Whaley Bridge’s Judith Mary Restaurant boat calls it a day after 38 years

A tourist canal boat known affectionately as ‘the heart of Whaley Bridge’ is going out of business after 38 years due to the impact of Covid-19 restrictions.

By Ben McVay
Wednesday, 21st October 2020, 4:45 pm

The Judith Mary Restaurant Boat has been taking coachloads of pensioners and other tourists on trips along the Peak Forest Canal since 1982 from its moorings at the Whaley Bridge basin.

The business ran two boats - Judith Mary and Judith Mary II until the former went to Chester in 1993 - and has regularly brought between 7-8,000 people into the town every year for trips to New Mills and back.

Tourists would regularly have a cream tea on board then venture out into the rest of the High Peak for the day - bringing much-needed business to other hospitality venues.

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Suzy Kelsall, second left, onboard the Judith Mary II in 2013 - with Pete Croucher, left, Joy Goodwin, and Allen Kelsall, right

In 1990 Judith Mary II famously hosted a visit from Princess Diana - who had a smoked salmon buffet on-board after crowning the town’s Rose Queen during its carnival.

Suzy Kelsall, 50, who has worked on the business with dad Allen Kelsall since she was 13, told how the boat was now up for sale for £60,000 - describing the situation as ‘not great’.

Judith Mary II has not sailed since March 17 and has failed to qualify for most of the Government’s Covid-19 support packages - apart from a £5,000 discretionary grant.

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Princess Diana boarding Judith Mary II in 1990

After losing 200 bookings this year and with mooring and licence fees mounting Suzy and Allen have decided to call it a day.

Suzy said: “We seat up to 38 people and our main business is from coach companies - primarily pensioners - and we can’t operate with social distancing.

“After 38 years we’ve taken the decision that we can’t do it anymore.

“The public reaction to this has been overwhelming and it's great that people are so passionate about it but the reality is we don’t know when social distancing will stop and until that happens we won’t be able to run the boat.

The Judith Mary II

“If we could say in six months time then maybe we could keep going but nobody knows when this will end.”

Since announcing the sad news Suzy and dad Allen have been inundated with messages from supporters - with many describing Judith Mary II as ‘the heart of Whaley Bridge’.

Suzy added: “I spent yesterday emailing 70 coach companies telling them we had to stop.

“I’m really surprised at people’s reaction to it - but she’s been here forever at the basin and she’s one of the first things you see when you drive in.

“One of the things we’ve realised through all this is how little support small businesses like ours have been given as an industry - we’ve played a big part in the tourism side of things.

“It’s the worst decision I’ve ever had to make.”

Judith Mary II - built in 1988 at Whaley Bridge’s Chappell & Wright - is 71.5 ft long, and 6 ft, 10” wide.

Seating 38 people, she has a bar and comes fully centrally-heated.

Anyone interested in buying her should message Suzy HERE.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.