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Poole’s Coastal Shipping Trade 1580-1730 __ By Don Nutt

Overview and summary

The coastal shipping business was a significant and growing activity across the period. But it is difficult to be precise since trade and responsibilities for it are relatively poorly recorded. The types of goods being moved and the places to which they were being brought from, or carried to, can be identified; but the scale of movement, but for a few snapshots within the period, is unclear.

Coastal shipping was important because there was no ready transport by road for many goods; neither the roads, nor the wagons were good enough for the purpose. Several of the bigger ports: London, Bristol, Liverpool, Southampton took on a major role in the trade as ports of international significance. They became a focus for regional traffic in connection with their assembly of cargoes out and their distribution of inbound cargoes to the region’s head ports and members. In this area Southampton was the important international hub and Poole was the head port for Dorset with Weymouth and Lyme Regis its member ports.

Individual ports served their own hinterlands for movement of goods by coastal shipping, inland waterways and rivers. In the case of Poole the growing Newfoundland fishing business generated the need for imports and exports from the port on top of other goods movements.

Willan argues that 3 main factors influenced the English coastal trade in the period:

  • The influence of London
  • The proximity of the continent (requiring that some ports such as Southampton, Cowes, Exeter and Plymouth acted as distribution centres for imported goods)
  • Some ports, especially in the South West of England were well/ better placed for trade with North American and West Indian colonies.

To these we might reasonably add two others:

  • The development across the period of consumer industries producing manufactured goods that at the beginning were scarcely available anywhere other than perhaps some imported goods, but which by the end of the period had become ubiquitous and very much part of the home market; and
  • The growth of the national population, and the larger numbers of people to be fed, clothed and housed; 2.5m in 1520; 3.5m in 1603 and 5.5m in 1688.

Thirsk suggests that aside from stocking knitting 100 other new occupations, making consumer wares, came into being over the period. These gave work to many who otherwise might have been in poverty.

Each of these five factors affected Poole; particularly the town’s major and lasting association with Newfoundland.

Harbour development in earlier years

Wool dominated trade in Dorset ports in the C14th this continued until a decline in the 1460s.

By the late C14th Poole was known on the continent to be a base for traders, pirates and pilgrims and in 1405 it suffered at the hands of the Spanish in reprisal for Harry Paye’s earlier depredations in Spain. Unlike other places in Dorset after a great storm around that time, the burgesses in Poole were able to rebuild after the attack from the Spanish. There followed the Crown’s grant of the wool staple port status, from Melcombe Regis in 1433.

By 1465 over three quarters of the cargoes registered as having left Dorset ports were of cloth and this trade accounted for by far the most value sailed into Poole from indigenous ports and or to others. In the C15th Poole’s trade was predominantly cloth and this continued until midway through the C16th.

Channel Island trade was significant by 1500 and a few merchants from the Channel Islands (Padards and Havyland) moved to Poole to operate in and from the town for several generations. There is evidence that young sailors also apprenticed themselves to local shippers, presumably to learn all about the maritime conditions around the coast. Channel Island trade was often not in goods from the islands but rather the shippers provided a service to merchants and markets in England and France.

Poole developed significantly by 1523, to become the pre-eminent in Dorset paying sums to the exchequer from being only 9th of 11 towns in 1323.

Trade in Poole increased and accelerated in the presence of Royal Officers and given the inhabitants’ ability to react to the changes and opportunities afforded by them.

Elizabethan Trade and Vitality of the Port

Tittler suggests that port towns of the south and south west were far from prosperous in the second half of the C16th.  The decline in the cloth industry was largely the reason and it was a period of insecurity and adaptation in commerce, as never before. London held the monopoly of commercial activity and every other port in the Kingdom, other than perhaps Bristol, was in an advanced state of decay.

