Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Trading Places (Part Two)

Last week we were discussing the Tudor ports of Wardleys and Skippool.
Well, when I say ‘discussing’, it was actually me rambling on about Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary and Edward VI mostly, with a brief mention of Wardleys and Skippool thrown in at the end. Nonetheless, now that we’re all up to speed, we might as well continue.
We were (much like our own reader, no doubt) intrigued by the reference to ‘tallow and flax’ in Porter’s ‘History of the Fylde’ (if our reader can remember that far back), so we decided to conduct some research into the matter.
Tallow, apparently, is rendered fat processed from suet that remains solid at room temperature. It can be stored for long periods of time without having to be refrigerated, making it ideal for overseas transportation. Its primary function is to lubricate stuff such as gun cartridges and leather.
Unfortunately we don’t a picture of any solid, rendered fat, so here’s a photograph of John Prescott instead:

(There’s probably a serious infringement of copyright going on with that image now, because I’ve nicked it from some random site or other, but seeing as Google Books appear to be able to infringe copyrights without repercussion nowadays, who cares?)
Flax, on the other hand, is a plant that grows up to three and a half feet in height, the fibres of which are used in fabrics, paper, soap, medicines, dyes and fishing nets.
So there you go.
Fancy a photograph of some flax by way of illustration? Fair enough. We’re already infringing copyright with the Wigan pie-eater above, so, in for a penny in for a pound, eh? (Cheers Wikipedia…or whatever site I nicked this photograph from):

Where was I? Oh yes…Bulker ford (now long since fallen out of use) originally connected the two creeks together.
The photograph below, by Frank Smith (Wyre Archaeology pilot) shows Skippool Creek from the air…just about:

Bulker’s cuttings can still be found just beyond Skippool yacht club as you head towards Ramper Pot. We’ve posted photographs of them before on this board, so if you’re interested you might want to search through our previous articles. (Although you probably won’t.)
Looking across the river at low tide from this point, it’s possible to see the remains of the ford itself sloping down into the water from the far bank. (We haven’t posted a photograph of that one either, because, perhaps unsurprisingly, we couldn’t find anywhere on the web to half inch one from.)
In order to reach Bulker Ford from Skippool’s quayside, almost certainly a road would have run along the brow behind what is nowadays the yacht club. By way of confirmation that such a road existed, in 2009 Gary Thornton (coincidentally the treasurer of Wyre Archaeology) discovered an Elizabethan shilling in the aforementioned field. We’ve illustrated both sides of this coin below.

Right, before we go any further, as always when we’re covering metal detector finds on this board, it’s worth pointing out that Gary Thornton was given permission by the landowner before he set about his investigation. It’s also worth adding that any unauthorised metal-detecting in said field will be dealt with through the courts, a course of action that generally results in the confiscation of the trespasser’s equipment plus an extremely heavy fine and, possibly even, the loss of several front teeth. On top of which, it’s really not worth running the risk anyhow, because Gary’s already scoured the field from top to bottom and the possibilities of further coins coming to light now are nonexistent.
You have been warned.
The chances are that Wardleys back in the Tudor period, unlike Skippool, was a privately owned affair. However, ships at both quays would have had to use nearby Poulton when it came to their customs and excise. (Keep the more obvious jokes about me being overweight and in need of some exercise myself etc. to yourself, will you?) It might seem odd to us nowadays that Poulton could even be considered a port, but back in Elizabethan times the ‘Skippon Flu’ – that’s the continuation of Skippool Creek inland -- reached well beyond the Breck. By all accounts it was considerably wider back then as well. So much so in fact that shipbuilding was in progress on its banks.
William Thornber mentions the practice when discussing an area of Poulton known as Angell’s Holme. As his ‘History of Blackpool and its neighbourhood’ tells us:

"These meadows lie adjoining the Horse Bridge, where boats formerly were built.

Graham Evans in his excellent book ‘Skippool: Old Port of Poulton-le-Fylde’ adds that:

Thornber mentions the HORSEBRIDGE (on the site of the present Poulton Golf Club, where Horsebridge Dyke flows before joining the main dyke at Skippool).”

