Although Joshua Chard was not born in Suffolk or of Suffolk stock (he came here to live with an aunt at the age of three in 1815) we claim him as a true Suffolk hero. He lived on the Aldringham fens at Stone Cottage and as a young man was apprenticed as a carpenter at Smyth’s of Leiston. Soon however the pull of the sea became so strong that he was to give up his apprenticeship and with the princely sum of 50 shillings (£2.50) bought his first boat and became a longshoreman, this entailed filling his boat with supplies (food etc.) and rowing out to bigger boats in the Aldeburgh and Sizewell bay. His knowledge of this part of our coast also made him popular with local smugglers and he had many a close shave whilst avoiding the excise men.
As time went on and probably funded by these ‘shore line activities’ he was able to buy bigger and faster boats. Being an opportunist and seeing a gap in the market arming himself with a book on piloting and some sea charts covering our coastline down as far as the Thames Estuary he set himself up as an unlicensed pilot. This was much to the annoyance of Trinity House who supplied, at a price, a licensed pilot to navigate our dangerous coastal waters. It is noted that from time to time he was brought up in front of Newson Garrett in Aldeburgh who was ruler of the local licensed pilots and given a warning to stop these illegal activities. Undeterred though he continued carrying out his ‘piloting duties’ and saved and salvaged many a boat and its crew along the way.
Soon saving lives and salvaging boats were making him famous and in 1869 after losing his own boat a public subscription was raised headed by the Bishop of Norwich and other prominent locals to raise the sum of £200. This was to build him a 28ft. craft at the Aldeburgh boatyard of Hunts that was suitable for fishing as well as lifesaving. Mrs. Margaret Ogilvie presented him with the new boat, which was named ‘Rescue’ and 5,000 people came to Sizewell beach for the launch. Up to that time Joshua had saved no fewer than 109 lives. During his career, it was noted that he had piloted over 100 boats to safety. This is thought to be a record unsurpassed by any other longshoreman in Great Britain. Joshua was to lose his own life on December 21 st 1875 at the age of 63, after safely piloting a boat down the coast to Gravesend. It was on his return journey, and virtually home that his own boat, the ‘Surprise’, was found unmanned and full of water and his body was later washed up on the beach at Thorpeness. Sadly, for a man who had saved so many lives no one was there to give him a helping hand when he needed it most. His grave, in St. Andrew’s church yard, Aldringham can be found quite easily by standing with your back to the 2nd World War Memorial that is set into the south wall of the church. Take 12 to 14 paces into the graveyard and stretch out your hand and you will almost touch a weathered stone cross, and at the base of the cross and only just visible, his name, Joshua Chard.