Book Review – ‘North Devon Barges’ by David Jenkins

By David Jenkins, published December 2020


Appledore in north Devon is surely one of the most fascinating places on our coasts. Its name is a corruption of the Brythonic/Welsh Aber-dwr, meaning ‘water’s mouth’, a perfect description of its setting on a hill overlooking the estuary of Henry Williamson’s ‘Two Rivers’, Taw and Torridge. A centre of shipbuilding since Tudor times at least, its Richmond dry dock constituted the UK end of a transatlantic shipbuilding business throughout much of the nineteenth century, and it was the last port in the UK to support a fleet of wooden merchant vessels. It had an important salmon fishery and was the birthplace of two of Cardiff’s foremost shipowners. And as this attractive volume, a revised version of the 1975 original, informs us, it was also the home of a considerable fleet of local barges which plied their trades on the waters between Barnstaple, Braunton and Bideford.

It is most unfortunate that the author did not live to see this revised version published, but Barry Hughes has left us an engaging and comprehensive account of the barges of the Taw and Torridge, illustrating how important navigable waterways once were to local economies before (and despite, in this case) the canal, railway and road developments of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The illustrations are plentiful, relevant and well-captioned, with many scenes illustrating well-loaded barges with decks awash, leaving the reader wondering how they could possibly have remained afloat! The author included some charming contemporary artworks, such as those by north Devon’s pioneering maritime historian Vernon Boyle, and also made use of his own considerable skills with pen and brush to recreate long-lost scenes and details of decks and rigging.

It is a matter of considerable disappointment, however, that a valuable piece of research such as this has been published with no references, no bibliography and no index …

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Filed under: Atlantic | Eighteenth Century | Other (Early Modern) | Nineteenth Century | Other (Nineteenth C)
Subjects include: Harbours & Dockyards | Historic Vessels, Museums & Restoration | Miscellaneous | Shipbuilding & Design

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