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Incorporating the Wilkinson Society


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BOAT-BUILDING IN THE IRONBRIDGE GORGE

By N. J. Clarke

Apart from the accounts of John Wilkinson's iron boat of 1787 [1] , mention of the Bower Yard [2]  and a few isolated references [3] , little appears to be known about the boat--building yards or the vessels built in -the Ironbridge Gorge in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, from the acknowledged, importance of river transport to the expanding, coal, iron and clay industries of the area, and the subsequent large number of locally-owned vessels [4], we can assume: that a fair number of boats was built in the Ironbridge Gorge.

One interesting source for such boat-building activities in the late 18th and early 19th centuries are the Chepstow Ship Registers [5]. These registers were started in 1786, when universal ship registration began, and ended in 1882, when the port of Chepstow was merged with Gloucester. The information they contain about each registered ship includes its name, place and date of construction, registration number and date, type and dimensions, owner(s), master(s) and subsequent history.

The following chart summarises the construction details of Chepstow-registered boats which were built in the Ironbridge Gorge :- [6]

"BROTHERS" [7]

Built at Benthall, near, the Ironbridge, [8] 1789. Trow: 1 mast; 76 tons; length 69'6"; breadth 15'7"; depth 5' [9]

"JOSEPH"

Built at Broseley, 1790., by John Jones. Trow: 1 mast; (10) 60 tons; length 652"; breadth 14'5; depth 4 7; a tuck stern. [10]

"WILLIAM"

Built at Benthall, 1794. Trow: 1 mast; 70 tons; length 66; breadth 15'6"; depth 5'7; a tuck stern.

"JOHN AND MARY"

Built at Broseley, 1795. Trow: 1 trust; 63 tons; length 65'4"; breadth 14'9"; depth 4' 8"; a tuck stern.

"ABBEY"

Built at Benthall, 1810, by Francis Stoat. Barge: 1 mast; 36 tons; length 54' 8"; breadth 12'1"; depth 2'4; tuck stern.

"SISTERS"

Built at Bower Yard, 1819, by F. G. Gother. Trow: 2 masts;  33 tons; length 63.5'; breadth 13.7'-; depth 4.21; clench built [11] .

"FANNY"

Built at Coalbrookdale, 1824. Trow: 2 masts; 103 tons; length 734; breadth 182; depth 49"; clench built.

"MONMOUTH"

Built at Ironbridge, 1839, by James Williams. Trow: 1 mast; 23 tons; length. 67.8 breadth 12.8;depth 2.3; clench built [12] .

 

No doubt examination of other Bristol Channel port registers [13] where they exist; would provide similar information.

 

[1] For accounts of the building, launching and importance of the 'Trial', see J. Randall, 'Broseley and its surroundings' (1879), PP 107-10; R. Pee, 'The First Iron Boat' in Shropshire Magazine (1972); B. Trinder, 'Tile Industrial Revolution in Shropshire' (1973), p.120.

[2] There is a reference to Bower Yard in 'A description of Coalbrookdale in 1801'; edited by B. Trinder, in Transactions of the Shropshire Archaeological -Society4 vol. 58 (1967-68), p.250: "Here is a yard for building and repairing vessels"; with editor's note - "It was at the Bower Yard that the famous Severn trove 'William' was built in 1809".

[3] For example, experiments with the application of steam power to propel boats, c.1300-04 (J. Randall, History of Madeley, 1880, pp 179-80; A. Raistrick, Dynasty of Ironfounders, 1953; pp 165-7; Trinder, op.cit. p.167); proposed iron boats in 1843 (Trinder, op.ci p.120).

[4] For a discussion of the evidence and an account of the growth of traffic in the Severn, see Trinder, op.cit. pp 104-20 and C. Hadfield The Canals of the West Midlands (1966); pp 17-18, 53-5, 115;27, 282-90.

[5] The Chepstow Ship Registers, in the custody of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, are. used in G. E. Farr, Chepstow Ships (1954)

[6] The Registers also list 13 vessels (sloops and ;;rows) which were built at Bridgnorth and one built at Dowles Load (near Bewdley)

[7] It is not known whether these names were given to the vessels when they were built or subsequently.

[8] The precise location of the boat-building yards is not given, but we may assume that they were all riverside installations.

[9] The writer in the Gentlemen's Magazine for 1756 who took a census of the craft on the river explained that "the lesser kind are called barges and frigates, being from 40 to 60 feet in length, have a single mast, square sail and carry from 20 to 40 tong; the troves or larger vessels are from 40 to 30 tons burthen: these have a main and top mast, about 30 feet high, with square sails, and some have mizzen masts; they are generally from 16 to .20 feet wide, and 60 feet in length, being;, when new and completely rigged, worth about 300." For a detailed description of types of vessels and their dimensions; see Farr, op. sit. pp 1--28.

[10] Tuck stern "a small curved fold across the stern at deck level where the bulwarks were set to flare slightly aft, giving more room for the helmsman." (Farr, op.cit. p.28).

[11] Clench-built: made with planks overlapping; downwards and fastened with clenched copper nails (as opposed to carvel-built, with planks flush). However, "trows often had rubbing bands and sheathing planks fitted to the outside of their hulls, and these give something of the appearance of clench building" (Farr, op.cit. p.28).

[12] These 8 Ironbridge Gorge-built boats appear to have been employed mostly for Lower Wye and Bristol Channel traffic.

[13] e.g. Bristol, Cardiff and Gloucester

N. J. Clarke