Lydney's Lost Fleet by Paul Barnett

Lydney’s Lost Fleet

Paul Barnett

Meeting of 9 July 2015

There are at least 9 ships graveyards on the Severn – and Paul has recently been involved with filming for ‘Lost Treasures of Britain’ at Purton. 28 vessels have been beached over 120 years this side of the Severn at Lydney. Hulks were beached to protect the sandbanks, and at Lydney they were also run aground close to the shipwright’s so he could reuse timbers. Lydney was a busy harbour: two canals carried in goods including coal from 6 collieries, and later African logs went in the other direction to the ply wood factory at Lydney. At least two naval ships were built here in the 1600s. The dock we know opened in 1818; to enter the floating harbour (the one closest to the river) captains had to work within the two hour window either side of high tide. The main gate out to the canal was 15 feet deep so ocean going vessels could get in.

We were treated to lots of wonderful old photos. A 1930s image shows the long mast loft, which was razed in the 1960s. The white chandler’s cottage is still there. The chandler (Alec Gardner) used the 30’ tidal range to drop boats onto timber baulks (grid irons) to repair. From the skeleton of one of only 18 Severn trows built we moved on to pictures of The Emperor in her heyday – a coal carrying timber sailing ship built in 1901 by William Herd of Chepstow. She was intentionally grounded to get her captain emergency medical care, unfortunately he died of the appendicitis and she was left to gradually fall apart.

Black Dwarf would arrive to find a gaggle of ladies waiting – she did Garner’s packet service from Avonmouth and brought in spices, silks, bananas and other exotics.

In a 1930s shot is a boat that carried 40 tons of coal back to Bideford, where she would be emptied by wheelbarrow. She ended up as a barrage boat, tethering a barrage balloon. Another photo shows the 10 ton coal trucks – each boldly named so the right colliery was paid. Four trimmers stood to in the hold as coal was tipped in to distribute the load evenly.

A 1934 photo shows 8 vessels beached by the grid iron, including The Rival: a trow so flat-bottomed she can sit on the sand when the tide goes down. Unfortunately this also means she is easily knocked over if sideways on to the 13 knot local tide, which is what happened. A 1960s photo shows three almost complete vessels, these have since been completely washed away.

The last commercial cargo left Lydney in 1977. The Environment Agency has spent £1.2million to save the dock. However, the swing bridge was saved by an ancient by-law: if two cows a year use it then it has to be maintained, so there is a regular cattle drive.

In Lydney graveyard, next to the headstone of Captain Pocket, is a smaller stone for Mojo – the guard cockerel on board Willie. CS