June 26th 2016

Beamish has donated wood to help restore a ship that took part in the rescue of 200 Sunderland men during World War Two.

MFV Willdora, a 55ft motor fishing vessel, is being brought back to life by volunteers at Sunderland Maritime Heritage.

Beamish has donated about 60 cubic feet of larch, which was grown at the museum, to help with the restoration.

Andy Nesbitt, Gardening Team Leader at Beamish, said: “We’re very pleased to be on board with the project (pun intended). We’re looking forward to seeing Willdora float again.”

Tommy Rowe, 76, from The Bents, is Chairman of the heritage group. He said: “The ship took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk and reputedly saved several Sunderland men, that’s our connection with it.

“The larch that we’re getting from Beamish will be mainly used for internal furniture and fittings inside the ship. It’s going to be a really big help.

“We’re thrilled to be associated with the museum and we’re over the moon they could help, especially as Beamish is such a big organisation.”


The MFV Willdora was built in 1901 and is included in The National Historic Fleet Register.

The vessel was brought to the city by Sunderland Council in the 1970s as a maritime project for Hylton Red House Comprehensive School.

Restoring the ship to its former glory isn’t an easy process, Tommy explained: “It’s very slow and painstaking due to the weather because it’s outside and exposed.

“The project has been off and on for about 10 years. Originally it was only going to be a few small plans but it’s been a bigger job than we thought. It’s like opening a can of worms.”

The team hopes to start the decking soon, with the outer shell nearing completion.

Tommy said: “We’re all volunteers and it’s about giving something back to the area. It will all be for the good of the town, because people will hopefully come and visit us.”

John Sumner, 58, from Castletown, Sunderland, volunteers at Sunderland Maritime Heritage. He added: “People of Sunderland always get involved and are proud of their heritage.”

When asked what the plans were for the ship, Tommy said: “It is going to be a pleasure craft for people of Sunderland to take part in marine activities and for schoolchildren to come on board to learn about seamanship.”

It is also hoped that MFV Willdora will make an appearance at the 2018 Tall Ships Race. Tommy added: “It will be in the water and the outer appearance will be finished but internally it might not be done, we’ve got our arms and legs crossed!”

The Sunderland Maritime Heritage organisation was set up in 2000 to represent and preserve the maritime history of the city for future generations and to train and instruct the traditional skills of ship and boat building that have been practiced on the River Wear for 600 years.

If you’re interested in volunteering with the heritage call 0191 510 2540 or email info@sunderlandmaritimeheritage.org.uk.