It seems that Poole may have been later into this period of decay, only beginning to suffer in the 1580s; the fact of its continued prosperity being put down to three factors:

  • Its population and population structure – growing in number and disposable income;
  • Its secular building activities – from 1520-1540 a growth in private housing which continued in the years running up to 1574; several “public sector” buildings – a new town hall, market hall and prison between 1569 and 1572;  a windmill and a lengthy water conduit; and
  • Its shipping and trade – there was a growth in overseas trade in the period 1520-1540 and similarly a growth in shipping and the home fleet between the 1560s and 1574, this having suffered a trough in the 1550s; a development in the Newfoundland trade from the 1580s; and subsequently the extraction and export of clay in the early 1600s. Victualling, including butchery and associated leather tanning; ship building and trade in shipping supplies; and beer production were also important activities in the town in the latter half of the C16th, providing helpfully a variety and diversity of business.

The latter half of the C16th was also the age of “projects” which were encouraged by Elizabeth, James 1st, Charles 1st and later after the civil war, by Parliament. They were begun and carried on by “projectors”, the entrepreneurs that sponsored their establishment.

Throughout the latter half of the C16th there was an excess of imports over exports through the port. The scale of exports caught-up somewhat in the 1570s as the home markets declined; Tittler noted that cargoes were diverse. Most of Poole’s imports were forwarded on to other English ports through coastal shipping. Poole never had to rely on one or two staple products or markets and it remained resilient to London’s attractiveness.

The Channel Islands trade was a part of this diversity; and more so than commonly thought, according to Tittler.  He argues that when the Islands were granted “neutrality” in times of war, by Papal bull in 1483, so that they could continue to trade with each country in spite of war, it not only helped the Islands in their trade to France and England and between those countries but it also secured them sundry grants and exemptions from tolls and customs in English ports. Also, from time to time specific English ports received individual trading privileges with the Islands; Poole, Southampton and others benefitting.

While the common perception is that Southampton took over trade with the Islands in the C16th, the reality is, according to Tittler, that the port never succeeded in elbowing out Poole, despite several serious attempts to do so by cutting customs duties. In truth the relationship between Southampton port and the Islands merchants had many ups and downs over the period and some trade with Poole continued throughout.

Port book evidence though patchy shows that trading with the Channel Islands provided Poole with a hedge against the disruptions of the era. Tin, lead, beer, leather and hides, broad cloths, kersies and horses went out to the Islands and vast quantities of Gascon or Spanish wine, canvas, cloth, woad and salt came back.

The arrival of merchants from the Channel Islands to live in Poole, in order to manage their affairs at both ends of the trip, tends supports this view. Especially since the people concerned often adopted positions of power in the town as a result of their activities.

The serious decline in the 1580s was heralded by disease (mortality rates in 1581 and 1582 were as serious as in any other years of the century). It was thought also to be about the interdependence of ports (ie Poole trade declined because of the decay in other ports) and also, potentially about the difficulties of repayment for the major public expenditures made in Poole in the 1570s.

In 1588 in the time of the Armada, the Privy Council asked Poole to provide vessels and money towards the national effort against the Spanish the town protested its inability to comply.

The development of consumer industries

The Elizabethan era was the beginning of a period in which “projects” came to the fore, and these led to the emergence of several consumer industries. The additional employment so created led for the first time to there being disposable income in some families and this served further to develop such industries as demand for consumer wares grew.

The developing consumer industries meant that ordinary people for the first time could begin to earn enough to allow a little more comfort.  For instance woad growing was said to mean potentially the difference, at some times of the year, between a family earning four shillings and sixpence per week, the norm then, and 6 or 7 shillings a week.

Common manufacturing activities included stocking knitting; woad and madder growing for dyeing, button making; linen making; soap making; tobacco pipe making; and ribbon and lace making. These industries involved just the gentry and yeomen in villages (i.e. it was less than 1/3rd of the villagers) who produced a substantial and regular surplus but it did not include the husbandmen, the cottagers or the labourers.

By the early C17th Poole’s Newfoundland interests had grown and increased demand for tobacco pipe clay followed soon after. Attempts to begin saltpetre production and to exploit alum and copperas extraction were less successful initiatives of the time.

Tittler notes also the presence of wealthy gentry in Poole, engaged in the business of business itself. He saw it to be a characteristic of Poole in those days and identifies some legal services of note to the Channel Islands and that Poole represented for the Channel Islands not just its hinterland, but also an important link with continental commerce.

