It was with an order from James Keeble, a well know Maldon barge owning family, to build the Dawn that Walter Cook took on the yard in 1894.
Not long after her launching in 1897, another barge order came from Meeson’s of Battlesbridge and this resulted in the building of the Lord Roberts, (this was during the Boer War). In 1902, the year of the coronation of Edward VII, a second barge for the Keebles was launched – the British King.
Cooks was not solely a barge yard. An order from the brewer Charrington for the steamboat “Annie” to take passengers to Osea Island, was the first in a succession of pleasure boats which plied for custom from the Promenade beach in Maldon and also from outside the Kursaal at Southend-on-Sea.
In 1907 the Admiralty brought out the design for the Montague Whaler and Walter Cook received the contract to build the prototype, resulting in many years of subsequent orders. During WWII they were turning one out about every three weeks, making over a 100 whalers during the war years.
In the 1920’s another lucrative and long lasting contract resulted from a visit by Josh Francis of Francis & Gilders of Colchester, which owned its own fleet of sailing barges, including many of the Maldon barge fleet. This led to a steady stream of repair work for the next 40 years.
After the end of WWII the yard was very busy with repair work to barges that had suffered damage after being requisitioned and more and more barges came to the yard to have diesel engines fitted. As wooden hulls became older and owners became more reluctant to spend money on keeping them going, many were eagerly snapped up for conversion to barge yachts, the first barge Cooks converted was the Challenger in 1937.
In 1946 Walter Cook retired, passing the running of the yard on to his son Clifford who had been working with his father since 1919. A new ruling by the Board of Trade insisted on barges having a load-line exemption, resulting in a increase of barge work both for surveys and the subsequent repair work. Cooks had a contract for all of G F Sullys barges including the Hydrogen, and also with the Leigh Building Company who owned ballast barges which were subject to very rough treatment from the ballast grabs and in need of constant repair.
Sold on Cliffords retirement in 1976 to Barry Pearce and Gordon Swift and then later Roger Beckett, Walter Cook & Sons continued barge repair work and boat building until the last shipwright left the shed in 1992. Topsail Charters took on the yard in 2001 and now it is home once again to shipwrights, riggers and of course our offices. We also have the last set of working barge repair blocks on the East Coast, and if you come down to the Quay over the winter, you could see repairs being carried out to our own fleet and also visiting barges.