Purton Hulks: The Ship Graveyard

Aug 30, 2023 0 comments

One of the largest ship graveyard in mainland Britain was created not by accident, but by the deliberate sinking of tens of old trawler and barges. This ship graveyard is located near the village of Purton on the east bank of River Severn, in Gloucestershire, England.

About two hundred years ago, a canal was dug between Gloucester and Sharpness to bypass a particularly treacherous stretch of the River Severn. Opened in 1827, the canal was 26 meter wide, 5.5 meter deep and was capable of accommodating ships up to 600 tons. At the time it was the broadest and deepest canal in the world.

A section of the port side hull of the two masted schooner "Dispatch" at Purton. Photo credit: R~P~M/Flickr

The canal runs for much of its length close to the River Severn. Near Purton, there was a point where less than 50 meters of land separated the canal from the river. During high spring tides, when the river swelled and overflowed its banks, the distance between the river and the canal was no more than the width of the towpath.

Inevitably, in 1909, the bank collapsed near Purton. To counter this issue, Mr. A. J. Cullis, the chief engineer of the canal company, devised a plan. He proposed grounding old vessels along the Severn's bank, near Purton, to serve as a barrier and prevent erosion of the narrow strip of land between the river and the canal. Numerous ships were towed from Sharpness Dock and deliberately ran against the banks. These ships were positioned as far up the bank as possible and their hulls were perforated to enable subsequent tides to deposit silt inside, rendering them immovable.

This process of reinforcement continued for over sixty years, during which around eighty ships were intentionally beached here.

Also read: Detroit Riprap: Abandoned Cars as Erosion Control

Photo credit: Industrial Wales/Flickr

The site received national exposure in the early 2000s when it appeared on a BBC programme. Shortly after, a group of conservationists called the Friends of Purton started excavating and documenting some of the vessels which lie there. Among their discoveries is a vessel named Harriett which was lost in February 1944 at Stonebench Turn on the Sharpness to Gloucester Canal, following a collision with motor barge Severn Trader. Harriett is believed to be the only remaining example of a Kennet barge anywhere in the world. The wreck of the Harriett has now been scheduled as an ancient monument and included in the National Register of Historic Vessels.

Another notable vessel is the Dispatch, which is the sole surviving remains to use an innovative iron and wood composite hull which is particularly strong and which had allowed her to endure at least two collisions.

The most recent set of vessels to be grounded here included about a dozen concrete ships built during World War 2. One of the ships was removed from the Purton site in 1990 and taken to Gloucester Docks as an exhibit at the museum of the Waterways Trust. She was later sunk in 2012.

The remains of the “Severn Collier.” Photo credit: Nick/Flickr

A ferro concrete barge at Purton. Photo credit: Nick/Flickr

The wooden dock lighter "Huntley" seen from the bow at Purton. In the background is the remains of the schooner "Dispatch". Photo credit: R~P~M/Flickr

The remains of a barge, FCB 75, at Purton. Photo credit: Alison Thompson/Flickr

Photo credit: R~P~M/Flickr

Photo credit: R~P~M/Flickr

The “Harriett”. Photo credit: R~P~M/Flickr


More on Amusing Planet


{{posts[0].date}} {{posts[0].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[1].date}} {{posts[1].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[2].date}} {{posts[2].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}


{{posts[3].date}} {{posts[3].commentsNum}} {{messages_comments}}