English ‘ship-panel data’, 1650-1700: a new method for analysing ship speeds in coastal trades using port books.

Coastal trade and trasnport was long the mode of choice for shippers of heavy goods between home ports on British short-sea routes. Coal, timber, metals, food, and myriad consumer items were sailed, steamed and shunted around British coasts since the earliest times. This service came to play an important yet under-researched role in the British Industrial Revolution. Cheap bulk transport of food and fuel was by this time important to large-scale industry and urbanisation. Compared to international maritime shipping, very little is known about this crucial transport service, particularly its workings before around 1800. As basic information about coastal shipping is so sparse, we undertook research into its core functionality and infrastructural development with the aim to model its capabilities over time. We report this research giving first results from research into service speed, port networks, and lighthouse coverage, as well as the sea routes taken, for benchmark years 1690, 1830, and 1911. This research made extensive use of H-GIS, and ultimately our work on coastal shipping will form part of an integrated ‘multi-model’ transport model for England that will generate new knowledge about the relationship between transport systems, expanding population and industry in growing urban areas that must have depended on mass movement of resources and food by land and sea over the period covered by the benchmarks.

The research team includes me, Dan Bogart, Eduard Alvarez, and Leigh Shaw-Taylor among others. This project is based at The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure.

The following graph illustrates seasonal voyage speed patterns for voyages observed by customs by distance. We found voyage speed increased in spring and summer and that longer routes exhibited faster speeds. There was large deviation in recorded speeds that seems to be related to winds and poor weather. We are looking to see if recorded for sailing speed increased with time.


We also looked at ports. We found that some, such as Newcastle and Sunderland, were used much less in the winter. These ports serviced the regional coal trade, which provided heat and power to large populations in the South East. Newcastle this way played a crucial economic role.

Capture newc departs

The following is a GIS map with distribution of sample fleets and the flows of recorded goods.  Note from the left hand panel the concentration of coastal ships outside London.  Coasting fleets seem to have been based in smaller ports.  We can see on the right that Newcastle and Milford Haven were primarily exporters, while other ports like London and Exeter were net importers of goods.  London attracted significantly more coastal trade than other places.

coastal fleets and flows gis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: