Arthur Ransome's - Nancy Blackett






Arthur Ransome (January 18, 1884 – June 3, 1967), was a British author and journalist, best known for writing the Swallows and Amazons series of children's books, which tell of school-holiday adventures of children, mostly in the Lake District and the Norfolk Broads areas of England. The novels are often regarded as stories about sailing. However, whilst most of the books contain some sailing incidents, in half the books, this is only a minor element or nonexistent. Other common themes are fishing and camping. The books remain popular to the point that they provide a basis of a tourist industry around Windermere and Coniston Water — the two lakes that Ransome used as the basis for his fictional North Country lake.



Swallows and Amazons author Arthur Ransome


Children's author Arthur Ransome



Ransome was born in Leeds, where his father lectured as a Professor of History. His father died in 1897, which had a lasting effect on Ransome who always tried to overcome his belief in his father's lack of confidence in his abilities. Ransome received his formal education first in Windermere and then at Rugby School (where he lived in Lewis Carroll's study room) but did not entirely enjoy the experience - due to his poor vision, lack of athletic skill, and limited academic achievement. He attended Yorkshire College, his father's college, for a year studying chemistry. However, he abandoned the college and went to London to become a writer. He took low-paying jobs as an office assistant in a publishing company and as editor of a failing magazine while writing and becoming a member of the literary scene of London.

He became a friend of W.G. Collingwood, writer artist and secretary to John Ruskin. Collingwood lived at Lanehead, beside Coniston Water, and it was here that Ransome learned to sail. Ransome's favourite childhood book was W.G. Collingwood's Thorstein of the Mere, which was set around Coniston.

After an unsuccessful marriage, he went to Russia, where he met his future wife Evgenia Petrovna Shelepina, who had been Trotsky's secretary.


In 1924, he gained a divorce, and was able to marry Evgenia and come back to The Lake District, living first in the Winster Valley. Apart from two periods when he went South, he lived in Cumbria for the rest of his life, finding inspiration and settings for Swallows and Amazons. His last house was Hill Top at Haverthwaite.

Arthur Ransome based his book 'Swallows and Amazons' on Coniston Water, and much fun may be had trying to discover the locations of the stories. There are special interest cruises on the Coniston Launch which explore the locations used by Arthur Ransome in his books. The Steam Yacht Gondola which sails around Coniston, gave the idea for Captain Flint's houseboat, although this was eventually modelled on Esperance (now at Windermere Steamboat Musem).

Arthur Ransome died on 3rd June 1967, and his grave is in St Paul's Church, Rusland. His wife Evgenia (1894-1975) is also buried here.



One of the best-known children's authors of last century was suspected of being a spy by British intelligence.


Arthur Ransome wrote the book Swallows and Amazons in 1930, but also worked in the Soviet Union (which Russia used to be a part of) for British newspapers. While there British spy bosses used him to send them information, but were worried he worked for the Soviets too. They later decided that Ransome was loyal to Britain, but was very interested in the Soviet way of life.



The Nancy Blackett






Nancy Blackett is a 28 feet long, 7 ton, Bermuda rigged Hillyard sailing cutter built in 1931 and now owned and operated by The Nancy Blackett Trust.


Originally named Spindrift at her launch in 1931 (and then renamed Electron by her next owner), she was bought by children’s author Arthur Ransome in 1934 and renamed Nancy Blackett after a major character in his Swallows and Amazons series of children’s books. He sailed her mostly on the east coast of England and the southern North Sea from her home port of Pin Mill near Harwich.


She is most notable for being the original for the fictional yacht Goblin in Ransome’s book We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea which recounts a voyage across the North Sea to the Dutch port of Flushing. Ransome's cruises also provided material for another book Secret Water set in the Walton backwaters.


Ransome sold Nancy Blackett in 1939 but always said that she was "the best little ship". In 1988, she was found rotting in Scarborough and restored. The Nancy Blackett Trust was formed as a charitable organization to preserve and sail her and to promote the sort of sailing activities dear to Ransome.





Nancy is now a Registered Historic Vessel, despite the fact that her size is below the current minimum for admission to the Register.


The National Register of Historic Vessels, set up in 1995, currently limits its criteria for inclusion to ships over 40ft in length, over 40 years old and built in the British Isles. This was mainly in the interests of keeping the task of registration to manageable proportions, and exceptions are very occasionally admitted. Nancy is one of an exclusive group of around 100 non-qualifying vessels on the Register which currently totals around 2,000 ships.


The National Historic Ships Committee deliberated long over Nancy's size, but eventually concluded "that her pedigree and associations qualified her for Certificate in all respects other than her size." Accordingly, she is recorded on the Register, but has not received a certificate. The scope of the register is to be extended in the next few years, and full inclusion, and certification can then be expected.


Being on the Register confers no benefits in itself, though it may be of use in any application to a grant-making body such as the Heritage Lottery Fund. Nor does it impose any special responsibilities, such as those attached to listed buildings, although it might be regarded as reinforcing a moral responsibility for preservation which we have already imposed on ourselves. It does confer a general recognition of Nancy's significance, and it is gratifying to have our own, perhaps biased, estimation of her worth formally confirmed by the maritime heritage establishment.



Arthur Ransome wearing a cap



About the Nancy Blackett Trust


Nancy Blackett is one of the boats once owned by Arthur Ransome, author of the 'Swallows and Amazons' books. He named her after his favourite character, and he put her in his book 'We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea', as the Goblin, the boat in which four children sail across the North Sea to Holland.

Recently rescued and restored, Nancy Blackett is now preserved and maintained by The Nancy Blackett Trust, as a beautiful and important part of our literary and maritime heritage, and with the aims of inspiring interest in Arthur Ransome and his books, and encouraging young people to enjoy sailing.

She is regularly on show at maritime festivals, and sails hundreds of miles each year, crewed by Trust members. To find out more about the Nancy Blackett, and how you can become involved with her, please look around this site.

The patron of the Nancy Blackett Trust is Dame Ellen MacArthur.





Nancy Blackett: Facts

These are the principal vital statistics of the Nancy Blackett.

  • Length on deck: 28ft 6in (8.68m)

  • Beam: 8ft 1in (2.46m)

  • Draft: 4ft 6in (1.53m)

  • Gross (Thames) tonnage: 6.80

  • Registered tonnage: 4.86

  • Official Number: 162814

  • (Goblin’s Official Number: 16856 - from 'We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea' by Arthur Ransome)



Nancy Blackett stern




Nancy Blackett and Arthur Ransome History

Nancy Blackett was Arthur Ransome's favourite amongst the various cruising yachts he owned during his lifetime. He named her after his favourite character, the adventurous, irrepressible leader of the Amazon Pirates who first appears in 'Swallows and Amazons', and again in several of his other books for children.

She provided him with the inspiration for possibly his best book, 'We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea', widely regarded as a classic of both children's and seafaring literature, and appears in it, lightly disguised as the Goblin, which plays a leading role in the book. Its action takes place almost entirely aboard the little boat, as the four children seek to sail her across the North Sea, at night, in a storm without any adult aboard. Ransome sailed the course himself in Nancy, and worked on the book aboard her, while living near Pin Mill on the River Orwell in Suffolk, where the story starts.

Nancy is immediately recognisable from Ransome’s description, illustrations and many key details:

"I say, just look down,"said Titty. They looked down into the cabin of the little ship, at blue mattresses on bunks on either side, at a little table with a chart tied down to it with string, at a roll of blankets in one of the bunks, at a foghorn in another, and at a heap of dirty plates and cups and spoons in a little white sink opposite the tiny galley, where a saucepan of water was simmering on one of the two burners of a little cooking stove. Many visitors to Nancy like to identify the bunks used by the individual Walker children (girls in particular have a penchant for Titty’s bunk - fore-cabin, port) and other features.

Origins and Life With the Ransomes

Nancy Blackett was built in 1931, by Hillyards of Littlehampton. She is 28ft long, plus bowsprit, with an unusual Bermudian cutter rig. Exactly like the Goblin, she has roller-reefing, operated by a little brass handle, and, down below, four bunks with blue mattresses, and a little white sink opposite a tiny galley.

She had already had two owners, and two names - Spindrift and Electron - before Ransome found and bought her in 1934, for £525. He was at the time in the process of moving from the Lake District to East Anglia, with the aim of doing some sea sailing. His delivery voyage with his new boat, from Poole Harbour to the East Coast, was hair-raising, as his Biography and Letters reveal: gales, damage, and an occasion where the navigation lights blew out, and he used a torch shone through a red plastic plate to ‘frighten off the Flushing-Harwich steamer’ - an incident which eventually appeared in 'We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea'. Ransome got plenty of good sailing out of Nancy.

As well as his research trip to Holland, he took her round to Portsmouth and back with his friend Richard Rouse, a voyage he wrote up under the title 'Saturday to Saturday' for the Cruising Association Bulletin. But one of his favourite destinations was the Walton Backwaters, just a few miles down the coast from his home on the Orwell. He would sail down, and anchor there, ostensibly to work, but often yielded to the temptation to do a little exploring in his dinghy, Coch-y-Bonddhu. The Backwaters formed the setting for his next book, 'Secret Water', which includes a brief appearance by the Goblin.

