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Purton Hulks

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The remains of the Severn Collier

The Purton Hulks or Purton Ships' Graveyard[1] is a number of abandoned boats and ships, deliberately beached beside the River Severn near Purton in Gloucestershire, England, to reinforce the river banks. Most were beached in the 1950s and are now in a state of considerable decay. The site forms the largest ship graveyard in mainland Britain.[2]

A riverbank collapse in 1909 led to concerns that the barrier between the river and the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal would be breached. Old vessels were run aground and soon filled with water and silt to create a tidal erosion barrier. The vessels included steel barges, Severn trows and concrete ships. The boats came from throughout the British Isles and were built in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th.

Since 2000, archaeological investigations have been undertaken to find out more about the vessels and their states of decay. Explanatory labels have been provided. One barge has been scheduled as an ancient monument and several are included in the National Register of Historic Vessels.

History[edit]

Concrete barges on the foreshore

Purton lies on the southern bank of the River Severn less than 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) north of the port of Sharpness. The Severn is the longest river in the United Kingdom, at about 220 miles (354 km)[3][4] and, with an average discharge of 107 m³/s at Apperley, Gloucestershire, it is the greatest river in terms of water flow in England and Wales.[5]

The Gloucester and Sharpness Canal[edit]

At the site of the Purton Hulks there is less than 50 metres (160 ft) of land between the river and the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal (or Gloucester and Berkeley Canal). The 26.5-kilometre-long (16.5 mi) canal was dug between Gloucester and Sharpness; for much of its length it runs close to the tidal River Severn, but cuts off a significant loop in the river, at a once-dangerous bend near Arlingham. It was once the broadest and deepest canal in the world.[6] Conceived in the Canal Mania period of the late 18th century, the Gloucester and Berkeley Ship Canal scheme was authorised by a 1793 Act of Parliament.[7] The canal opened in April 1827, having cost £440,000 in the course of its construction.[8] The flood plain of the Severn hereabouts is very flat and so the elevation of the canal does not require any rise over its length. Outside the dock areas at each end, there are no locks.[9] This encouraged the use of the canal for ships larger than on most other British canals, although there were a number of swing bridges to negotiate. As opened the canal was 86.5 feet (26.4 m) wide, 18 feet (5.5 m) deep and could take craft of up to 600 tons.[8] In 1905 traffic exceeded one million tons for the first time.[10] Oil was added to the list of cargoes carried by the canal, with bulk oil carriers taking fuel to storage tanks sited to the south of Gloucester.[11]

Coastal defences[edit]

Stern of a ferro-cement barge

The stretch of canal from Sharpness to Purton runs very close to the river. At a high spring tide they were separated by little more than the width of the towpath. The canal also has no locks, and owing to its width, not even any stop locks. Any damage to the canal bank could thus render the entire canal unnavigable.

In 1909, following a collapse in the bank of the river,[12] the canal company's chief engineer Mr A. J. Cullis called for old vessels to be run aground along the bank of the Severn, near Purton, to create a makeshift tidal erosion barrier to reinforce the narrow strip of land between the river and canal.[13] Barges, trows and schooners were "hulked" at high tide, by towing them from the dock at Sharpness and releasing them to be carried up the bank on the tide. Holes were then made in their hulls so that they filled with water, and over time silt has been laid down inside them.[13]

More boats have been added, including the schooner Katherine Ellen which was impounded in 1921 for running guns to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Kennet Canal barge Harriett, and ferrocement barges built in World War II.[14] The last boat was beached in 1965.[15]The ground level has built up over the years and some of the more recent additions are lying on top of those which had been beached earlier.[13]

Preservation[edit]

In 1999 a local maritime historian, Paul Barnett, commenced a privately funded research project which saw the site's 86 vessels recorded and recognised as the largest ships' graveyard in mainland Britain.[16] The Nautical Archaeology Society investigated the site in 2008 as part of its Diving into History Project,[17][18] and carried out laser scanning of the remains.[19] In 2010 British Waterways took control of the site in an attempt to protect it.[20][12][21]

The only known surviving Kennet barge Harriett, which was beached at Purton in 1964, has been scheduled as an ancient monument,[22] and included in the National Register of Historic Vessels,[23] as are several ferro concrete barges. The remains of the vessels are not covered by the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 as they are not on the seabed. But some of the other vessels may not be eligible for scheduling as ancient monuments, under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, because they are not "inland".[24] The issue and the responsibility of various statutory bodies in their protection was debated in the House of Commons in 2009.[25]

Vessels[edit]

Fell's design of knees on Dispatch

The wooden vessels include examples of the Severn trow. Several concrete ships can also be seen at the site; these are built of steel and ferrocement (reinforced concrete).

