Project info


The River Wye


Click here for brief history of floods on the Wye

Click here to view some barge transactions


The Wye opposite Backney Common

The Wye is not considered to be a navigable river in the modern sense but has carried much traffic in the past.

The view under Mordiford Bridge towards the confluence of the Wye and the Lugg - James Wathen


Wilton Bridge in Bridstow Parish near the furthest downstream part of the project area


The Wye downstream from Wilton Bridge


The Wye at Fownhope in the 1930s


Coracles are probably one of the earliest type of boat.

This is William Dew, the last River Wye coracle-maker, around a century ago. This coracle is now in Hereford Museum.

Young people in Herefordshire are currently researching and learning to build coracles as part of a Heritage Lottery grant to BODS.

The Coracle Society promotes the knowledge of coracles and similar craft and supports the building of them. There is also a National Coracle Centre on the River Teifi.

Photograph courtesy of  Hereford City Library


A River Wye barge. These  were sailing barges which carried between 18 and 40 tons. They were shallow draught - two were auctioned at The Saracen's Head public house in Hereford in 1798. On of these drew 2 feet 9 inches of water when carrying 30 tons and  the other 2 feet 5 inches carrying 25 tons.

When sail could not be used men hauled the barges. Barge work was dangerous and many men were drowned. In February 1796 a bargeman was drowned at Foy. In early February 1804 another drowned when a coal barge sank at Eign below Hereford and at the end of the month one was killed unloading coal at a Hereford wharf. In 1806 three men were drowned downstream at Monmouth.

At a time when employers could have their workers imprisoned for breach of contract, sometimes bargemen were given a difficult choice between going out in dangerous conditions and prosecution. In April 1771 Thomas Basset was imprisoned for a month for refusing to navigate a boat down the river.

The Wye was only tidal as far as Brockweir near Chepstow. Above that, the navigation was always liable to interruption either from insufficient water to float the barges or from floods. Even so the Wye was used for the transportation of goods to and from Hereford and above, to Moccas, Whitney and Hay-on-Wye. In 1805 it was estimated that about 500 men were employed in hauling barges up the Wye and bringing about 15,000 tons of goods annually up-river to Hereford.

Barges were built at various places along the Wye. Many were built at Hereford but others were built at a surprising number of sites along the river. The Rival (17 tons) was built at Wilton in 1804, the William (40 tons) at Fownhope in 1815 and the Martha (38 tons) at Holme Lacy in 1824. The barge-builders would move from place to place and building vessels to the owner's specification where required.

Other types of vessels were built along the banks of the Wye. The timber merchant and barge-owner John Easton built a sea-going sloop of 80 tons burden at Hereford in 1822. He followed this, appropriately named the Hereford, with a series of Hereford-built ships including the Champion (124 tons) and the Collinoque (140 tons). Downstream of Hereford, the 37 ton trow Thomas was built at Wilton in 1825 and the 13 ton trow Ann and Peggy at Fownhope in 1854.

Late 18th century barge transactions. For this barge these include 30 bags of wheat from Fownhope to Lydbrook (Lidbrook) on July 13th 1789 and 60 bags of wheat from Hereford to Wilton on July 23rd.

January 21st 1790 has 15 bags of barley from Hoarwithy (Horwethy) and May 13th 12 bags of barley from Fawley to Brockweir (Brockware). May 17th has 24 bags of barley from Fawley to Brockweir.

Transactions for 1791 include 15 bags of wheat from whorewethe.

click to view transactions


canoes on the Wye - August 2006

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maintained by Archenfield Archaeology Ltd


This project was part-financed by the European Union (EAGGF) and DEFRA through the Herefordshire Rivers LEADER+ Programme.