Fenland stone barges

Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)
  • Author
  • #16431
    Malcolm Lewis

      Bill Bedford has raised a very interesting subject regarding the transportation of heavy cargoes in the Middle Ages. Even with the legacy of Roman roads few highways in the British Isles were adequate for transporting heavy products such as stone blocks for building. Rivers and seaways were the answer after the invasion by William the Conqueror in 1066. William’s first task on arrival in this country was to Normanize the Church and build new churches and rebuild old ones in the Romanesque style. Ely was one and Canterbury another.
      Bill describes how stone was shipped by river from Stamford to Ely. Maybe flat-bottomed craft called hulks (OE hulc) propelled by oars on the ebb tide did the job for Ely. The Norman Master Mason in charge of rebuilding Canterbury however specified Normandy limestone, probably because he preferred it and he did not think it was far away. The task was to transport the stone blocks from the quarries in Caen up the English Channel to Sandwich, one of the Cinque Ports some 200 miles away, it being the nearest harbour to Canterbury. Probably the utilitarian Cog was the merchant vessel used. It would have been a challenging voyage on a busy waterway with its strong tides, gales and fog. Sandwich itself has a tidal range of over 6 metres. I doubt if a heavily laden cog could travel up the River Stour which was only navigable to Fordwich, still a few miles from Canterbury. The stone would have had to be transhipped to a flat-bottomed craft at Sandwich.
      When you view the cathedral and other magnificent Norman churches and castles you have to admire the ambitious approach of their architects with what might seem impossible geographical and logistical challenges, to say nothing about the costs. It would have required hundreds of voyages to ship the many tons of stone needed.
      Maybe others might contribute more historical details as to how this was all achieved at a time when load carrying craft were small and undeveloped.

      Mitch Barker

        Hey reading your bit re stone barges, you refer to bill Bedfords writing. I’m new to this stuff so could you perhaps tell me how I could read Bill’s stuff.
        Thanks Mitch

        Malcolm Lewis

          Hi Mitch
          Through the Maritime History Queens University Canada website Marhst. Sign up it’s is quite straight forward.
          Send email to LISTSERVE@lists.Queens.ca
          SUBSCRIBE MARHST-L (Your name)
          Good luck

          Malcolm Lewis

            Watching a recent BBC programme about the building of Britain’s 18th century canals reference was made to the transportation of Bath stone on the partly built Kennet and Avon canal for the construction of the canal entrances to the tunnels near Bath. Bath stone was shown being sawn into half ton blocks for shipment by barge to the tunnel site.
            We learnt from earlier posts on the SNR Forum about the construction of the wonderful Viking longships in the 10th century that these were built without large saws as sheet steel for saws was not available until the 13th century.
            Are there any references to the methods used for cutting stone blocks to transport by sea or rivercraft for building the great Norman cathedrals in the 11th century?

            Frank Scott

              Gillian Hutchinson, Medieval Ships & Shipping (London, 1997) has some relevant material about Fenland stone transport by water, notably pages 119-21, where she talks about Sawtry Abbey, Barnack stone, and Wittlesey (Whittlesly) Mere. In 19th century when the Mere was drained four blocks of Barnack stone were recovered, probably lost in some barge accident. Stone size @ One Ton, (0.94M x 0.73M x 0.73M).

              John D

                I am researching the shipping of stone to Winchester Cathedral from (probably) Caen in the mid 14thC up the Itchen Navigation from Southampton. Does anyone have any information on the sort of “barges” that may have been used?

                Malcolm Lewis

                  According to the Wikipedia entry re Winchester Cathedral the Norman reconstruction used the high-quality limestone from the Binstead quarry near Fishbourne on the Isle of White. It would have been shipped from the quay in Fishbourne on the Medina River. Probably the vessels used would have been cogs which were employed throughout Europe for trading from the tenth century onward. They were clinker built with a flat bottom/keel and a single mast.
                  Binstead limestone was also used for the building of Chichester Cathedral, Romsey Abbey and parts of the Tower of London. These huge buildings required many tons of stone and the coastal traffic around England at the time would have been full of shipping carrying this heavy product to the building sites.
                  The Binstead / Freshwater ship yard built 36-gun navy frigates during the Napoleonic Wars. It seems likely the yard had also built cogs for shipping stone over the centuries.

                Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)
                • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.