The Ransomes rarely hung on to boats, or houses, for very long. By 1937, in deference to his wife Evgenia’s desire for a larger galley, Arthur had ordered a larger yacht, Selina King, to be built at King’s boatyard in Pin Mill, and sold Nancy in 1938. He retained his affection for her, however - perhaps because she was the one boat out of the seven he owned which he had not bought new.

"Fools build and wise men buy," he once said, but it was advice he rarely followed himself.

Rescue and Restoration

Over the following half-century, Nancy Blackett had five different owners, who mostly cared for and enjoyed her. But by 1988 she had been allowed to deteriorate in Scarborough harbour, and it was here that she was discovered in near-derelict condition - planks worn and holed, hatch-covers gone, water pouring in and out of her - by Michael Rines, who decided to purchase and restore her, though at that time, knowing nothing of Arthur Ransome or her connection with him. By pure chance, he lived on the Orwell, almost next-door to the house Ransome had lived in when he owned Nancy, and he brought her back to the Orwell to be restored.

After a year of hard work, she was in good enough condition to be exhibited at the East Coast Boat Show, and Mike Rines held a celebratory dinner at the Butt & Oyster in Pin Mill, to which he invited many influential Arthur Ransome devotees (including members of the original family on which the 'Swallows' were based) with whom he had corresponded during the restoration. Many of them had not met each other previously, and a year later, triggered by another restoration, this time of the dinghy Amazon, they went on to form the Arthur Ransome Society.

Once Nancy Blackett was fully restored, Mike Rines put her up for sale. The newly-formed Arthur Ransome Society was given the option to purchase, but was not then in a financial position to do so, and so she went to another private owner. It was when he put her on the market, in 1996, that the dream of preserving her for posterity, and of owning her for the enjoyment of all Arthur Ransome fans, was born.

The result was an appeal which raised the purchase price of £25,000 in five weeks, and which became the Nancy Blackett Trust. Under its care, Nancy’s future is assured; she is sailing again, and will remain recognisable as the boat Ransome knew and loved. In the summer of 2002 she retraced Goblin’s fictional route from Pin Mill to Flushing (Vlissingen) in Holland.



Nancy Blackett helm



Swallows and Amazons


Ransome settled in the Lake District. He decided not to accept a position as a full-time foreign correspondent with the Guardian and instead wrote Swallows and Amazons in 1929 - the first of the series that made his reputation as one of the best English writers of children's books.


Ransome apparently based the Walker children (the "Swallows") in the book in part on the Altounyan family: he had a long-standing friendship with the mother and Collingwood grandparents of the Altounyans. Later he denied the connection, claiming he only gave the Altounyans' names to his own characters; it appears to have upset him that people did not regard the characters as original creations.


Ransome's writing features very accurate descriptions of locations and activities. His move to East Anglia brought forth a change of location for four of the books. Ransome's own interest in sailing and need to provide an accurate description caused him to undertake a voyage across the North Sea to Flushing. His book We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea reflects this, and he based the fictional "Goblin" on his own boat Nancy Blackett (which in turn took its name from a character in the series).


Two (or possibly three) of the "Swallows and Amazons" books have less realistic plots. Peter Duck originated as a story purportedly made up by the children themselves, but Ransome dropped the introductory passage clarifying this from the published book (though Peter Duck himself features in Swallowdale as a character whom the children created). Peter Duck comprises a relatively straightforward story, but with a much more fantastic plot than the more conventional "Swallows and Amazons" books.


A trip to China as a foreign correspondent provided Ransome with the imaginative springboard for Missee Lee, a story in which readers find the Swallows and the Amazons sailing around the world in the schooner Wild Cat from Peter Duck. Together with Captain Flint (the Amazon's uncle Jim Turner), they become the captives of Chinese pirates.

More controversy attaches to the final book of the series, Great Northern?. The plot and action appear realistic, but the internal chronology does not fit the usual run of school holiday adventures. Myles North, an admirer of Ransome, provided much of the basic plot of the book.






Peter Willis, Chairman
The Nancy Blackett Trust ‘Sylvan Cottage’,
White House Walk,

Telephone: +44 (0)1252 328187
Fax: +44 (0)1252 328187
E-mail: info(at)nancyblackett(dot)org


Sheila Campbell, Membership Secretary
The Nancy Blackett Trust
‘Rosedale’, Park Road West
Great Malvern

Telephone: +44 (0)1684 573915
Fax: +44 (0)1684 893303
E-mail: sheila(at)campbell2(dot)free-online(dot)co(dot)uk



Nancy Blackett at sea





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Nancy Blackett

Helen Tew (1912-2004) (vice-president of the Nancy Blackett Trust)

Arthur Ransome






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