A day in the life of Wareham Quay
John Newth describes a typical 24 hours in the life of Wareham’s best-known feature
Published in August ’10
8.30 am. Paul Brenson, landlord of the Quay Inn, is out in the early-morning sunshine, watering the flower boxes and hanging baskets outside the pub. He calls ‘good morning’ to the owners of one of the two cabin-cruisers moored up alongside the Quay, who are eating their breakfast on deck. Beyond, the haze is already lifting from the water meadows and the blue-grey colour of the Purbeck Hills gives the promise of a beautiful day.
9.00 am. Charles Hinton, known to all as Chaz, trundles his cart loaded with brush and shovel onto the Quay. A familiar sight in his broad-brimmed hat and high-visibility jacket, he cleans the streets of Wareham every day. Despite the bins on the Quay, there is always plenty for him to sweep up, mainly food wrappings and lolly sticks. Today, he moves a piece of greasy fish paper and sees underneath it a leather wallet. There is no address in it but a number of credit cards and more than £60 in cash. Chaz will drop the wallet off at the police station in Worgret Road on his way home.
10.00 am. From the boot of his car Ward Bullock is extracting a large sign which he places at the entrance to the Quay. It is early warning to drivers not to park on the Quay on Saturday, because that is now market day. Ward, who used to run the centuries-old Thursday market at Cottees in East Street, started the Saturday market half a dozen years ago, originally in North Street. It moved to the Quay four years ago, firmly establishing itself as a feature of the town. Like any market, its backbone is food, but among its twenty or so stalls are those selling clothing, jewellery, gifts and toys. Ward’s guiding principle is to create a true community market, promoting local produce and talent.
11.00 am. Both the pubs, the Quay Inn and the Old Granary, are now open and already the tables outside each of them are filling up. A family of four are sitting outside the Old Granary, looking at a pile of leaflets they have picked up from the Tourist Information Centre round the corner. They have decided against the beach today, since they all got rather sunburnt yesterday, so the two children are arguing about the merits of Monkey World or Corfe Castle, while their mother has a cup of coffee and their father sips his first pint of the day. The Old Granary was a restaurant for years but about three years ago changed into a pub and incorporated the house next door. For 35 years this was the home of Babs Elvin, a well-known Wareham character who would sit in her porch on sunny days and watch over everything that went on on the Quay.
12 noon. Wareham’s Rector, Andy Bowerman, hurries across the Quay on his way to Lady St Mary Parish Office, which is in the Parish Hall, tucked away next to the Quay Inn. He wants to sort out the final details for the open-air Songs of Praise which will be held on the Quay next Sunday evening. It is an occasion when all the churches in Wareham come together and the Quay will be packed with a mixture of visitors and residents.
12.30 pm. There is a minor dispute between the owners of two of the boats that have come up the River Frome to moor for the day. Russ Taylor, the Quay Superintendent, comes across from his boat hire business at Abbotts Quay, on the other side of the road, to sort it out. At one time the Quay Superintendent (a job Russ took over from Babs Elvin) collected money from boats mooring at the Quay, but the right of the District Council to collect such dues was successfully challenged when it was established that Wareham is by tradition one of the few free ports in the country.
1.00 pm. It’s a very warm day, the sun glinting off the water. Both the pubs are now full of lunchtime trade with waiting staff dashing in and out to serve the open-air tables. The grass immediately opposite the Quay is full of picnickers. The family of four has decided to have lunch here before going on to Corfe Castle, but have spent the last hour or so strolling down the towpath on the other side of the river and visiting Priory Meadow. This is the small nature reserve established by the Wareham and District Development Trust just on the other side of the bridge. Alongside Priory Meadow is a ‘community performance platform’, a small semi-circle of stone which anyone can use to sing, recite, dance or do anything else they like so long as it’s legal. Either shyness or the heat of the day is discouraging anyone from using it at the moment.
2.00 pm. Almost all of Russ Taylor’s boats for hire are out on the river. He has ten each of rowing boats, motor boats and canoes, as well as two boats specially designed for disabled people. They can go up-river to the bridge carrying the town’s by-pass, and down as far as the point where the Frome flows into Poole Harbour. Russ’s latest customer, a young man taking his girl-friend out, has obviously never rowed before and is in the middle of the river, making no progress beyond getting in a tangle of oars. Russ gives him a shouted rowing lesson from the bank, and eventually the boat sets off on a rather drunken course up the river.
3.30 pm. The Pequod, one of two boats that offer trips on the river from the Quay, is taking on a full load of twelve passengers. Its skipper tells the waiting queue that its sister ship, the Orca, will be there in about ten minutes to collect them. Both are 27-foot traditional Navy whalers which carry sightseers up to the by-pass bridge and down to Redcliff, each skipper providing this own commentary on points of interest along the way.
4.30 pm. Russ Taylor is tending the flower baskets hanging from the lamp-posts on the Quay, which he provides off his own bat, when a shout from the other side of the road alerts him that one of his canoes has arrived back early. The occupant is soaking from head to toe and admits that he managed to fall out of the canoe soon after setting off. ‘I tried to phone you but for some reason my mobile wouldn’t work,’ he says in a tone of genuine puzzlement.
5.30 pm. The Frome flows both ways past Wareham Quay as it is tidal to just above the bridge. The tide is coming in strongly now and brings a pleasure boat up the river from Poole Quay. This is a popular trip for holiday-makers in Poole but can only be done when the tide is right. The passengers will have a couple of hours to explore Wareham and perhaps get a bite of supper before returning downriver on the falling tide. Commercial boats like this one have a section of the Quay’s moorings set aside for them, and a private boat has to move out of the way before the passengers can disembark.
6.30 pm. The top of the tide has brought out two bridge-jumpers: teenagers who leap from the parapet of the bridge into the murky water below. It provides a great spectator sport for those sitting on the Quay but it is a dangerous hobby: even at high tide the river is not all that deep, and the lads are in real danger of hitting the bottom hard or cutting themselves on debris. No doubt some public nursemaid will ban the practice soon, but it has long been part of the rich picture that is Wareham Quay in high summer.
7.30 pm. Members of the Wareham Art Club are making their way to the Parish Hall for their regular meeting. The hall is well used by a range of groups and societies in the town, especially in the winter months, and the Wareham Art Club is one of the most popular.
11.00 pm. The pubs are closing and there is the sound of ‘good-nights’ and car engines starting. Only one of the cabin cruisers that was here this morning is still moored; tomorrow it must be on its way as any one stay is limited to 48 hours. Its lights go out, a few stragglers disappear into South Street, Paul Brenson locks the door of the Quay Inn, and Wareham Quay enjoys the peace of the short summer night.
Photography by Ken Ayres