Book Review-‘Ships of the Chester River: Shipbuilding on the Dee from Chester to the Point of Ayr 1800–1942’ by R. Martin
This is a detailed and well-researched analysis of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century shipbuilding on the River Dee at Chester and at small ports on the western bank of the Dee Estuary. These ports are all in the former Welsh county of Flintshire, now merged into Clwyd. Ship construction flourished here in six or seven different sites between 1800 and the early 1930s. With an output of close on 600 ships, the shipyards of the Dee and its estuary can claim to have produced a small but highly significant number of fine coasting vessels.
The author has spent close on 50 years researching this project and his depth of work is obvious. The first part of the book (five chapters and an appendix) deals with Chester, where about 20 shipbuilding firms produced close to 300 ships in the years 1800 to 1870. It appears that Chester has a long but sporadic history of shipbuilding which goes as far back as medieval times. The main thrust was in the nineteenth century, and then after 70 years it ceased completely. The history is interesting as the shipyards were in a congested area in a small part of the Chester foreshore, with yards changing hands every year or so. Each proprietor seems to have had his preference for ship type and form of construction, from all timber fishing smacks to Sixth Rates for the Royal Navy and from all timber full rigger ships to iron hulled steamers; ships were propelled by paddle wheel, single screw and at a singularly early time by twin propellers. All ships were less than 1,200 tons (presumably Builders’ Old Measurement) and few had a length between perpendiculars much in excess of 50 metres, which, of course, was par for the course during the early nineteenth century…