Some local examples of activity in the “project” work then, include the following:

  • In 1569 in Christchurch silk fabrics were being dyed for export to Portugal, by dyeing the material (frisadoes) in “the Harlem manner”;
  • In 1585 Dorset was one of three counties in the top six engaged in growing and processing woad;
  • In the 1620s Christopher Cockerill spent 13 years in Dorset and Somerset teaching the art of growing and processing flax;
  • Bridport was then renowned for its growing and use of hemp for rope making;
  • Brownsea Island was a focus for Copperas extraction – used as a dye fixative and a constituent of ink; and
  • Aluminous shale was similarly exploited nearby to Brownsea Island, in the quest for alum, although the projectors failed to produce the alum; used for tanning, dyeing and paper making.

Towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign there were arguments about the patents she had granted to projectors and to monopolies, so created. These included projects on manufacture of salt, salt upon salt, vinegar, aqua vitae, aqua composite, salting and packing of fish, train oil, blubbers, livers of fish, poldavis (sailcloth), mildermix (    ), pots, brushes, and starch. She made the patents void before her death agreeing to the view that they “had not benefitted her subjects as she had intended”. But as Thirsk remarks the industry nevertheless had created a strong tide of healthy economic energy which surged through projects; relieving many families that otherwise would have struggled.

Four such consumer-ware industries evident at that time were: 

  • Pin making
  • Starch making
  • Tobacco growing and
  • Vinegar making

A comparison of the possessions of typical households between 1550 and 1700 serves to underline the differences in and improvement to people’s lives across the period.  In 1550 the average husbandman had in his home a few sticks of basic furniture, a small amount of household linen and a few pots and pans essential to cooking and eating. By 1700 this increased to include a choice of clothing in different colours and weights, including knitted stockings; more domestic linen in the household; many more iron brass and copper cooking pots; their shops had several different threads, lace and ribbons; and they had a much wider diet. For instance there was a choice of 60 different varieties of apple, 22 of pear and 16 of cherries!

The nature of the English coastal shipping trade

Coal and corn formed the bulk of English coastal shipping movements in the period of our project. The growth in movement of corn to London provides evidence of the 3 times growth of this important movement in the national coastal trade during the C17th:

  • 1605 – 550,000 quarters of corn
  • 1661 – 1,265,000 qrs.
  • 1696 – 1,468,000 qrs.

While there is little sense of the scale of movements nationally for the whole of the English coastal trade across the period from 1580 to 1730; a seven yearly census from 1709 provides an indication that it was growing significantly towards the end of the period (1709 – 97K tons; 1730 -110K tons; 1751 -137K tons).

The tables below offer a glimpse of the sorts of goods being moved in and out of Poole at three points – 1632/33; 1690/91 and 1749:


Date12/1632 to 12/ 1633Outward to12/1632 to 12/ 1633Inward from
Number of cargoes30 20 
 459 tons Tobacco pipe clayLondonCoalSouth Wales
 IronWeymouthCoal, soap & starchLondon
 Iron & copperasSouthampton  
 Spanish iron, vinegar, train oil & figsLondon  
 Tobacco pipe clay, provisionsPortsmouth  


Date/ period12/1690 to 12/1691Outward to12/1690 to 12/1691Inward from
Cargoes  70 
 3114 tons clay CoalNewcastle, Milford
 (899)Various: incl. Newcastle,  & DartmouthWool & butterCowes
 Tobacco Pipes 482 gross, 2 hogsheads, 3 chests Miscellaneous: malt, barley, wheat, peas, cheese, bacon & wineLondon, Southampton
 (216 gross, 2 hogsheads & 3 chests)Portsmouth  
 (130 gross )Weymouth  
 (136 gross)Plymouth, Cowes, & Newcastle  
 Iron & bricksWeymouth  
 Iron, iron pots, train oil, tobacco pipe clay, hemp & hatsSouthampton  
 Iron, peas, malt, shovels, wheelbarrows, pick axesPlymouth  
 Grindstones (from Newcastle), tobacco, barley, wheat, butter, cheese, peas, & baconPortsmouth  
 Beer, stockings, oats, wheat & maltLondon  
 Tobacco pipe clay, timber & oysters (1685)Lyme Regis  

