By Rob Virtue on May 14, 2009, 4:07 PM
The boat that carried the body of Sir Winston Churchill on its final journey to a burial in Bladen has itself found a safe haven in the Docklands.
In 1965, after the funeral at St Paul’s, the Havengore took Churchill’s coffin from Tower Pier to Festival Pier where it left by train to Oxfordshire for burial.
The death of the great statesman left a mark on Chris Ryland, 61, and ultimately led to the Gloucestershire businessman securing its future.
He said: “I hitchhiked at 15 on the Thursday before the funeral and queued up for hours to see the coffin. I had this feeling for history and had this opportunity to restore a very historic boat.
“The previous owner ran out of money and tried to auction it but it didn’t work. The future was in doubt and a friend of a friend alerted me.”
It was three and a half years ago that Chris paid £500,000 for the boat and he has since spent the same amount restoring it.
For the last three years, it has been based in West India Quay and South Quay before it was decided to move it to the more serene surroundings of St Katherine Docks in Wapping just over a month ago.
It is permanently moored at the docks but is used for corporate events along the Thames.
Chris said it was also available for charity events, with recent events held for groups such as Winston’s Wish, which aims to help grieving children.
And last Wednesday the boat’s team handed over a £1,000 cheque to army charity Help For Heroes following a collection on Embankment Pier near the Ministry of Defence.
Apart from having the honour of carrying Churchill’s coffin, the ship has a rich history.
Built in 1956, it spent the majority of its life surveying the Thames for the Port of London Authority until the 1990s when it was moored in Gravesend and left to decay.
It was also the first boat on the Thames to have a computer on it.
But it is the funeral of Churchill, seen by over 350million people worldwide, for which the Havengore will go down in history.
Chris said: “He wanted all three services of the British Army to be a part of the funeral and this part represented the naval section. It also allowed the Royal Air Force to do a flypast over the Thames.
“It will always be remembered.”