Fenland: ‘A New Thames Motor Tug’

Fenland – National Historic Ships UK

The Wet Dock in Ipswich is now home to both Neptune Marina and Haven Marina which are full of many pleasure cruisers, yachts and the like. Many of which, that make Ipswich their home are retired working and historic vessels. Who now spend the end of their working lives as projects of dedicated owners. Did you know that Ipswich has two Dunkirk Little Ships as permanent residents, a Thames Sailing Barge and several others.

One which you might not have thought much off is the little tug Fenland. A unique little vessel that is the oldest diesel ‘working’ tug in the UK that was built as a diesel tug and not converted from steam. Originally named Seaby and built in 1929 in Amsterdam for C.W. Beckett who operated a fleet of heavy-oil tugs on the Thames, with Seaby operating initially from Brentford Dock close to the docklands of East London. Operating there and along the Thames until 1947 when Wisbech council bought Seaby and renamed the little tug Fenland.

Fenland moored up in Ipswich – September 2018

Fenland went back to work on the Thames once again after being sold to Clements-Knowling and until 1980 worked on the river passing through several owners. In 1980 Fenland moved to Maldon and worked on the south and east coasts until it became a houseboat in the early 1990s.

Bought by current owner Fraser in 2000 the structural condition of the vessel is good. Though Fenland undergoes regular conservation work. Major repairs were made to the engine in 2006 with most of the engine being rebuilt. This was followed by hull repairs in 2008 including galvanising and shot blasting. There are plans to replace the current wheelhouse with a more traditionally structure based on the vessels original layout.

Fenland moored up in Ipswich – September 2018
Fenland moored up in Ipswich – September 2018

Originally fitted with a Kromhout 4-M-4 200 hp diesel in 1929. This was replaced by a 1941 built Ricardo Paxman TP12 in 1956. Following repairs Fenland is still running with that diesel engine today.

We would like to thank Fraser, a member of the Ipswich Maritime Trust, for kindly showing us around Fenland. Vessels with fantastic stories would not be around for us to still see without owners like Fraser or organisations such as National Historic Ships UK,. We in particular are so lucky to have Fenland in Ipswich as it enters its tenth decade.

If you have a local historic vessel or know anyone visiting Ipswich with a vessel and a story to tell. Then please get in contact with us and we may feature the vessel on our #VisitingVessels blog post series.

Reader Interactions


  1. Charles Traill says

    Remember her working on the upper Thames [to Brentford and Isleworth] when I was a lad, owned by Clements Knowling [before they amalgamated to become Clements-Tough]. Very pleased to review her history and know she is being looked-after.

    • David Lee says

      Think she may be one of the tugs my father worked on as Engineer/stoker in the 1950’s at Clements and knowling Brentford. Remember that my brother and I each got taken on the river on our birthdays. All the barges we passed threw pennies onto the tug as we passed and we came home with a pocket full of pennies.

      • James Cox says

        Your father may have worked with my father on Fenland during late 1950s. My Grandfather was James Clements and so I’ve been left an amount of Great photos and I’m sure I have a couple of Fenland.

        • Mary says

          James Clements was my great grand father, my grand mother being his third daughter Lydia.

          Who like to tell us stories about the tugs and barges, was a lighterman herself and worked in her father’s office. I am delighted to find out that one of tugs is still around. I have just bought a barge myself to enjoy during my retirement.
          I have many family photos including some of goat what house later known as Sidney House at Brentford.
          I also have a Dalton ash tray with Clements Knowling co ltd logo.
          Would great to hear from a relative our side of the family has lost touch with.
          Regards Mary

        • Ramsey Barber says

          Hi Jimmy In the photos you have do you have one of the Ceekay, or can I borrow it so I can make a copy.
          Cheers Ramsey.

  2. Colin andrews says

    Did a lot of work on and behind the Fenland, for her size she could and did pull a lot of tonnage. Especially as the crews were so skilled at their work. O
    ne of which is Mike Noble pictured in the top photo when she is in Clements Tough colours.

  3. Mary says

    Does any one know where the the Fenland is now?
    As Great Grandchildren of James Clements with a big interest in boats ( I own a barge) my brother and I would love to see the tug our family once owned.

  4. Ramsey Barber says

    Hi I worked for Clements Knowling and one of the Tugs I worked on was the Fenland She had a Paxman Ricardo V 12 engine 1,000 RPM Turbo she used to scream when flat out,
    When she was rebuilt in the fifties they built the bridge with folding sides,a mast that could be lowered and the funnel kept short to enable the Tug to go under Hammersmith Bridge at HWSpings ;Alf Joyce one of the Skippers complained about the fumes coming from the funnel so the engineers fitted two extensions and that is why she has them to this day.
    Ramsey Barber.

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