Dispatch is notable for its use of, and the sole surviving remains of, Fell's Patent Knees. These were a patent innovation from 1839 by Jonathan Fell of Workington, Cumberland,[26] and were part of the development of the iron and wood composite hull. Ships before this had been built from oak, where the strong curved brackets needed to join the deck into the hull side frames could be found as naturally grown 'knees' from the angles between major branches and the trunk. In the post-Nelsonic era there was a general shortage of shipbuilding timber, particularly oak, one of the few species with strong enough branch attachments to provide knees. Dispatch's hull is of pine, which has weak branches. A number of iron substitutes were developed, Fell's design being one of the later and more advanced forms. It had two advantages over earlier rigid-forged patterns: it provided a degree of flexibility in storms and, most significantly, could be stressed after the hull had been constructed and launched or even loaded, when the hull was under its working load.[27] Together with the diagonal iron strapping,[28] this rendered Dispatch's hull particularly strong and had allowed her to endure at least two collisions.[29]

List of vessels which make up the Purton Hulks[30]
Name Photo Type/Material Built Beached Included in NRHV Notes
Abbey Abbey Dock lighter 1900 by Joseph Barnard of Gloucester 1956 No 85 feet (26 m) long and with a breadth of 19 feet (5.8 m).[31] Hull damaged by fire since 2002.[32]
Ada Ada Schooner (Bristol Dandy) 1869 by Thomas Gardner of Bristol 1956 No The original masts were removed in 1930 and she became a towed barge and then a floating garbage hold. Since beaching, has been damaged by arson.[33]
Alaska Wood c. 1880 by Robert Davies of Saul 1939 No Originally owned by Gloucester pilots.[34]
Arkendale H Arkendale H and Wastdale H Steel barge 1937 1960 No One of two barges which hit the Severn Railway Bridge in fog on 25 October 1960.[35] Two spans of the 22-span steel and cast iron bridge collapsed into the river. Parts of the structure hit the barges, causing the fuel oil and petroleum they were carrying to catch fire; five people died in the incident.
Barge Abbey Wooden barge ? by Joseph Barnard, Gloucester c. 1951 No 84 feet (26 m) long.[36]
Barnwood Steel barge 1913 by Robert Cock & Sons, Richmond Dock, Appledore c. 1973 No Gross 59.04 ton Net 56.04 ton[37]
Barry Dock lighter Pre 1920s by Joseph Barnard, Gloucester c. 1951 No Gross 59.04 ton Net 56.04 ton B.D[38]
Britannia Britannia Trow 1878 by Fredrick Charles Hipwood, Gloucester 1944 No Gross 33.71 ton Net 28.36 ton [39]
Birdlip Steel barge 1915 by Robert Cock & Sons, Richmond Dock, Appledore 1972 No 85 feet (26 m) long. Gross 59.04 ton Net 56.04 ton B.D[40]
Briton Ferry Steam grab dredger crane and wood pontoon 1903 by Neath Harbour Commission & (crane) Priestman Bros. of Hull and London c. 1957 No Used as a dredger and crane by Neath Harbour Board and then Gloucester Docks Board.[41]
Brockworth Steel barge 1913 by Robert Cock & Sons, Richmond Dock, Appledore c. 1972 No 85 feet (26 m) long.[42]
Cam 1905 by Robert Cock & Sons, Richmond Dock, Appledore c. 1973 No 84 feet (26 m) long. Breadth 19 feet (5.8 m).[43]
Catherine Ellen (Katherine Ellen) Catherine Ellen Schooner (2 masted wooden) 1862 by White of Waterford, Ireland 1952 No Involved in the Irish War of Independence in 1921.[44]
Cranham No
Dispatch/New Dispatch Dispatch Schooner (2 masted wooden) 1888 by Garmouth James & John Geddie, Kingston on Spey 1961 No Originally a 120 ton vessel which was 90 feet (27 m) long, it was rebuilt in Gloucester in 1939 and the name changed.[29][28]
Dursley Dursley Dock lighter 1926 by Joseph Barnard of Gloucester c. 1963 No Local timber carrier.[45]
