Maritime History

Memorial to Merchant Seamen

Looking out over the Bay

Keeping on eye on the Royal Navy

The Royal Yacht Victoria & Albert 1907

  1. The 1859 storm
  2. Bristol Channel pilot cutters
  3. The Polar ships
  4. The ss Great Britain
  5. The Cutty Sark
  6. Coal to South America
  7. Ships passing through
  8. The Boatshed On The Beach
  9. Cardiff’s Lost Maritime History

The Maritime History of the Bristol Channel

The South Wales ports are part of the rich maritime heritage of the Bristol Channel. Bristol itself was a major port for centuries and once stood second only to London in the amount of trade it handled. John Cabot sailed from Bristol in the Matthew in 1497 on the way to discovering America. Further down channel are the historic old shipbuilding and fishing ports of Instow, Appledore and Bideford. Cardiff, Newport and Barry earned their reputation on the back of coal in the 19th century while ships from Swansea traded coal and copper ore and built a world reputation in the manufacture of copper and tin goods. Milford Haven, one of the deepest natural harbours in the world, is set in the heart of the only Coastal National Park in Britain and owes its original existence to the whaling industry.

The banks of the Severn Estuary widen rapidly and together with the relatively shallow sea bed, this results in very strong tidal surges creating the second highest tide rise in the world, up to fourteen metres every tide. Bristol Channel pilot cutters were tough, fast vessels designed to be handled by a man and a boy and able to cope with the fearsome tides and win the race to put pilots aboard incoming merchant ships in mid channel. Most of these fine vessels were locally built and the true seaworthiness of the likes of ‘Mischief’ and ‘Baroque’ were proven beyond doubt by the late Bill Tilman. An extraordinary explorer, Tilman crossed the oceans of the world in these fine sailing ships on long, arduous voyages to Arctic and Antarctic waters. To find lots of information on Bristol Channel shipwrecks around the coasts of Barry and Cardiff

For shipwrecks in the Seansea and Port Talbot area see

The Port of Cardiff

The port of Cardiff and it’s adjacent neighbour Penarth, share in this rich maritime history. It is rightly famed for the role it played in the export of Welsh coal when, for a hundred years, it supplied the trading routes of the world with the finest steaming coal. The world’s first ‘Million Pound Cheque’ changed hands at the Cardiff Coal Exchange in 1909. But the story does not just end with coal. Over the years the port hosted many well known ships; Royal Yachts, Polar exploration vessels, Royal Navy warships as well such famous vessels as the Cutty Sark and the ss Great Britain. And it’s contribution during times of war can not be ignored. The purpose of these pages is to document some of this history.

John Masefield

Sixteen year old John Masefield joined the ‘Gilcruix’, a four-masted iron barque in Cardiff in 1894; she was bound for Chile by way of Cape Horn with a cargo of patent fuel. As an apprentice it was Masefield’s job to make the entries in the ship’s journal and he fully described her passage particularly the experience of rounding the horn. Masefield suffered from seasickness however and did not easily take to the sea, yet he was captivated by the stories he heard. He became ill in Chile and returned home on a passenger steamer. His only other voyage on a sailing ship was also curtailed- he deserted ship whilst in New York. But he went on to write many sea stories and salt-laden verse. Probably his best known and arguably best loved poem manages to capture all the lure of the sea in just twelve lines- ‘Sea Fever’ is the work of a genius. Masefield went on to become Poet Laureate for 37 years until his death in 1967.