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Aberystwyth Harbour, Shipbuilding and Ships (c.1850-1880)                         

This page has been created to illustrate the background to the maritime world of Aberystwyth that my Great Grandfather John Jenkins would have been familiar with during his sailing career. It includes material from a number of sources, but I am particularly indebted to Nick Tudor-Jones (the Great Great Grandson of Thomas Jones, Aberystwyth, ship builder and owner) for sharing some of his photographic archives.

As the main coastal town in northern Ceredigion, Aberystwyth was the natural centre for the large amount of coastal shipping that was trading with the area in the 1800's. It gained the Customs House from Aberdyfi in 1763 but suffered from a shallow sand bar at the entrance to the harbour which restricted the size of ships able to use the port. This was helped when major improvements to the harbour were constructed in the late 1830s - the old wooden quays being replaced by a stone quay. A long stone pier was also built near the entrance which improved the flow of water and reduced the sandbar. The proposed plans below show the changes that were made to the harbour.

As with most coastal towns in this period, local shipbuilding grew with the increase in coastal trade in the Nineteenth Century and Aberystwyth was no exception. The main area for building ships in Aberystwyth was at Tan y cae (shown in the 1834 map below)


As early as 1797 the drawing below shows vessels being built in this same area (in front of the castle ruins to the left of the picture). Note that the wooden bridge across from Trefechan was a temporary structure after the earlier stone bridge was washed away and before the new one was constructed. The horse is pulling a barrel of water from a well in Trefechan as the town did not have its own good water supply.

In the decade 1790-1800, 20 vessels were built, totalling 1,110 tons and these were typically small sloops of around 55 tons each, though at least one larger vessel was built - the James of 361 tons, owned by Harvey & Co., registered in Bristol and trading to Jamaica. 
In the 1830s a similar number of ships were still being built and there were three shipbuilders listed in Pigot's Directory: Rees Davies of Shipbuilders Row, Foulke Evans of Bow St and Thomas Williams of Pier St.
By 30 years later (from 1860-1870) shipbuilding had grown and 33 vessels were built, totalling 4,013 tons. These were mainly schooners, each of around 80-100 tons plus a few brigs of 200 tons and some barques and brigantines of around 350 tons. This was the high point of shipbuilding at Aberystwyth.
The picture below shows vessels being built in c.1870. The square building in the very middle of the picture with a veranda at the front is the Customs House. To the left, in front of the castle ruins, are the sawmills which used the wood stacked on the very left of the picture on Rofawr in the yard of Thomas Jones.

A similar view from the 1960s shows the same distinctive back-to-back houses on Shipbuilders Row on the right of the picture but the stone harbour wall now extends over most of the old yards and houses have been built over the sawmills and Customs House. The history of this area is also presented in a short audio that can be found at < http://www.harbourvoices.org.uk/trail/ >, article 4.

By the 1870's the number of vessels being built was starting to decline as more of the coastal trade was taken by the railway network (from 1870-1880, only 15 vessels were built, totalling 2,537 tons) and the last ship was built in 1881. In this later period there were three main shipbuilders and each had his own area at Tan y cae as shown in the card below by an old Aberystwyth sailor William Owens (b.1852) drawn in the 1930s. Note the fencing used to delineate the yards and the simple timber supports propping up the ships.

Another simple sketch of the yards in 1870 clearly shows the stacks of wood on Rofawr to the left, the smoking stack of the steam driven sawmill in the centre and miscellaneous work sheds near to the ships under construction in the three fenced off yards

Here is a photgraph from 1866 showing the brig Sir Robert McClure (53045 of 197 tons Register) nearing completion in the yard of John Evans, clearly showing the supporting timbers and protective fence. This view is looking south-east towards the Trefechan bridge. She was launched on Saturday 17th March 1866 with a ceremony watched by many people (see link from table below).

A similar event from the same yard was also captured by William Owens.

The harbour was also captured in its heyday in another card by William Owens - full of ships of all sizes floating on a spring tide.


And a view at low tide, when the local cows seem to have taken possession...