Edith "Edith" Trow 1901 by William Hurd, Chepstow c. 1962 No Transported coal from the Forest of Dean to Bristol, Chepstow and Bridgwater.[46][47]
Envoy Envoy Stroudwater barge No
FCB 51 Ferrocement barge 1941 by Wates Building Group Ltd, Barrow-in-Furness 1965 No [48]
FCB 52 FCB 52 1965 Yes[49] Built in World War II to provide port lighterage and floating storage facilities in a time when wood and steel were in short supply.[50] In 1990 the boat was removed from Purton by the Gloucester Waterways Museum. She was at Marshfield until 2012 when she was reported sunk.[49]
FCB 67 FCB 67 1962 Yes[51] [52]
FCB 68 FCB 68 1962 Yes[53] [54]
FCB 75 FCB 75 1965 Yes[55] [56]
FCB 76 FCB 76 1965 Yes[57] [58]
FCB 77 FCB 77 1965 Yes[59] [60]
FCB 78 FCB 78 1965 Yes[61] [62]
Forty Ton Flat No
Glenby Glenby Stroudwater barge No
Guide (Shamrock) Schooner (Wood Brigantine) 1854 by Holman & Kelly, Dartmouth 1950 No [63]
Harriett Harriett Wooden Kennet barge 1905 by Robbins, Lane and Pinnegar of Honeystreet, Pewsey 1964 Yes[64] Scheduled as an ancient monument.[22]
Higre Higre Trow 1876 by Samuel Hipwood, Gloucester 1965 No [65]
Hopper No6 No
Huntley Huntley No
Island Maid (Orby) Island Maid (Orby) Schooner 1863 by William Hole Shilston & Co, Plymouth 1945 No Traded with Spain and Mediterranean ports. The wreck was largely destroyed by scrap metal dealers in 1953.[66]
J&AR No
Jonadab Jonadab No
Lighter No. 6 Steel barge 1902 by A. W. Robertson & Co, London c. 1972 No [67]
Lighter No. 9 1902 by A. W. Robertson & Co, London c. 1972 No [68]
Lighter No. 20 1928 by Charles Hill & Sons of Bristol c.1973 No [69]
Lighter No. 23 c. 1976 No [70]
Lighter No. 32 1928 by Charles Hill & Sons of Bristol c. 1976 No [71]
Mary Ann Mary Ann No
Mary of Brimscombe No
Mary of Truro No
Matson Steel barge 1924 by Robert Cock & Sons, Richmond Dock, Appledore c. 1972 No [72]
Monarch Monarch No
Newark Newark Wooden barge 1896 by Joseph Barnard, Gloucester c. 1956 No [73]
Petrus Petrus No
Priory Stroudwater barge No
Rockby Rockby Stroudwater barge c. 1890s by Joseph Barnard, Gloucester 1946 No Most of remains underground.[74]
Sally (King) Sally (King) Schooner Possibly 1884 in Middlesbrough 1951 No Little known about the ship's history.[75]
Sandhurst Steel barge 1924 by Robert Cock & Sons, Richmond Dock, Appledore c. 1972 No [76]
Sarah MacDonald (Voltaic) Sarah MacDonald No
Selina Jane No
Severn Collier Severn Collier Wooden screw barge 1937 1965 No Originally motorised and later converted into a towed barge.[77]
Severn Conveyor Steel tank barge 1930 by Charles Hill & Sons, Bristol c. 1970 No [78]
Severn Eagle 'Bird' class steel barge 1935 by Charles Hill & Sons, Bristol 1972 No [79]
Severn Falcon 1935 by Charles Hill & Sons, Bristol 1974 No [80]
Severn Hawk 1935 by Charles Hill & Sons, Bristol 1972 No [81]
Severn King Steel Screw Car Ferry 1935 by Beverley, Woodward & Scarr, Yorkshire 1970 No Used on the Aust Ferry. Withdrawn 1966. In 1970 this boat was in use to support the demolition of the damaged Severn Railway Bridge, when it collided with one of the bridge piers and was damaged. It was then beached and cut up for scrap.[82][83][84]
Society Stroudwater barge No
Tirley Tirley No
Tribune No
Tuffley Steel barge 1916 by Robert Cock & Sons, Richmond Dock, Appledore 1972 No [85]
Victoria No
Wastdale H Arkendale H and Wastdale H Steel motor barge 1951 by Sharpness Shipyard Ltd, Sharpness 1960 No One of two barges which hit the Severn Railway Bridge in fog on 25 October 1960.[86] Two spans of the 22-span steel and cast iron bridge collapsed into the river. Parts of the structure hit the barges causing the fuel oil and petroleum they were carrying to catch fire; five people died in the incident.

References[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°44′09″N 2°27′27″W / 51.73583°N 2.45750°W / 51.73583; -2.45750