Hampton's unique submarine of the 1920's

Edited by John M. Holman, Contributing Writer

The Wooden Submarine At Hampton Beach
[Photo courtesy William Barkley, taken September 1936]
[The following little known history of Hampton's unique wooden submarine appeared in the September 3, 1976 edition of The Beachcomber, written by Bruce M. Stott, staff writer and still remains a veritable part of Hampton's history:]

"The tale of (Thomas) Buckley's submarine at Hampton Beach years ago, sparked the interest of The Beachcomber this week with images of Jules Verne scenario right here in New Hampshire.

"The wooden submarine was beached in the sand dunes off Johnson Avenue for more than 10 years and it served as the summer home for its owner and builder, Thomas Buckley.

"Buckley, now deceased, came to this country in 1920 with his son and daughter from England where he was reputed to have been a famous runner. Buckley was an ingenious man according to Roland Bragg of Hampton Beach, who recalls the spotty history of the submarine and its owner.

"The 30-foot wooden hull had a beam of 12 to 13 feet at its widest point and the bow and stern points were capped with steel plates. For an outside view of the sea, three or four windows were installed in the one-inch planking according to Bragg, but the viewer had to wait until the window came around before he peeked out briefly.

Clayton Bragg (left) and brother Terry with
wooden submarine in background on the marsh.
[Photo courtesy Clayton Bragg]

"Buckley built the precursor to today's more modern submarines in Haverhill, Mass. In the nearby Merrimac River, Buckley tested out his football shaped ship. With no engine installed, the dream of Buckley seemed doomed. A propeller and rudder were installed, but power for the ship never came to be.

"To test the ship's mobility, Buckley's son walked on the outside, rolling the ship through the water. Its long fins which stretched from bow to stern were designed to make the hull rotate through the water. Inside was a self-righting cradle suspended on ropes with a form of axle to keep the platform level inside.

"Bragg estimates the submarine had hardly been tested. Strangely enough, the ship was hauled to Hampton Beach in the early 1920's, where it sat on a large cradle with hard rubber tires. As for Buckley, he lived in it for a decade of summers. For a living, Buckley existed meagerly, repairing shoes and catching fish with a self-enclosing net. Bragg remembers his granddad going over to visit Buckley to 'down a few'.

"The converted interior of the ship had a small bedroom, a repair shop and a small kitchen. Although Buckley cooked his fish in a frying pan over a can of Sterno, said Bragg. Buckley was to die in his mid-sixties during the early 1930's with his dreams unfulfilled.

"In an effort to save the submarine, a Miss Frances Healey of Hampton Falls, tried to buy the submarine for preservation. But Buckley's children would not sell, and the submarine was left to fall apart.

"'He was somewhat of an eccentric,' recalled Bragg. 'He spent most of his time by himself either repairing shoes, cooking fish or "downing a few". It was going to pieces and falling apart in the late 1930's after he died. The submarine was an eyesore and its seams had separated. Finally I tore it down, [hauled it to the town dump] and burned it', in finishing the tale of the wooden submarine at Hampton Beach."

[POSTSCRIPT: The photo, taken by William Barkley in September 1936, shows the wooden submarine in its last stages of disrepair before being torn apart and burned at the Town Dump by Roland Bragg.]