1749 (six months only)

Date/ period06/1749 to 12/1749Outward to06/1749 to 12/1749Inward from
Cargoes1717 tons Tobacco pipe clay Coal & saltNewcastle
 (1135 t)LondonSaltLymington & Cowes
 217,500 smooth pavure stones Wine, beer & tobaccoWeymouth
 (176,600)LondonButter, WineLyme Regis
 Wall stones 412 tLondonCornChichester & Cowes
 Pebble Stones (some tons)LondonTallow, hemp and paper stuffPortsmouth
 Gun-stones (some thousands of feet)LondonBottles, Iron, Manchester wares & HaberdasheryBristol
 ButterWeymouth, LondonBrasses, soap, spirits, deals (timber), linen & porkLondon
 MiscellaneousPortsmouth, Weymouth  

From these tables it is evident that in C17th there was an excess of exports over imports through the port and a greater diversity amongst the exports. In contrast, by C18th the movements out were dominated by clay and stone to London and nothing like so diverse.

It can be surmised from this information that business with London grew across the period and to a substantial level given the stone and clay movements out.

The nature of goods coming into Poole varied across the period to become such that Poole was an recipient port for consumer wares from a larger and larger variety of source ports, including latterly, Bristol and London as well as the more local ones; suggesting perhaps that the economic condition of the port and its hinterland was improving as was that of England as a whole in those days.

Poole’s importance in the days of clay pipes and through its ready supply of raw clay seems second to none in the period, given the range of destinations (26) for the products.

Poole’s Clay Trade – 1626-1740 (from a paper by D R Cousins)

The heathland around Poole Harbour had pockets of ball clay, a plastic clay, easy to work, and firing to white. It contained kaolin and was purer than the others found in Britain; in Devon and on Isle of Wight. It was dug out in blocks and carried out from Poole to London and Stafford by coastal shipping boats.

The first recorded movements (in the Port Books) were in 1626 and records continued until 1760, when the practice of keeping port books ceased in Poole. There was evidence of some clay extraction before that first recorded date and of shipping, from 1618.

Known as ball clay demand for Poole’s clay grew as National demand increased, especially for clay tobacco pipes. Later on, after our period, it was used more for ceramics and Poole had links to Wedgewood that grew the extraction and shipping to even greater heights.

Perhaps due to lack of material for firing the clay – no evidence exists of pottery making in Poole across the project period (1580 -1730). Later Sydenham (writing in 1839) suggested that one third of all the fine pottery made in the country was from clay shipped at Poole for Staffordshire and other potteries. 

As has already been noted, in the second half of the C16th many consumer product industries expanded quickly – including textiles, iron and glass. They were encouraged by the Crown and Parliament so that domestic demand could be met by domestic production, rather than by imports. The ceramics industry was one of these.

By the middle of the C17th for more people began to have some disposable income as a result of work and wages generated by the consumer ware industries and more fashionable non-essentials were soon in demand. English production of ceramics began, fuelled by Chinese porcelain imports and the introduction of tea and coffee drinking. The discovery and manufacture of lead glass in 1676 led to the practice of tea drinking in glasses.

David Cousins’ research findings

Cousins carried out research in 2006 to record the scale and nature of the clay trade activity in Poole, including the associated coastal shipping.

He closely examined half of the 86 port books covering the C17th, relating to 37 individual years. He looked at outward shipping movements and while noting his caveats regarding the patchiness of the evidence and the scope for its unreliability, the information provides a good picture of the development of the coastal trade across three periods of relevance to our project period:

  • The period of monopolies 1626 – 1670
  • The growth of the London pottery industry c.1670 – c.1720
  • The rise of the early Staffordshire pottery industry and decline of clay Tobacco pipe making c.1720 – c.1760

The period of monopolies began by 1626 and initially the destination for the clay was London as the centre of Clay Tobacco Pipe making. Monopolies and patents had been granted by the Crown to stimulate the new industries and those concerning the movement of tobacco pipe clay were eventually withdrawn by 1640, when pipe making also began in Bristol. The increase in tobacco use (1620 – 60,000 lbs; 1638 – 2,000,000 lbs) led to falls in price and made the pipes a mass consumer item.