A quick glance at an old map of the area confirms that the Horsebridge stood at the location suggested by Graham Evans. The Angell’s Holme mentioned by Thornber, however, appears on the first edition Ordnance Survey Town Map of Poulton (published in 1890) close to the railway bridge on Tithebarn Road. Here another branch of the Skippon Flu flowed beneath ‘Black Horse Bridge’, so whether Thornber was referring to this particular location or to the site suggested above we honestly couldn’t say.
Whatever the case, Tudor ships were generally ‘carvel-built’, which basically involved starting with a keel, then building a skeleton of wooden beams and frames on top. Next planks were nailed into position, often the hulls being lined with a layer of lead to guard against shipworm. (Not to mention radiation…although that wasn’t particularly a problem back in those days.) Lead was quite expensive, so at other, more frugal times, thin boards covered with tar and hair (don’t ask where the hair actually came from) would have been used instead.
For merchant ships, such as those most likely under construction in Poulton, ensuring the correct tonnage was all-important. A calculation known as Baker’s Old Rule (presumably because it was old, and had been thought up by somebody called Baker) was employed to calculate how much weight could be stowed onboard before the ship split at the seams and headed down to Davy Jones’ Locker.
For anybody interested in such matters (and, sadly, there’s bound to be somebody out there who is), the equation ran ‘Keel (times) beam (times) depth of hold (equals) carrying capacity’.
As to the type of vessels being built at Horsebridge Dyke, the most probable, it seems, would have been flyboats, one of which we’ve illustrated below, based on a drawing held by the National Maritime Museum. (No copyright infringement for once. We’re back on track now.) These had a tonnage of between thirty-five and one hundred.

Some local historians have implied in the past -- although it should be noted that there’s no evidence, documented or otherwise, to back the claims up in any fashion, so don’t even try to sue me -- that Skippool and Wardleys were both implicit with the slave trade (or ‘Black Gold’ as it was, apparently, known amongst the local wits). Certainly Lancaster and Liverpool made huge financial gains from this immoral practice, so it’s conceivable that some of the less scrupulous traders from the Wyre benefited as well.
The first Englishman to transport slaves back from Africa was a certain John Lok, a Londoner needless to say, who in 1555 carried five slaves home from Guinea to England. Similarly, William Towerson, another Londoner…obviously…also brought slaves into the country in 1557. John Hawkins of Plymouth, however, is generally acknowledged as the pioneer of the English slave trade, running what became known as the Triangular Trade Route, a journey designed to make a profit at every stop. (A bit like our local taxi drivers, only not quite as unethical.)
John Hawkins was Francis Drake’s cousin, as well as the great-grandson of Eleanor of Lancaster, so, despite living in Plymouth, he could in some respects (from an ancestral point of view at any rate) be considered a local lad.
Not exactly something to be proud of, it must be said.


Jayne said...

Horse hair was the favoured hair of ship-building fashion.

March 25, 1807 the Slave Trade Act was passed ;)

Brian Hughes said...

Two and a half centuries too late really, one of Jim Davidson's jokes.

Jayne said...

Didn't he star as some reformed villian who was a chauffer for a big wig in the early 90s?
But more that a pork pie or an amusingly shaped pastie?

Brian Hughes said...


A reformed villain who was a chauffer? I couldn't honestly say. All I know is, he's an unfunny, annoying, racist git and the fact that he appears to have been banned from our television sets nowadays can only be a good thing.

Jayne said...

Yep, twas a sit-com called "Home James" that had a brief airing on Oz tv back in the year dot.
From the sounds of it we've missed nothing in the meantime.

Brian Hughes said...

That rings a vague bell. I can even hear it tolling...'Dung'.

Ozfemme said...

hang on...john prescott or jim davidson? I'm confused....

Brian Hughes said...


Prescott = left-wing, pie-eating, hypocrite who sold out his socialist values for a taste of political power.

Davidson = right-wing, odious racist who never had any values in the first place.

John said...

First off, i could have done without the photo of the guy eating... i almost didn't bother with the post when i saw that!

Second of all, I found the bits about ships being interesting, since I find myself involved with ships in several directions these days. In fact, I was just visiting the Santa Maria yesterday, as all my facebook friends saw in my photo.

Anyway, I also find it interesting that so many sites of historical interest are now Golfing Clubs nowadays. I wonder if there's a connection? You know, beyond Bulker Ford? ( get it? connection? there's a joke in there,)

Anyways, I'll keep this comment, like the post, mercifully short.


John said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brian Hughes said...


That's John Prescott that is, our former deputy prime minster and champion pie-eating northern working class stereotype. He's also perhaps most famous (possibly infamous) for indulging in a spot of, shall we say, over-zealous exercise with his secretary and a government desk. Everybody in Blighty misses him since he retired from the cabinet...especially the right-wing press.

Jayne said...

What is this about unionisation of UK archaeology?
I've had a few emails telling me to sign this and that petition re the unionisation, first I've heard about it?

BwcaBrownie said...

I haven't yet read the post past 'Elizabethan shilling' yet, but am thinking the purchasing power of it at the time, must have been equal to it's present day value. is is worth a lot, or are they common?

and also thinking your house must be one of those in the aerial photo. nice environs.

oh! thanks for the keel-depth-capacity equation. a ripper.

Brian Hughes said...


It's the first I've heard about it as well. Archaeologists are generally about as unified as quantum theories. (Copyright psuedo-intellectual jokes inc. 1683)


Yes, my house appeared in last week's aerial photograph...right in the distance where the river enters the bigger than a dustmite really...and even smaller on the photograph. (Boom boom.)