The trade of Aberystwyth harbour was described in Slater's Directory (1880) as follows:
"The shipping business consists in the exportation of lead and silver ore, and a small quantity of copper ore. The imports are timber, shop goods and other merchandises from Liverpool, Bristol, and London; groceries, coals, slates and slabs, flagging, bricks, flour, fish, limestone, &c. There are three ship building establishments, an old established rope walk, a sail manufactory, steam saw mills, a large engineering and iron and brass foundry, &c. The number of vessels belonging to the port on 10th of January, 1877, was 292 sailing and 3 steamers; total 295, with a tonnage of 37,944."
These vessels were registered at the port but most were not built in Aberystwyth. Many were built in other North Cardiganshire ports such as Aberdyfi and Newquay, while many others were built in other UK coastal towns or were bought from overseas. A number of larger vessels were bought from Canada since the abundance of local wood made these ships much cheaper to build than those built in the UK.
The following table summarises the majority of ships built at Aberystwyth from 1860 onwards (plus a few from earlier in the 1800s) and highlights some of the main shipbuilders and owners - namely Thomas Jones (elder and younger); John Evans and his son John Faulk Evans; John Jones (Trefechan) and David Jones. 
More details of some vessels (including pictures) can be found by clicking on 'more' in the final column.

               Name   Year 
           Builder                     Owner Register
     Type  Further info / 
  COMMERCE 1815 John Evans-length'd '39 Will'm Griffiths / Thomas Jones 59/72 Schooner  
  PELHAM CLINTON 1846   Thomas Jones 99 Schooner  
  ARCTURUS 1847 John Evans   105 Schooner  
1094 AGENORIA 1840 Hopkins 51 Schooner  
3220 CLARISSA 1855 Thomas Jones Thomas Jones 95 Schooner  more+picture
3228 CATHERINE HODGES 1842 Wm & Richard Roberts Lewis Rees & Co      
9852 LOVELY LASS 1840   J Watkins (also Master) 85 Schooner  
9810 EARL OF LISBURNE 1839 John Evans Evans & Co, - Capt. T Evans 58 Schooner   
9866 REFORM 1832   James & Co (1855), Daniel (1860) 93 Schooner   
10609 MAGDALENE 1841 Wm & Richard Roberts Davies & Co 114 Schooner   
11192 ADELAIDE 1835   Griffiths (owner and Master) 53 Schooner  
11194 CAMBRIAN BELLE 1856   Mrs E J Delahoyde, Aberyst. 189 Brig  
14416 ANNE JONES 1839 Jones & Co 99 Schooner  
18426 PADARN 1857 Jones, Aberystwyth 116 Brigantine  
20661 JANE MORGANS 1858 Thomas Jones Thomas Jones 73 Schooner  
20663 MERIDIAN 1858   Richard Frances,Aberystwyth 93 Schooner  
20664 STRATA FLORIDA 1858   Jones & Co 266 Barque  more
21671 MARY JONES 1858   Hugh Jones, Aberystwyth 94 Schooner  
21756 RHEIDOL VALE 1859  John Jones (Trefechan) David Thomas, Aberystwyth 90 Schooner  
22273 TRUANT 1840  John Evans Thomas Jones 141 Brig  more+picture
22761 ANNE 1846  John Evans Thomas Jones 84 Schooner  more
23522 EIGEN 1850  John Evans Thomas Jones 135 Barquentine  
24093 MESSENGER 1841   Rev G Davies, London 82 Schooner  
24795 MARIA 1811 rebuilt, lengthened 1839 Thomas Jones (in 1860) 84/101 Schooner  more+picture
25974 CLAUDIA 1850   Morris & Co 117 Brigantine  
27808 JANE WILLIAMS 1859  John Evans  Williams 78 Schooner  
28294 SARAH DAVIES 1860  James David Davies, Aberystwyth 85 Schooner  
28296 MARGARET JANE 1860  John Evans David Parry, Aberystwyth 89 Schooner  
28761 ANN & BETSY 1860 (1880-Pembrokeshire owner) 45 Schooner  more+picture
28763 JANE HERBERT 1860  John Evans John Rees, Aberystwyth 134 Brigantine  
