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Heritage Harbour Festival

Free Event — Cultural Events
Heritage Harbour Festival

We continue our Heritage Harbour Festival events with another weekend celebrating the Quayside’s remarkable maritime history.

A General Jollification’ or ‘Rise up again Britannia’

Continuing our year of celebrations to mark Exeter’s new Heritage Harbour status, we are celebrating the recent arrival of two large scale traditional sailing vessels. The 32m Thames barge the Snark and the relaunched fishing smack Britannia are now both moored in the Canal Basin.

To celebrate we have a packed weekend of events planned on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th September.


Cannon Firing by Trafalgar Gun Company

Arrival of Mayor and Mace Sergeants to welcome ‘Snark’ to the canal basin (not King’s Wharf as previously stated).
Cannon Firing
Afternoon Informal public tours of ‘Snark

Historic Quay Walk #1 With the Red Coats.

Parker’s Harbour Custom House Public lecture by Richard Parker showing the development of the harbour over five centuries based on five fantastic new drawings.

‘Pop up History!’ Custom House Short monologues presented by community performers based on reminiscences gathered as part of the community history exhibition.

Premiere of Onedin Line Redux Transit Shed A recreation of scenes from the popular seventies TV series originally filmed at Exeter Quay – Art Work Exeter.

All Day Saturday

Take a trip on the River Exe Swan Boat (land based version) – 3pm to 9pm with Burn the Curtain Theatre Co. (booking from 2pm at Customs House)

Community History Exhibition Art Work Exeter – Custom House


The packed entertainment continues on the Sunday around the Piazza Terracina, when The Snark moves to the canal basin, where she will be joined by the fishing smack Britannia.

Cannon Firing opens the event Exeter Folk Orchestra

First Red Coat Historic Quay walk

‘Aargh’ Musical pirates on galleon roller blades

Arrival of ‘Britannia,’ An historic fishing smack built in 1914. She will be hauled by Exeter Sea Cadets accompanied by music from Mariners Away shanty crew onboard. Moored at head of basin alongside Topsham Brewery.

Speech by Chair of Britannia Sailing Trust

‘Liberty Sisters’ and South West Lindyhoppers 1940’s close harmony singers and dancers.

Traction Engines The engines will be going for ‘steam-about’.

Historic Quay Walk #2 With the Red Coats.

‘Aargh’ Walkabout with musical pirates on galleon roller blades!

‘Mariner’s Away’

Talk 1 Haven Banks Outdoor Centre

Follow your Noses: Fish, Tallow and Beer along the 1920s waterfront – a talk about the businesses around the Quay in the 1920s and the people who worked there.

Julia Neville – DEI Exeter West Quarter Project

‘Liberty Sisters’ and South West Lindyhppers

Talk 2 Haven Banks Outdoor Centre Life on board the Nonsuch and the Golden Hind, in the 1970s – by John Cadd. John sailed on both the Nonsuch (into Exeter via the ship canal) and the Golden Hind replica ships in the 1970s. John Cadd – South West Maritime History Society

Historic Quay Walk #3 With the Red Coats

‘Out of Tunas’ shanty crew

3.30pm: Talk 3 Haven Banks Outdoor Centre Devon History Society Exeter’s way to the Sea, the story of the quay and ship canal (1590-1970) J Turner – South West Maritime History

Close of event Canon Firing

All Day Sunday

Take a trip on the River Exe Swan Boat (land based version) – 12pm to 4pm with Burn the Curtain Theatre Co. (booking from 2pm at Custom House)

Informal public tours of ‘Snark’ and ‘Britannia.’

Maritime Market Family activities with Double Elephant Print Workshop

Trips around the city in classic cars

Community History Exhibition Art Work Exeter – Custom House

Guy Parker’s ‘Open Shed’ (Part of Red Coat tour itinerary)


‘Snark’ is a modern version of a traditional coastal sailing barge, often incorrectly termed a Thames Sailing Barge. In fact such vessels were a common sight all round the British coastline until the years after WW2, including here in Exeter. She was built by a father and son team, David and Nigel Speight, to replace their original sailing barge which had got beyond economic repair. Remarkably she was built in four sections in their
Essex back garden during the 1990’s. To help recoup the money for the build, they agreed that their vessel could be used as part of the Dunkirk sequence in the film ‘Atonement’ starring Keira Knightly and released in 2007. The four sections were transported to the set on Redcar beach, bolted together and she became a very obvious feature of the scene.

Sadly, at this point, David Speight died and the boat spent the next seven years as probably the largest garden shed in England. Then in 2015 she was acquired by Paul and Qiao (Chiao) Jenkins, named ‘Snark’ and converted to be used for chartered voyages. This will be the first visit by a substantial sailing vessel for many years,
and she will be subsequently based here during the winter months where she will be a venue for dining. Find out more


‘Britannia’ was built in 1914 in Kings Lynn and is the last Class 1 fishing ‘smack’ of her kind. Her oak timber frames were specially chosen by her builders from trees in the royal forest around Sandringham. At the time, local fishermen were employed to crew the huge racing yachts of the rich and famous. As an acknowledgment of this, they were allowed to call their fishing boats after the name of the yachts they crewed. ‘Britannia’ was of course the name of King George V’s racing yacht. The King left instruction in his will that his yacht should be scuttled after his death and his instructions were carried out. The name was of course subsequently re-used for the late Queen’s royal yacht.

Launched just as the Great War was starting, our ‘Britannia’ had an unusual encounter with a German U Boat. Instead of sinking her, the U Boat crew came on board and exchanged food and bottles of beer! Later in the war she rescued the crew of a Russian ship in distress. She spent the next fifty years in the ‘whelking trade’ for which she had been designed. The first ship back to port with the catch got the best price, so ‘Britannia’ was built for speed.

In 1973 she was found by Sam and Vicki Samuels in Lowestoft docks in a very sorry state. They undertook her restoration and lived on board. Once completed, they used her for over twenty years as a charter vessel, mainly around the Scottish islands, and their children were raised on board. Then in 1996 they were forced to sell her and
thought their time with her was over. Not so! In 2013 she was re-discovered, by their son, in a sad state in Brixham harbour. Incredibly, the Samuels family once again set about her restoration, having donated her to the Britannia Sailing Trust.

This has taken 10 years, largely under the cover of a temporary building near their home in Winkleigh. However, in September 2023 she will be re-launched and will arrive in the canal basin to much celebration as part of our event. Afterwards, she will complete her restoration here and soon she will once again spend the summer sailing the oceans, but her winter home will be here in Exeter. Find out more

Get a taste of what to expect from our previous Heritage Harbour Festival earlier this year. Click here to view a slide show

Ticket Prices: Free

Register/Buy Tickets
  • Date(s)

    • Sat 23rd Sep 2023 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
    • Sun 24th Sep 2023 11:00 am – 4:00 pm

  • Location

    Exeter Custom House
    46 The Quay
    EX2 4AN

  • Age Range

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