Sea-Faring Tradition

Galleons at mouth of Teign estuary

Galleons at mouth of Teign estuary

In 1272, when Edward I came to the throne, Teignmouth was a thriving port, trading mainly in fish and salt and by the early 14th century it was second in Devon only to Dartmouth.  It was significant enough to have been attacked by the French in 1340 and to have sent seven ships and 120 men to the expedition against Calais in 1347. However its relative importance waned from early in the 15th century as the demands on Devon’s ports diminished because Henry V was trying to build a Royal Navy so as to reduce the Nation’s dependence on merchant shipping.  It did not figure at all in an official record of 1577.  This may have been due to silting up of the harbour caused by the operations of the tin miners on Dartmoor.

During the 17th century, in common with other Channel ports, Teignmouth ships suffered from raids from Dunkirkers, which operated as privateers from Flemish ports.  It is possible that smuggling was the town’s most significant trade at this time, though cod fishing in Newfoundland was also of great importance.

In the late 18th century, privateering was popular in Teignmouth, as it was in other Westcountry ports. In 1779 the French ship L’Emulation together with her cargo of sugar, coffee and cotton was offered for sale at “Rendle’s Great Sale Room” in the town.  Teignmouth people also fitted out two privateers of their own: the Dragon with 16 guns and 70 men; and the Bellona , described as carrying “16 guns, 4 cohorns and 8 swivels”.  The Bellona set sail on her first cruise in September 1779, and was “oversett in a violent Gust of Wind” off Dawlish with the loss of 25 crew members.

Setting Sail

Setting Sail

The Newfoundland fisheries continued to provide the main employment into the early 19th century and as those fisheries declined the prospect of tourism arose.  A tea house was built on the Den in 1787 amongst the local fishermen’s drying nets.  The “Amazons of Shaldon”—muscular women who pulled fishing nets and were “naked to the knee”—were an early tourist attraction for male tourists.

Loading granite from New Quay 1827

Loading granite from New Quay 1827

For a period in the 19th century Teignmouth was shipping large quantities of granite for use in construction in London (e.g. London bridge) and elsewhere.

Teignmouth also has a long tradition of shipbuilding, from at least the 17th century.  By the turn of the 19th century there were three shipyards in Teignmouth itself, and three in Shaldon and Ringmore on the other side of the estuary.  The industry declined in the early 20th century, but in 1921 Morgan Giles bought the last derelict shipbuilding yard and gave the industry a new stimulus.  His shipyard became a major employer in the town, building pleasure craft in peacetime and small craft such as torpedo boats during World War II.  However the business eventually failed in 1968 not long after Donald Crowhurst’s notorious attempt to sail around the world.

Teignmouth has successfully moved with the times and the changes in cargoes and by 2008 was handling more tonnage than it had done at any time in its previous history.  It is equipped to handle most types of cargo ranging from bulks, mini bulks to palletised, unitised and general cargo.  Its main export is ball clay, mined locally at Kingsteignton.  Imports include animal feed, fertilizer, timber, building materials, stone and coal.  In 2008 there were over 800 shipping movements a year handling more than 600 thousand tonnes of cargo.


Some Historical References:

From White’s Devonshire Directory of 1850:
In 1774 Teignmouth and Shaldon fitted 20 ships, of from 50 to 200 tons each, for the Newfoundland trade.  Teignmouth belonged to the Port of Exeter and in 1850 still had a large trade with Newfoundland, and a considerable home fishery for herrings, mackerel, pilchards, soles, turbots, &c., caught in the channel; and for salmon caught in the river.  It also exported great quantities of granite, brought down the Teign from the Haytor quarries; and of fine pipe and potter’s clay, dug up in the neighbouring parish of King’s Teignton. A commodious quay on the river was constructed in 1820, by Geo. Templer, Esq., for the convenience of shipping these heavy articles

From “A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing places” published in 1803:
Among the scenes which will attract the attention of strangers, seine-drawing may be particularised.  It is performed by women, in appropriate dresses, and the picture of hope, with the shade of disappointment, which they exhibit as the centre of the net approaches the shore, as they expect a full or empty haul, would furnish an excellent subject for the pencil. The whole shore, indeed, presents an animated and busy scene.”

Seine nets were used in Devon for catching fish such as mackerel or salmon which swam in shoals. The bottom of the net was weighted, the rim having floats attached to keep the outer edge of the net on the surface. Many people are required to drag this type of net out of the water when full. The women of Shaldon and Teignmouth carried on a local fishing trade to support their families while the men were away in Newfoundland during the summer months.

FROM SDUK Penny Cyclopaedia –
The trade too is considerable : the inhabitants are much engaged in the Newfoundland fishery. There are considerable exports of granite (for the conveyance of which from the Haytor quarries a railroad has been constructed), pipe-clay, potters’ clay, manganese, timber, bark, and cider: the imports are of culm, coal, deals, iron, &c. There is a considerable fishery for soles, whiting, turbot, mackerel, and pilchards, on the coast, and for salmon in the river Teign.

1 thought on “Sea-Faring Tradition

  1. Pingback: The Blessing of the Boats | Teignmouth in Verse

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