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
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.