Velator’s success gradually grew and, along with it, the fortune of Braunton families – many of whom owned ships.
The size of the ships and the size of the fleet flourished and in the 1840’s and 1850’s a number of small brigantines (or polaccas), schooners and, later, ketches were registered. The majority of vessels however were still small trading smacks of less than 30 tonnes, which continued to ply local trade as they had always done.
It was true though that the majority of Braunton families owned at least one ship and almost all the men who registered ships were master mariners, rather than just mariners. This means that they were experts in their profession – master mariners hold unrestricted licenses which cover every type of ship regardless of size, power or geographic location and enjoy the highest level of qualification among mariners.
Several families emerged as leaders in Braunton shipping – including the Drakes, Chuggs, Clarkes, Chichesters and Watts.
When the railway arrived in Braunton in 1874, a significant change was seen in the village’s shipping. It came during a time of agricultural depression, when rural capital was directed towards the development of the railway and as a result Braunton mariners were keen to own larger ships that could accommodate a wider range of commodities and therefore take advantage of opportunities further afield.
By 1910 twenty eight vessels were owned in or around the village and a visitor to the quay might see three ships discharging there at once. Braunton’s three schooners (Result, William Martyn and Waterlily) and a few of the biggest ketches worked anywhere within the home trade limits – which extend along the northern French coast, past Belgium and the Netherlands as far as Hamburg in Germany.
The medium-sized ketches such as Bessie Ellen worked the Bristol Channel, Irish Sea and the western end of the English channel. Freights were numerous and varied widely by this time; including clay, coal, pitch, road metal, crushed granite, gravel, cement, scrap iron, railway sleepers, pit props, timber, salt, phosphate, malt, oats, maize, manure and potatoes.
In the early 1900s Braunton owners began to fit their ships with auxiliary engines – Bessie Clark being the first in 1909. By 1914, several more could boast motors and transport demands during World War I (1914 – 1918) ensured that ships were kept busy in the Bristol Channel and Irish Sea. Few vessels made the lucrative but dangerous cross-Channel journey, among the U-boats, to Cherbourg, St Malo and Morlaix but two of the three schooners, Waterlily and William Martyn, were listed as war losses during 1917. Several ships were laid up at this time, probably because their crew were needed elsewhere, and many of them were never used in trade again.
The Great War
The Result was requisitioned during the Great War as a Q-ship. She was employed to frustrate the efforts of German submarines and, having been temporarily re-christened HMS Dag Q23, was equipped with two 12-pounder guns and two 12-inch torpedo tubes. Suitably armed, she was engaged in two major actions – the first of which occurred in February 1917 off the Outer Silver Pit near Dogger Bank. After an exchange of gunfire, she claimed to have sunk a German U.45 submarine and, although it was later discovered that the enemy ship had limped home, it was confirmed that its captain and three of the crew had been killed.
Her second battle was at the North Hinder Lightship and, despite meeting with a larger submarine and larger guns, the Result went in to fight. She was almost overwhelmed in her brave attempts but, thankfully, was rescued at the eleventh hour by two Royal Navy destroyers, who were returning from a sweep in the North Sea.
At the end of the war, the Result returned to peaceful trade but bore her war wounds in the form of two steel plates, which were necessary to repair the shell damage sustained in her second battle.
The first notable decline in shipping came during a slump in the early 1930’s. Rather than sell their ships, most owners laid-up but times became increasingly hard and in many cases crews had to be reduced, which put extra pressure on those who remained. The rates of cargoes fell and some trips ended in a loss, rather than a profit.The Result had, until this time, been trading regularly between Newport, in South Wales, and Torpoint, on the river Tamar near Plymouth, with coal.
When the rate of return fell to an uneconomical level, the Result switched to carrying cement and stone along the south coast of England but, until 1937, half of those trips ended in a loss too.