Our (wooden) ships come explained by John Bradbeer

John Bradbeer is professionally a geographer, and a keen amateur historian. He traced his interest in North Devon's historic sailing ships to his father, whose job had required him to receive port dues from the last of the Barnstaple port pilots.
We learnt that shipbuilding in North Devon originated from the trade of tobacco, pottery and codfish that was carried on with North America in the 17th and 18th Centuries. In addition, shipwrights had moved to New Bideford in Prince Edward Island where they constructed ships using the abundant local timber. William Yeo's father supervised the building of ships that were sailed to N.Devon under a jury rig for full fit-out, and William saw the opportunity, built the Richmond Dock at Appledore, and the shipbuilding industry took off.
At its height there were eight slipways at the site of the modern Shapland factory in Barnstaple, and full supporting services such as sailmaking.
By the 1920s, the industry was in steep decline, but there were still ships being made locally.
John dwelt on one example of local interest - the Kathleen and May (here shown with the Irene at Bideford Quay in 1985; slide Courtesy of John Bradbeer)- which was a popular attraction based at at Bideford East-the-Water for several years until financial pressures forced her to be moved to Liverpool in 2010.
The end of the story was poignant - wooden ships were requisitioned for WW2 duty as barrage balloon anchors offshore ports such as Plymouth, and the remainder tended to be used as sand and gravel barges until comparatively recently.
A fine outline of a fascinating piece of local history.


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