Combesgate

Built in Barnstaple, Part II.........

Local historian Peter Ferguson returned to Coastwise to conclude his fascinating account of shipbuilding in Barnstaple.

Peter based his talk on a variety of old prints and photos depicting the shipyards along the Strand, at Pilton upstream of the current park, and later along the West bank at what is now called Anchorwood Bank, the site of the Shapland and Petter factory, and now a new supermarket, retail centre and housing area bordering the river.

The original shipbuilding efforts started in the early 1600s near the mouth of the Yeo and at Pilton Quay, but by the 1880s had all but died out. There was a brief resurgence around the First World War, when steel and concrete vessels were built for the war effort.

Peter focussed on the Westacott Yard, a family concern that lasted several generations, and which built to a very high standard. This was helped by keeping virtually all aspects, including timber supply, metalwork, rope and sail making very local, and became respected to the point that a Westacott ship was the first in the country to receive a Lloyds A1 15-year rating. This was despite astonished protests from London interests, but was upheld after full independent investigation. Local yards could build to this standard at £20/Te, undercutting London yards. However, shipbuilding was always a risky venture, and Westacotts and the others went into decline in the 1860s as contracts became scarcer.

Peter mentioned one particular ship, the Wave Queen, whose figurehead had been seen in an Australian museum by someone who recognised the name. They were able to tie up the history of the ship and its wrecking on the Australian coast, with the records of building in Barnstaple.

Overall a fascinating account of the town's past, and an era gone.

Pictures, from top, Pilton Quay shipyards(1700s), the Wave Queen on the E side of the Taw, an 1870 view of the W side of the river and the town bridge.

© Coastwise 2017