Average levels of shipping of around 500 tons of clay per annum doubled when the monopolies were removed and by 1672 1000 tons of clay were being distributed from Poole to 26 other ports around Great Britain. This must have represented a major level of activity for the port.

Whereas up until 1639, ships mainly from Poole had been responsible for transporting the clay, thereafter, due to contracts negotiated with each of the recipient merchants, a greater proportion of the clay was collected from Poole by ships from the destination ports.  This picture changed after 1670 when Poole ships began to transport a greater proportion of the clay once again.

From 1667 to 1720 average loads doubled again to 2000 tons to London and tobacco pipe making also began in Bristol, Newcastle, York and Hull. Pipe making in London began to decline in C18th as these and other places took up the industry. As a result Poole’s overall market share in the clay trade also began to decline, albeit the amount of clay being moved out of Poole stayed pretty much the same between 1720 and 1740; there are records of over 4000 tons per annum.

South Coast activities and Southampton

The south coast ports were wholly importers of coal across the project period there being no ready supplies in the south. The south was an important industrial area although the Wealden Iron industry had declined because of lack of access to coal. The hinterland of the south coast was heavily agricultural with coastal trade movements, for instance of cider from Dartmouth and corn from Chichester.

While the country began to import tea, coffee and sugar in early C17th and some of this was probably moved around by coastal shipping other agricultural produce was the dominant movement such as malt, peas, beans (Bridgewater) and butter (Cowes and Lyme Regis) all moved back and forth largely in local areas. Timber too was carried with Southampton a local exporter in C17th.

Wool, which had been so important to medieval prosperity, was still important in the C17th and early C18th centuries. Southampton (early C18th) was a considerable shipper of wool; principally to Channel Islands, to which by then it acted as a staple port. This raises the question as to how Poole lost its earlier staple wool port status and the accompanying trade with the Channel Isles; could it be because of a predominant interest locally in the Newfoundland fishing and settlement, that it was allowed to wane?

The Port of Southampton’s significance

Southampton had two member ports; Portsmouth and Cowes and Southampton had an interesting coastal trade from C15th, distributing sulphur, woad, alum, and spices from Venice and Genoa; and collecting tin from Cornwall and lead from Newcastle to ship to Genoa and Florence. These international movements combined with trade from east coast ports, Wales and Channel Islands.

In early C17th its coastal trade was chiefly with Channel Islands; from Xmas 1627 to Xmas 1628, there were 122 cargos; the majority were for Jersey (wool – 318 tods ( 28 lbs)), malt, leather, calf skins, cloth, timber (800 ft), malt, cheese, currants, soap, hops, oatmeal, wearing apparels, powder, belts, bandoleers, saddles, muskets, drums) or Guernsey (wool 247 tods), malt, soap, hops, leather, calf skins, timber , cloth (kerseys, frieze, broadcloth, cottons, fustians) and haberdashery).

Other shipments included timber to London and tobacco pipe clay, timber, malt and beer went to Plymouth, Falmouth and Barnstaple. Inward shipments amounted to just 13; none from the Channel Islands.

In C16th the men who built up the Islands maritime trade were the entrepreneurs of commerce and their shipmasters. Some went to live in Southampton to promote trade and took up important roles in the community there. Southampton became linked as one of the principal commercial centres of the region. For some time the favoured port of entry had been Poole but earlier in the century Guernsey merchants sought and received concessions in harbour dues from Southampton and trade there grew. Competition from French shippers trading into England then also grew as a result of the edict and in the early C17th the trade seems to have become one way out to the Channel Islands.

The restoration saw expansion of the port’s trade and change to its nature and direction. In 1687 Southampton shifted 654 cargoes or more than half as many as London. The trade to the Channel Islands was still important especially in wool and leather, but the trade to Cowes had become much bigger.

By 1730 the trade from the port had increased markedly again; and it’s outward trade the most significant.

