Maritime History

Barmouth Quay circa 1860Barmouth’s early trade was coastal in nature and small boats of seven to twenty tons were listed in the Welsh Port Books. These boats were officially recorded as trading with the town as early as  1566, and the earliest mention of such trade for a boat belonging to Barmouth was a cargo unladen from le Angell de Bermo in 1587 to Robert Edwards of Llanaber, who had just  built himself a new house at Llwyndu. This cargo of grain - rye, pilcorn, barley and wheat - was a common cargo. The trade was mainly for these staples yet also included outward trips taking oak timber and bark, wool occasionally and, of course, herrings. Yet in 1615 a cargo that included twentie tonnes of Ffrenche wines was un-laden from a barque and customs were charged. So there were refined tastes even at this early date!

Trade increased with the main exports mostly deriving from the Mawddach valley; wood, (mostly oak timber and bark, used for pit props and poles), paving stones, slate and especially cloth from the mills in Dolgellau. The wool manufacturers had had to transfer their products overland to the monopoly traders in Shrewsbury but this began to be shipped direct from Barmouth to other parts of the world including the plantations of America, in particular thousands of coarse wool products called ‘webs’. In one year it was recorded that £40,000 of wool products shipped overseas. To support this trade Barmouth and the Mawddach Estuary became a notable ship building location. A golden period stretched from the 1760s through to the mid-19th century with around 350 ships being constructed, however, the war with America (1776-1782) and the war against Napoleon (1788-1815) did curtail activity from Barmouth to some destinations. Barmouth Quay and The Rock 1869

The ship building interests both around Barmouth and across the bay in Pwllheli may well have driven the slate trade with London that developed in the mid-1800s, but as Porthmadog blossomed as a slate port it also became the major ship-building location and Barmouth’s industry declined. Ship building activity was immense and continued right up to 1865 but the coming of the railway in 1867 effectively put an end to this.

Today Barmouth has lost all of its commercial activity. A handful of small boats convey tourists on fishing trips and there is little evidence of the once thriving seafaring tradition.