Building our local ship knowledge......

Peter Ferguson, an architect by training, gave very interested Coastwise members the benefit of the extensive knowledge of his real love, the history of ships and shipbuilding.

Although Peter now lives in Somerset, he spent many years in Barnstaple and has extensive local knowledge and contacts.

Members learned to recognise the various rigs - barque and barquentine, full, square, schooner, brig and ketch in old paintings, but their interest was really engaged when he described the locations of the shipbuilding yards in Barnstaple.

By studying local records and picking out the trades mentioned, it is thought that shipbuilding started in about 1580, with a ship called the Bonaventure. The main period of records and construction was in the mid-18th Century, when Gribble's map of Barnstaple shows shipyards in the Stand (just left of the old bridge in the historic view R). The location of one such yard was just in front of the Heritage Centre (pictured R), which was the Merchant Exchange. The whole of what is now the Strand would have been a busy, noisy riverside with ships coming and going with the tide, and construction in progress.

Previously the yards had been upstream of the bridge, but the increasing size of vessels meant that they could no longer be taken through the bridge arches.

Peter had also solved a mystery, as it was known that there had been a biscuit factory in Barnstaple, but the location was not known. Ship chandlers and provisioners had grown up beside the shipyards, and in an 1860s photo, Peter, using a magnifying glass, such was the clarity of definition, was able to detect the words "Barnstaple Steam Biscuit Factory" - ships biscuits of course, now in modern form as Carr's Water Biscuits.

More surprisingly, another important site, which appears well inland now, but was then on a well-dredged River Yeo, was on Pilton Causeway (present appearance R) near the modern Kirkham's Tyres, and the auction house.

Copyright Coastwise