Commodious Yard, A

Commodious Yard, A

Disgrifiad | Description

  • ISBN: 9781845270216
  • Author: Bryan D. Hope
  • Publication November 2005
  • Format: Paperback, 250x175 mm

A detailed study of the William Thomas and Sons firm, shipbuilders in Amlwch, Anglesey. It gives the story of the 12 year old boy (born in 1822) who ran away to sea, later returning to establish a shipbuilding firm in England and in Amlwch. The study is accompanied by many black-and-white photos, tables and lists, and letters. A hardback copy is also available: 1845270223.

Gwales Review
The title page of this remarkable book summarizes its scope: the history of William Thomas and Sons, shipbuilders, ship owners and managers of Amlwch shipyard from 1858 to 1920. The book describes the golden age of sail in the small coastal ports of Wales and its slow demise from a combination of disruption to trade caused by the Great War, hard times in the subsequent Great Depression and the development of steam-powered vessels that required larger dock facilities. The Amlwch shipyard died, like its founder, of ‘creeping paralysis’.

In 1858, the ‘commodious yard’ that William Thomas had developed at Amlwch – once the world's largest copper ore exporting port, on Anglesey – launched the first iron ship to be built in Wales, Mary Catherine. In 1873, the last working topsail schooner on Lloyd's British Register – Nellie Bywater – was launched at William Thomas's second shipyard at Duddon in Cumbria. Back in Amlwch in 1883, Thomas oversaw the building of his first iron steamship, the screw-propelled dandy, W.S. Caine. In June 1904, his Elizabeth Roberts sailed from the Thames estuary to the mouth of the Elbe faster than a steamer that was on the same run and went on to establish herself as the fastest vessel in the ‘Three Channels’ (North Sea, Celtic Sea and English Channel). William Thomas Jnr. ran the yard (his father having passed away in 1893) in the heyday of the clippers, the last glorious period of the age of sail. Elizabeth Roberts was the glorious culmination of two generations of Amlwch shipbuilding skills. The last sailing ship to be built at the Amlwch shipyard, the auxiliary schooner Eilian launched in 1908, ‘represented the very pinnacle in the design and construction of medium-sized commercial sailing vessels found anywhere in the world at that time.’

The maritime history of Wales has remained a Cinderella subject in spite of the pioneering work of the late Aled Eames and Lewis Lloyd for north Wales and Geraint Jenkins and Gerald Morgan for the south and west. The accumulation of a quarter of a century's research in the pages of the admirable journal Maritime Wales has yet to yield any substantial work of synthesis. Lack of easily accessible archive material for the smaller coastal ports has proved a major impediment to progress. For this study, the author has undertaken Herculean labours on the surviving Thomas family papers that include the firm's Copy Letter Books (some 33,000 entries), business letters and financial ledgers. A couple of the William Thomas Snr. letters are in Welsh (that on p.232 are inaccurately transcribed). Some fifty photographs are well reproduced in the text, including the earliest known of an Amlwch ship, the Liverpool Pilot Boat Mersey on the stacks in 1875 and the earliest photographic record of a ship being launched at Amlwch, Elizabeth Roberts in 1904. Some are highly dramatic, such as Eleth (formerly Black Rock), capsized and lying across the harbour entrance. (The caption for the photograph has inadvertently been transposed to p.225.) Historic maps are clearly and usefully reproduced; digital mapping for the original maps is less satisfactory. With 65 pages of detail in the Appendices, this lovingly researched volume represents a major advance in our understanding of the economic activity of a typically small Welsh port at this critical period.

David Barnes

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