Bridgwater was once the premier port for Somerset, with all manner of goods being
imported here. Brick and Tiles became the main export, and examples can be found
around the world today. Alas, with the coming of the railways and the growth in road
transport, the docks and associated industry went into decline. The last ship to be built
at Carvers Yard was the ketch Irene in 1907.
The ketch Irene on launch day 1907
See images of Irene here.
A floating harbour, known as the "docks" was constructed between 1837–1841, when the
canal was extended through Bridgwater to the floating harbour. The resultant excavated
spoil material was stored on the north side on the docks site, creating what became
known as the "mump". Much of the mump was removed in the 1980s to make way for the
redevelopment on the north side of the dock.
The berths were accessed from the river via sea locks with a maximum size of 180 by 31
feet (54.9 by 9.4 m). From 1844 the docks had a Steam powered, cable-towed
puddled iron Drag-Dredger, Bertha, similar to the one Brunel had designed for Bristol
Harbour. Now preserved at the World of Boats in Eyemouth, she is undergoing restoration
at the head of the Old Harbour. The dock area contained flour mills, timber yards and
chandlers. The docks opened on 25 March 1841, with volumes resultantly reaching a
peak between 1880 and 1885; with an average of 3,600 ships per year entering the port.
Peak tonnage occurred in 1857, with 142 vessels totaling 17,800 tonnes (17,500 long
tons).In the short term, the opening of the docks increased the profitability of the
Bridgwater and Taunton Canal, which carried 81,650 tonnes (80,360 long tons) of cargo in
1840. This peaked in 1847 at 88,000 tonnes (87,000 long tons) of cargo; however, by the
mid-1850s the canal was bankrupt due to competition from both the Bristol and Exeter
(B&ER) and Somerset Central Railways.An end to the unequal competition came in 1867
when the B&ER purchased the canal.
Model of the docks.
Image from the Douglas Allen collection.
This model is on display in the museum’s Transport Room
The dredger Bertha.
The ‘mump’ can be seen in the background.
Crane at work in the docks
Click on an image to enlarge.
All images are copyright Blake Museum. If you wish to use an image please ask for permission.
Copyright © Bridgwater Blake Museum 2023
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