RSP Home River Severn Tales Chris Witts

River Severn Trading Vessels

Coracles, Punts and Trows

The Coracle

The Severn as it flows through Shropshire is quite shallow which made it difficult for the trows and barges to navigate on up to Pool Quay near Welshpool. What better way than to use the shallow draughted coracle to travel on, strong enough to carry two full grown men and luggage. The disadvantages were that both men had to sit bolt upright all the time and embarking and disembarking had to be carried out with caution.

Another great use for the coracle was fishing. Working as a pair, one either side of the river, they would sling a net between the two and fish in the hope of catching a nice salmon or two. The coracle is made up of ash laths, soaked in hot water to make the timber pliable to make it easier to form the bowl shape. After the shape is formed a wooden seat is fixed in the centre of the boat before the hull is covered with

canvas or calico. This is then waterproofed with pitch.

The coracle is light enough to be carried either over the shoulder or over the head, the latter being good for keeping dry during inclement


The Punt

The punt is to be found above Gloucester and used mostly by fishermen. Simple in design and construction many are to be found tied to trees along the course of the river. Like the coracle they are shallow draughted and propelled with either a pole or paddles. Although in this modern world of today many are propelled with outboard motors. Beware the vicious tides sweeping up The Parting once a month! Swamped with the tidal water they sink and soon are buried beneath the silt prevalent in this region.

Come the early autumn many of these punts can be seen as fishermen fish for

their annual delicacy of the eel.

The Trow

A deeply laden trow

A trow on the berth at Loadcroft Wharf, Ironbridge

During the 18th and 19th centuries the trows were the workhorses of the Severn, hundreds of them struggling to get up as far as Pool Quay near Welshpool. In a river which is notorious for being shallow and men having to rely on the flood water to get them downstream and the spring tides to get them back up.

There were two types of Severn trow, the larger ones which worked out of Bristol up to Gloucester and the smaller ones working above Gloucester through into Wales.

The smaller ones could be up to sixty feet in length and of twenty to forty tons in weight. The larger ones were of similar length. but had a weight of between forty and eighty tons with main, top and sometimes mizzen masts. They were famous for their "D" shaped stern and masts that could be lowered to enable them to pass under the bridges.

As mentioned before, the problem with the Severn was its depth of water, or rather, the lack of it! Therefore when the river begin to fill with fresh water after a period of rain as many as eighty trows would leave the Ironbridge Gorge at once. Coal being the main cargo transported on the river, as in 1784 it is recorded that 4,000 tons was moved by barge. A journey from Shropshire to Gloucester could take twenty four hours, but few did more than twenty trips a year. It is hard to imagine now, but originally these trows were towed upriver from Gloucester by gangs of men walking along the bank, they were known as "bow haulers". Then towpaths were built to enable these craft to be hauled by horses

A toll was charged for travelling along the Severn, note at the Mythe Bridge in Tewkesbury two toll house either side of the bridge. The one on the town side was for collecting fees for vehicles travelling over the bridge, the one on the other side for collecting fees for vessels passing by. The trow was superceded by the steam tug towing barges. Instead of stopping to pay their toll they would jeer at the toll keeper as they passed by, thus this form of toll was scrapped.

The true Severn coracle is bowl shaped and most commonly found in Shropshire. Here, they have been used on the Severn since time began and can still be found today, although mostly by enthusiasts. Even after the famous Iron Bridge was built locals objected to paying a toll to cross the bridge so carried on using the coracle. Every Severnsider in this region had one, hanging them on an apple tree close to their cottage in view from the back door.

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