AGM 2004, Summary

Date Posted: January 31, 2004

I had hoped to get one out in the second half of last year; I try doing at least two a year. The Trustees have unfortunately been busy trying to resolve a dispute which has arisen over the ownership of the Mary Gordon, more of which later.

Funding In 2003 The Mary Gordon Trust received over 7,000 pounds in donations and grants, taking the total to over 10,000 pounds. I am pleased to say that expenses are very minimal and that this money is now earning interest and will of course count towards matched funding when the lottery grant is approved. We have had discussions with Andrew Wheeler, a local professional grant expert who has worked for Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce. I have known Andrew since my banking days and he has generously agreed to prepare our application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) a t a fraction of the usual cost. The trustees all agree that this is the best way forward; we will only get one shot at the target, so it may as well be our best.

Andrew is studying the wealth of information we have collated prior to submitting the bid, and in the meantime the HLF await our application with interest. The template which Andrew produces will then be available for use when we apply to other funding sources such as WREN (environmental trust). Thank you to all those who have donated to the project so generously.

History

Steve Baxter kindly loaned us some old cine films which he had taken in the 1960′s. He felt sure that some where there was a shot of the Mary Gordon on the Brayford. Andy Blow of Blow by Blow productions kindly scrolled through the many cans of film, and sure enough has found a few frames of the boat on the Brayford in the early 60s. This will be incorporated into the ‘Mary Gordon Story’ video in due course.

Ownership

In May last year I received an e-mail from a David Lawrence of York telling me that he had been involved with the restoration of the Mary Gordon in the 1980′s and had various parts of the boat, particularly the rudder. More importantly he considered that he still owned the boat! I met with his son Jonathon and later David himself to discuss this claim.
David Lawrence’s company purchased the Mary Gordon in the early 1980′s for 3,000 pounds with the backing of Leeds City Council from Graham Mackereth, who in turn had purchased the boat from the last owners of the boat in commission, when it was lying on the bottom of the River Trent at Sawley in 1979. His objective was to restore the boat for use on Roundhay Park, Leeds, where it was first used. It would appear that this was to be a commercial transaction.

He arranged for the Mary Gordon to be restored through British Shipbuilding apprentices in Hartlepool. Labour was supplied free of charge and he spent over 15,000 pounds on materials, including 9,000 pounds on specially made nails. Some renovation work was carried out; including the renewal of planking below the waterline and replacement of oak frames, leaving the boat largely in the condition it is today. On this basis he is asking the Trust to pay 15,000 pounds(later reduced to 10,000 pounds) for the boat which he considers he owns.

David Lawrence’s company Hilltop Ltd went into liquidation; the liquidator has provided us with documentation showing that the company agreed to sell the boat to David Lawrence at a price of 15,000 pounds. It was later agreed that the consideration be reduced to 8,000 pounds.

The shipbuilding apprentice’s scheme folded, and the boat was moved to Middlesbrough, where it was abandoned, effectively rotting away, with the distinct chance that it would be cut up and burned. Numerous attempts were made to contact David Lawrence by the scheme administrators without success. Graham Mackereth was contacted and asked to take back the boat from Middlesborough to his yard hence him coming into possession of it again in 1994. At this time a detailed document was given to Graham by the scheme administrators documenting all of the above.

The boat was acquired by me on behalf of the intended Trust on the 26th November 1999 from Graham Mackereth for the consideration of 1 pound which I paid in cash. Ownership was subsequently transferred to the Trust when it was formed.

The Mary Gordon has been in the possession of the Trust since May 1999. The Trust is of course a registered Charity. John Morgan of Langley’s solicitors is a Trustee of the Mary Gordon Trust and has kindly given us detailed legal advice free of charge. We are advised plainly that as we acquired the boat from the Party in possession of it, namely Graham Mackereth, on a bona fide basis and without notice of any other claims or any possible defect in Title, that we have accordingly acquired a valid Title to the boat and on behalf of the Trust.

However, any title David Lawrence may have had has been over ridden by the transaction previously referred to when Graham Mackereth sold the boat to me on behalf of the Trust.

The Trust is a registered Charity subject to the administration of the Charity Commissions and to Charity Law generally. Any transactions entered into by the Charity must be wholly valid and appropriate. Accordingly, in the circumstances as detailed above, there is no question that it would be lawful for the Trustees to seek to enter into a transaction with David Lawrence on whatever basis to pay him the sum of 10,000 pounds in respect of the boat.

Any transaction would best have to be on an extremely modest basis reflecting so to speak ‘nuisance value’. On this basis an offer of 2,000 pounds was made but turned down flat, and has now been withdrawn.

I have had numerous meetings and exchanges of correspondence with David Lawrence and his son. I have offered him use of the boat when restored, a position as trustee and even to make the boat available for use on Roundhay Park when restored. All such offers have been turned down, his last comment being that if we do not pay him he will take the boat away and restore it himself. However, he has no knowledge of or interest in boats and it seems to me his interest is purely financial.

We have now asked him to state why he feels he has title to the boat, so that if necessary this can be decided by the courts. To do this will of course involve expense, and hopefully an agreement can be reached before things get this far. I have spoken to our contact at the Heritage Lottery Fund to apprise them of the dispute between ourselves regarding the ownership of the Mary Gordon.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has confirmed that there is no prospect of lottery money being used to buy the boat from Mr Lawrence as it is owned by the Mary Gordon Trust. Any doubts as to ownership must be resolved before an application can be considered. Individuals or companies cannot apply for HLF funding and as such the application must be via a trust or society.

Obviously this situation represents a major obstacle to the restoration plans which must, and will, be overcome. I am still hopeful that the HLF bid can be submitted in the early part of this year. I can assure members that the Trustees are working hard to this end and I will of course keep members apprised of developments. In the meantime, thank you for your continued support and rest assured that all donations are ring fenced and will remain so until the dispute is settled.

The Mary Gordon received a cheque for 4,000 pounds from the Lincolnshire County Council, also 100 pounds from Witham Oil and Paint who are providing paint and varnish, and supplied the paraffin when the Mary Gordon was on the Brayford.

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