Sadness after 'Mr Deben' dies

ONE of the best known and most knowledgeable ''old men of the river'' has died aged 91.

ONE of the best known and most knowledgeable ''old men of the river'' has died aged 91.

Frank Knights, who ran a boatyard at Woodbridge for more than 50 years, was known as “Mr Deben”.

He was almost inseparable from the river and at various times ran boat trips, acted as Trinity House pilot, and operated the Sutton ferry.

He and his late wife Christine - they were founder members of the Woodbridge Cruising Club - lived on a boat on the river in their early years and latterly they had a flat on the dock.

Born in Felixstowe, he left Melton school in 1931 at the age of 14 and briefly worked for a butcher before furthering his interest in boats and he built vessels for the Navy at Robertson's boatyard. During the Second World War he was a shipwright in the Mediterranean.

In the severe winter of 1963 the couple were living on a boat and the ice on the Deben was so thick that Mrs Knights used to walk on frozen water to feed the swans.

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Mr Knights' roles on the river gave him a great insight into the changes over the years and he used to talk wistfully of the days before fibre-glass hulls, aluminium spars and Terylene sails.

He could recall the time when the last barge cargo of coal was delivered to Sun Wharf, Woodbridge, in 1940, and the demise of the commercial trade from all over the world.

He also had forthright opinions on changes in Woodbridge and the couple mourned the loss of the town's traditional family shops, and they were unhappy with the pedestrianisation scheme in the 1990s.

Mike Rines, organiser of Maritime Woodbridge, interviewed Mr Knights for the Woodbridge Society magazine and he said: “I had heard of his reputation as being Mr Deben and that he had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the river. That was absolutely true and I think the waters of the Deben ran in his veins.

“When he retired and lived in the flat overlooking the river that could not have been a better place to spend his last years keeping an eye on the comings and goings of the river.

“At one Maritime Woodbridge festival I invited him to come round the exhibition and I arranged for everyone to applaud and sing For He's a Jolly Good Fellow. Frank was so modest that he did not realise it was for him.”

The funeral is on October 2 at 11am at Ipswich crematorium.

What are your memories of Frank Knights? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail