IT must be ten to 15 years ago that my wife was browsing in a now long-gone Maldon High Street antique shop.

Amongst the usual eclectic collection of furniture, china and silver, she spotted an oil painting hanging on the wall.

Something about it caught her attention, it looked strangely familiar and so, on a whim (which is quite unlike her) she decided to buy it.

She carried it home with some trepidation, hoping that I would agree with her choice and like it as much as she did.

The moment I set eyes on it, I loved it and, it has to be said, I still do.

It is oil on board, measures 38 centimetres square and is in an attractive thick gold frame with chamfered mount.

I can tell that it was painted from a spot on Maldon’s Bath Wall – the name of the stretch of path between the lake and the river, extending from Cook’s Yard/the Barge Tea Rooms to just above the Splash Park.

The scene is looking roughly north (towards the town) but is unusually off centre and misses the more familiar view of St Mary’s Church.

Instead you can make out what is a blurred representation of Fullbridge and the Heybridge skyline, and there are boats in the distance at their moorings.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

‘Ostrea Rose’ (MN183) at her old mooring

In the foreground (right) are three other vessels but the main subject is in the centre – a traditional working craft that many would refer to as a smack but I know is actually (in this case) a bawley.

The reason I can be so sure is that my cousin used to own it, and I spent many happy hours sailing with him. But before I tell you the story of the bawley, we must not forget the artist who captured the moment.

The picture is helpfully signed and dated in the bottom left-hand corner – “Anna Airy ‘83”. Not only that, but on the back there is a label that gives her address as “The Old Castle, North Street, Maldon”.

Further research reveals that Anna Victoria Airy Morrow-Tait was actually born in Cambridge in 1946. In 1951 her mother, Prudence ‘Richarda’ Evelyn Morrow-Tait, re-married S/Ldr Michael Edward Townsend and Anna abandoned the name Morrow-Tait by Deed Poll in 1959.

At some point the family moved to Maldon and made the former North Street pub their home.

Anna married in 1966, but clearly continued to have Maldon links as evidenced by that 1983 painting and her stated address.

At that point, believe it or not, her subject, the ancient (in appearance at least) bawley, ‘Ostrea Rose’ (MN183), was less than three years old.

Built at Heybridge Basin by Arthur Holt, she had only slipped into the tideway on August bank holiday 1980.

Granted her lines are similar to the original Victorian designs of a Maldon bawley, a hybrid peculiar to this area, used for oyster work, catching eels, gathering winkles and fish trawling.

My cousin intended to continue in that same tradition, but by 1986 he had stopped using the boat for fishing and went over to charter work.

So when Anna painted ‘Ostrea Rose’ she was still a working vessel in the time-honoured Maldon tradition, kept on her Bath Wall mooring and plying her trade on the estuary.

Looking back, I suppose it was the end of an era really, the final stages of a fishing continuity that had existed for centuries.

You won’t see ‘Ostrea Rose’ in Maldon today – my cousin eventually sold her in 1999 and the last I heard she was in Belgium.

But not far from her old mooring, fixed to the black shed near the jetty used by ‘Viking Saga’, you will see a display board that tells the story of the town’s fisher-folk and their boats.

I don’t recall ever meeting Anna Airy, but I certainly remember her mother, ‘Richarda’.

She was a real larger than life character – a vivacious, red-haired adventuress, who was the first woman to pilot an aircraft around the world.

She died in 1982 – a year before Anna painted that picture.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

Anna gave her address as ‘The Old Castle’, North Street

I also knew S/Ldr Townsend, who had re-married and moved to 37 Church Street, opposite my Nan’s house.

A dignified, tall and upright man, he had made his career with the RAF and later as a navigation examiner for the Civil Aviation Authority.

He was also a keen punt-gunner, a former chairman of the Blackwater Wildfowlers' Association and one-time president of the Essex Joint Council of Wildfowling Clubs.

He passed away in 2009 and perhaps that is when the painting came on the market.

I can’t be sure, but I am really pleased that we are its current custodians.

I often wonder where Anna is today and if she remembers the time, now nearly 40 years ago, that she painted my cousin’s boat?