1- The Maritime Museum
Over the years I have mentioned the trading ketch, Ceres, which belonged in turn to my great-great-grandfather, my great-grandfather and finally my grandfather. I promised myself that, when I finished the day-job and had more time, I would further explore her history.
Last week, I visited Appledore in North Devon – three reasons: to visit the small and excellent Maritime Museum , to find Richmond Dry-dock – (in the photograph of Ceres below), and to look at Bideford Bar across the entrance to the Taw/Torridge estuary.
When I arrived, a gale was blowing and there was rain in the air.
Like everyone else, I tread a fine line between knowledge and ignorance. Sometimes the flood gates open and the knowledge side of the line expands in great bounds, more often these days, small things, picked up haphazardly, rearrange what is already there into more illuminating patterns. In Appledore, I was expecting ‘small-things’ moments.
I spent an engrossing hour in the museum. The exhibits are well presented in small rooms in a fine terraced building overlooking the estuary. The volunteer staff are keen and helpful. This is a local museum, the collections concentrating on the maritime history of the surrounding area – exactly what I was looking for.
Appledore has a rich maritime history, especially from the second half of the nineteenth century – Ceres’s era. The construction of the quay in 1845 developed the port. This was around the time of the Irish famine mentioned in my last post. There were similar crop failures in the Westcountry which resulted in an increase in emigration from here also. This in turn added to a demand for more ships. Appledore and nearby Bideford and Barnstaple provided some of those ships.
My primary interest is in the coastal trading ketches of the Bristol Channel, of which Ceres was one of many. Their history is well covered in W J Slade’s books ‘Out of Appledore’ and ‘Westcountry Coasting Ketches”, the latter co-written with Basil Greenhill. The purpose of my visit to the maritime museum was to look for authentic local detail that I may have missed.
When visiting an art gallery full of well-known paintings, there is a school of thought that recommends viewing just one work only, because, if it is good enough, that one work will hold all your attention. The richness of multiple works of art somehow act like a meal with too many dishes – the individual becomes lost to the crowd.
The detail that held me at the museum was hanging in the hallway and I almost missed it. It was a photograph of William ‘Billo’ Schiller of the ‘Irene’ and Tommy Jewell of the ‘Kathleen and May’. They were the last two captains to trade out of Appledore under sail. The ‘Irene’ was a ketch, the ‘Kathleen and May’, a three-masted, topsail schooner.
When he retired, Captain Schiller listed all the trading ketches he remembered in his time at sea. This list hung on the wall opposite his photograph. There were 104 ketches, named with their captains, on it.
It was that number – 104, that I came away with.
So, remembering the size of a ketch – from tip of bowsprit to stern, ‘Ceres’ was 65 foot and ‘Irene’ 118 foot, hold that thought: “104 ketches”, and I will use it later.