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Goodbye Doddy.

Updated: May 26

Our old mate and BBP team member, Alan 'Doddy' Dodds sadly passed away this week.


Way back many years ago we were contacted by a bloke who told an mazing story.

In 1956 (or thereabouts) he'd been working as an apprentice panel beater at R. Bendall & Son in Carlisle when a certain Mr. Villa called to ask if a couple of lads could go down to Ullswater to look at a boat problem. Doddy was about 19 years old then and was duly packed off with his senior colleague for a look. Over the next few weeks, using only back of a fag packet sketches and lengths of bent coat hanger wire, they rebuilt the nose of K7 after the front spar had been lifted.

Doddy only wanted to share his story at first but I was keen to find out if he was still on the tools. Yes, he announced. He was actually a member of the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths and had, amongst other things, made parts for the Globe Theatre gates in London and a large wrought iron sculpture on the quayside here in Newcastle. He won an award for his contribution to the gates.

So I said to him, how about coming over and showing us a thing or two and doing some more work on the boat at the other end of your career? Doddy didn't need asking twice and shortly turned up with his prized hammer. He'd been given only a hammer head when he'd first joined the profession and proudly explained how he'd sourced exactly the type of wood he wanted then soaked it for three months in linseed oil before fashioning a handle from it. He demonstrated the suppleness of the wood by twisting the head from side to side and waxed lyrical about its hammering properties. He'd used no other his whole life and it still had the original handle.

He'd arrive gripping it and leave the same way and there was nothing he didn't know about pushing metal around.

The only difficulty I had in learning from Doddy was understanding his thick Cumbrian accent as it proved a little impenetrable here and there but by the end of a day in the workshop I was getting the hang of it. It seemed everyone else understood him as though he was a newsreader but I never quite got it.

But what I did get straight away was that Doddy's philosophy was to get something near enough then it was easy to fettle from there rather than to be all precious about trying to get it perfect from the get-go. And as K7 was never straight from day one the amount of fettling could be judged to give exactly the authentic look we wanted.

He liked to make and mend parts for the boat and regularly turned up with some tool or another to make life easier and he taught us all a huge amount but leave his hands empty for a moment and he'd start making metal flowers - that's what got me started - but he'd never sculpted with aluminium and this new medium fascinated him. He'd bash away at a few bits of scrap then ask me to weld them together then he'd go away again and finish it into an orchid or a rose, never going home without a bag full of offcuts from under the guillotine so he could carry on at home. Likewise, he'd bring examples of his steel work. He told us how he'd made a pair of steel crab apples for the Globe Theatre gates and I struggled to grasp his explanation of how he'd done it so next time he came up he brought these.

Another time he brought us each a letter opener with a twisted steel handle and a Shaun The Sheep-esque ram's head complete with horns. Mine is on my desk to this day.

We had some great Saturday workshops with Doddy. We kept telling him to let the youngsters do the heavy lifting but he wouldn't hear of it but he was getting on a bit and suffering from the slow debilitation of Parkinsons. He used to joke, at least I think it was a joke, that he'd time his medication such that his hammering was more effective due to the progression of his illness.

Eventually he stopped driving and either his brother in law or Novie would bring him over until the day he announced that he was done. It was too much of a trip plus a day on his feet and that he was going home to potter in his small forge in the back garden and wasn't coming back.

We kept in touch, though, and every Christmas a card would arrive from Dot and Alan but, tragically, he was to outlive his wife who died after a short illness. It was all achingly sad and Novie and me attended Dot's funeral during lockdown then went back to Doddy's house for a small gathering. His daughter had arranged for him to move to the south coast to be near her and had found him a spot in a nursing home that specialised in Parkinson's sufferers but as a lover of ice cream arrangements had had to be made with the home to ensure a plentiful and sufficiently varied supply. That sorted, his house was in the process of being readied for sale and we had a last look at what remained of his forge, mostly stripped out and his tools given away or scrapped.

The only thing left was his beloved hammer, which he presented to me and asked me to take it and look after it.

It was bittersweet. I was extremely touched that he thought me a worthy recipient for his hammer but I knew deep down that I'd never see him again and that the life he was heading for bore no resemblance to the one he'd lived until recently.

So it's sad that he's gone but I like think he's back with Dot now and his contribution to the rebirth of K7 and to the knowledge and skills of the Bluebird Project team will far outlive him.

Goodbye, old friend. You've earned a rest.


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Wonderful tribute.

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Thank you. He was a great bloke.


Rhys Nolan
Rhys Nolan
25 мая

Such an eloquent piece.. Thanks Bill, I feel as though I have met Doddy and shared his skills. RIP.

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