Poole’s Trade with the Channel Islands

Poole’s trade with the Channel Islands has been a constant presence from as early as the late C14th when it appeared for the first time in Dorset accounts of shipping masters from Cherbourg and featured the Islands acting as intermediaries with France. Contrary to the evidence from Southampton of a one-way trade from Southampton to the Channel Islands in the early C16th, Poole’s trade was always in both directions.

In 1392 the Islands became free ports in consideration of the services to the King to carry him overseas when necessary. Their large fleet of sea-going vessels was held in high esteem by the Crown then and since the Islands sat astride of the British trade routes to the south of France they were important to the Crown. Local merchants being obstructed by customs officers in Plymouth, Poole and Southampton in 1422, complained to the King about the violation of their privileges. The King rectified the matter at once giving instructions that the Islanders were not to be treated as foreigners.

Rivalry between the Kings of England and France for spheres of influence was a fact of life. Ship owners in the Islands sought to keep their connections with English markets. Port records for 1460 to the end of the century showed a gradual but spasmodic increase in freight to Chichester, Southampton, Poole, Exeter, and Dartmouth. Movements were twice that of 1453. The French wanted to take over the islands and they invaded Jersey in 1461, holding it for 7 years. The English expelled them and shipping then revived and grew through the latter part of the C15th and into C16th.

Towards the end of C15th King Edward IV signed an agreement with Louis XI of France for the Channel Islands’ neutrality, which was signed by the pope a year later in an International Papal edict The freedom to trade with France and Germany, so obtained, enabled the Islanders to grow their trade. Channel Island boats also began to move back and forth along the English coast making round trips. The Norman and Breton linen and hemp cloths brought it to Dorset harbours then were of greater value than the wool that was exported.

Poole, Dartmouth and Exeter were the favoured ports then for Channel Island produce. Ships carried to England canvas and linen from France, playing cards, cordage, salt, conger eels, oil and sugar, and of course wine, agricultural produce dried and fresh fish, beet and cattle. For wine, Gascon merchants set up in the Islands and some went to live in Poole and Lyme Regis in order to secure the successful passage of their goods.

From 1586 knitted stockings from Jersey became an important export; and by 1628 French merchants came from several places to buy bales of stockings knitted there.

In 1627 the Bailiff of Jersey argued that trade between the Islands and France was likely the most practical and least costly mode of defence. There were still worries that France would invade. A year later when fears of French invasion had increased, two ships of the Royal Navy were sent out to patrol locally. Merchants in England and the Channel Isles then were trading freely in broadcloth, linen, canvas, lead, tin, wines, wheat, conger eels, fish, salt, and knitwear.

The knitwear trade grew in the Channel Islands and by 1670 10,000 pairs of knitted stockings were sold in the market each week mostly to local merchants for export to France and Spain, while knitted waistcoats went to England. By 1680 two thousand tons of wool were being imported annually to supplement locally produced wool and half the population depended on the knitting for their living. By 1748 168K pairs of stockings were being exported to Southampton in the year – knitting was an important business for the Islands.

Disruptions to Trade – Privateering and Smuggling

During the civil war Sir George Carteret became Vice Admiral after the Bailiff Sir Phillip de Carteret died. He awarded himself and fellow captains for the Islands letters of marque to begin privateering expeditions against English Parliamentary government and its shipping. This became a profitable activity for the Islands and despite a brief stand down at King Charles’ instruction, in 1647, it began again after he had been beheaded in 1649, and thereafter continued. Shipping and trade in the Channel Islands thereafter included the speciality of privateering whenever hostilities broke out between England and France or Spain.

Charles II introduced requirements to inspect cargos in a Navigation Act of 1681 and this made more difficult the job of shipping goods between the Islands and England. Merchants and shipmasters refused to conform to the regulations and so their ships were seized. This and the inspection of cargoes to prevent imports from France being exported to England turned attention to smuggling for the export of wine, brandy and tobacco. Smugglers sailed over from England to trade with merchants, in Guernsey or Alderney while Jersey merchants dealt mainly with smugglers from France.

