one of the boats. The Earl of Derby owned Witherslack Hall on the other side of the estuary to Arnside which was part of the Derby Estate until 1813.

The Rivers Class are fast boats with good seagoing characteristics capable of making long voyages. With a small draft they are suitable for shallow estuaries such as the River Kent at Arnside.

‘Severn’ being sailed by Ken Tomlinson, Essex 1980

Six boats were delivered in 1912: ‘Mersey’, ‘Alyn’, ‘Dart’, ‘Deva’, ‘Elwy’ (probably later renamed ‘Severn’) and ‘Styx’. A further four boats were delivered in 1914: ‘Bronx’ (renamed ‘Esk’ in 1921), ’Clwyd’ (later renamed ‘Ogwen’, broken up on a sandbank, 1988), ’Keer’ and ’Styx II’.

If it were not for the First World War it is probable that more Rivers Class yachts would have been built. In many ways the boats are a reminder of a way of life that ended with the First World War. The following Rivers Class Boats are thought to be still in existence: ‘Dart’, ‘Deva’, ‘Esk’, ‘Severn’, ‘Styx’ and ‘Alyn’ (in use as a summer house near Whitby).

Since names have most certainly been changed, there may be more to find . . .

Arnside Sailing Club

Alasdair Simpson
first published in the OGA newsletter, Gaffers Log, March 2019