28764 BLUE JACKET 1860 Thomas Jones Thomas Jones / John Rees 100 Schooner  more
29308 VOLUNTEER 1861  James T Jones then Ed. Jones, Aber 65 Schooner  
33038 ANNE JENKINS 1847 John Evans Thomas Jones 253 Barque  
42582 JOHN WILLIAM 1862  David Jones J. Jones, Portmadoc 77 Schooner  
42586 HELENA 1862 John Jones (Trefechan) John Jones (Trefechan) 98 Schooner  more
42588 CONFIDENCE 1862 Thomas Jones William Morgan 73 Schooner  
44731 ALERT 1862  Jacobs John Griffiths, Aberystwyth 84 Schooner  
44736 PILGRIM 1862  John Evans  Lloyd & Co 182 Brig  more
44738 PROGRESS 1863 David Jones David Jones / Cath. Price 79 Schooner  
47069 ELIZABETH 1864 Thomas Jones Thomas Jones 162 Brig  -
47070 NATIVE 1864 David Jones Edward Jones 85 Schooner  -
49653 SARAH PHILLIPS 1864 Thomas Jones R Roberts & R Edwards (cap),Ab. 181 Brig  
49654 JOHN ELIAS 1864   (transferred to London 1872) 252 Barque  
49663 FANNY FOTHERGILL 1865 David Jones John Hughes / Edward Jones 179 Brig  more+picture
49664 ELLEN BEATRICE 1865  John Faulk Evans William Owens, Aberystwyth 88 Schooner  more+picture
53033 CRUSADER 1865  John Faulk Evans T. Jones, Havod, Card'shire 184 Snow  more+picture
53042 LOVINA 1866  James Thomas Thomas, Aberystwyth 95 Schooner  more
53043 GLAD TIDINGS 1866 Thomas Jones Thomas Jones 101 Schooner  
53045 SIR ROBERT McCLURE 1866 John Faulk Evans Morgan Owens, Aberystwyth 197 Brig  more+picture
53047 PRISCILLA 1866 David Jones William Thomas, Anglesea 163 Brigantine  -
56394 WILLIAM & MARY 1866 Thomas Jones Thomas Jones 98 Schooner  -
56396 MEDITERRANEAN 1867  John Faulk Evans Thomas Hugh Jones, Aber 100 Schooner  -
56400 JANE ROWLAND 1868 Williams E. Rowland 318 Barque  more
56409 JANE (or J.) LLEWELLYN 1869 David Jones Thomas Jones 161 Brig  -
56410 M A JONES 1869 John Jones (Trefechan) John Jones (Trefechan) 192 Brig   more
56417 IVANHOE 1871 John Faulk Evans John A Murphy, Aberystwyth 347 Barque  more+picture
67624 SOPHIA & EMILY 1873 David Jones David Jenkins, Borth 98 Schooner  more
67628 EXCELSIOR 1874   Morgan Owens, Aberystwyth 99 Schooner  
67629 DESDEMONA 1874   Mary Evans, Aberystwyth 88 Schooner  
67630 LADY PRYCE 1875 Thomas Jones Thomas Jones 286 Brigantine  -
67632 ANN JONES 1876 David Jones Edward Jones 92 Schooner  
67637 CONOVIUM  1876 Thomas Jones William Jones 80 Schooner  -
67638 MORNING STAR 1877 David Jones John Thomas 100 Schooner  
67640 CAROLINE SPOONER  1878 John Faulk Evans John F Evans 663 Barque  more+picture
67642 NERISSA 1878 Thomas Jones Thomas Jones / David Jenkins 104 Schooner  more+picture
67643 RHEIDOL 1878 David Jones Thomas Hugh Jones, Aber 107 Schooner  -
85261 EDITH ELEANOR 1881 James Warrel D.C.Roberts & Richard James 96 Schooner  more+picture


Nick Tudor-Jones original photographs
"Aberystwyth Harbour, An Illustrated History" by William Troughton, National Library of Wales, 1977
"Born on a Perilous Rock - Aberystwyth Past and Present", by W J Lewis, Cambrian News (Aberystwyth) Ltd. 1980
Cymru a'r Mor (Maritime Wales) No.5 - 1980, p43-96, "The Port of Aberystwyth in the 1840s", Lewis Lloyd
Cymru a'r Mor (Maritime Wales) No.17 - 1995, p28-50, "Thomas Jones of Aberystwyth, Shipowner", Gerald Morgan
"A Note on Shipbuilding in Aberystwyth 1800-1816" by Moelwyn I. Williams, Ceredigion: Journal of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society.
 < http://welshjournals.llgc.org.uk/browse/listissues/llgc-id:1109629 >
Welsh Mariner's Index - < http://www.welshmariners.org.uk >
Crew List Index Project - < http://www.crewlist.org.uk >
Mariners website with ships database and many other useful links - < http://www.mariners-l.co.uk/Shipping.html >