The war of the Spanish Succession, from 1702 – 1711/12 led to much privateering by Channel Island masters and ships and rich rewards. Taxes were to be paid on captured goods as they were sold on. Fish also were taxed in this way. These taxes led the privateer captains and their backers to find different ways to dispose of the goods; for example by selling them back to the enemy or by sending them to merchants in England who were prepared to deal in the contraband. Instructions arrived in the Islands that goods were not to be sold until the Admiralty court had given formal approval. This of course was the normal procedure.

The number of privateers was to reach five times the number in Williams III’s 9 year war with France of 1689, when he withdrew the Islands neutrality arrangements. By 1712 there were 184 in action in Guernsey and 70 in Jersey (264 against the previous 67) essentially engaged in the war with France – the islanders had taken to privateering in order to make good the loss of their normal commerce with France.

After the war smuggling to South Wales and Ireland became the norm and brandy, wine, tea rum and tobacco the goods that were carried. Customs arrangements along the south coast were better run by then and hence the distances some of these goods were carried.

Difficulties in Mainland Coastal Shipping and with Deep Sea Shipping

For most of the period shippers had to know their routes and any associated navigational difficulties along the way. It was not until 1682 that Charles II commissioned Collins to survey the English waters. It was 1693 before the job was (almost) complete and maps became more reliable. Until then places such as Portland, with the Channel’s most dangerous tidal race, were full of danger for the unwary.

Pirates and privateers (in times of war) were ever present problems in mainland waters and further afield. In 1619 merchants from Bristol complained of substantial losses to piracy in the Bristol Channel; not just from English pirates, but also Turkish ones and Barbary corsairs (who were also often English) from north Africa. The merchants sought the help of Sir Thomas Button in trying to control this menace and they voiced their support for his efforts by the early 1620s. This problem probably rose in significance and fell at different times across the period, but did not go way. Even 90 years later when Woodes Rogers went to sea, from Bristol, on his around the world voyage in 1708, he did so having suffered heavy losses of ships he part-owned and their merchandise to French privateers in the Channel in the previous few years. His voyage was designed to help him recoup his losses by privateering in the Pacific, against the Spanish.

In the English Channel Dunkirk became a pirates’ lair (many of the pirates were English) early in the period and Dunkirkers became a problem for all shipping. They were not only a problem for coastal shipping but also for the vessels trading from or to overseas locations. There were several reports that the annual fishing run to Newfoundland from south west ports was suffering attacks on  outwards and return voyages during the 1620s. Convoys of ships to or from Newfoundland began, sometimes to be escorted by the King’s ships for protection.

This was not just in the early C17th but was still going on 70 years later towards the turn of the century. In 1696 Sir William Whetstone, a rear admiral in the Royal Navy and from Bristol, was employed by the Admiralty as Captain of the ship Dreadnought, which together with the Oxford, was to be a protective escort to the Newfoundland convoy of 61 vessels, that sailed from Plymouth on 1st September 1696. He remained on station for three years thereafter. It was here that he developed his association with Woods Rogers (Woodes Rogers’ father) a sea captain from Poole who, along with other Poole fish merchants, had been instrumental in securing Whetstone’s commission on the protective escort duties. They had become increasingly concerned with what appeared to them to be an aggressive expansion of the French fishing outposts in Newfoundland.

It is interesting to note that it was about this time that Woods Rogers removed his shipping business from Poole to Bristol, and that by 1704 his son Woodes had married Whetstone’s daughter Sarah (they lived just two doors apart in Queen Square, Bristol).


The English Coasting Trade 1600-1750; by T S Willan (Manchester University Press);

Economic Policy and Projects; the development of a consumer society in Early Modern England; by Joan Thirsk

The sea was their fortune; A Maritime History of the Channel Islands; by Roy McGloughlin;

Jersey Sailing Ships; by John Jean

The Development of Dorset’s Harbours in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries – Proceedings of Dorset Natural History & Architectural Society – Vol 138, 2017; Hon Editor Dr Paul Lashmar – Mark Forrest, Dorset History Centre

The Vitality of an Elizabethan Port: The Economy of Poole, C1550-1600; by Robert Tittler

The Poole Clay Trade: 1626 – 1760; by David R Cousins – paper based on MA Thesis

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