Visitors to modern-day Braunton might be surprised to learn that much of the village’s economic success has been built upon its maritime history and indeed, that Braunton was once a significant ship-owning centre with strong links to the sea, not least a port of its own.
At the height of Velator’s success, it was a thriving, bustling, noisy port and a vastly different place to that which we see today.
Before the advent of motorised road transport, the most efficient way of transporting produce from the village (and, notably, the Great Field) to market towns around the country was by sea. Another Braunton product was manganese ore, which came from a local mine. The same vessels that exported the cargoes returned laden with coal and limestone from South Wales and bricks from Bridgwater.
The Creation of Velator Quay
Until the late 1850’s, access to the edge of Braunton was awkward for ships.
The enclosure and reclamation of the marshes however brought with it the benefit of a much improved quay at Velator*, which is at the downstream end of Braunton and at its tidal limit.
More can be learnt about the reclamation of the marshes in the section about Farming. The improvements included straightening Braunton Pill and this made Velator considerably more accessible to larger vessels.
*It should be noted that the spelling of Velator has long been debated. The modern method dictates that one L be used; the traditional spelling includes two – Vellator.
How Velator Quay Has Changed Over Time
The following pieces were kindly written for Explore Braunton by the children of Kingsacre School:
"In Braunton, North Devon, there is a place called Velator Quay, which is a very historical place that goes back hundreds of years. The quay is used for sailing, fishing and dog walking amongst other things. This article will discus how Velator has changed over the years.
The quay of Velator used to meander round a soggy, salt, marsh. It was also a habitat for animals and people did fishing. Velator was not a liked place but then soon after the people complained that something else should be there someone changed all that!
A very clever Dutch engineer got together with a group of men and took the soggy, wet meander and cut a channel and made it into a canal and it was easy to get boats up and down. It was converted very well and changed Braunton a lot.
After that, in the 1500s, Velator quay was a shipping industry, that transported coal and gravel to the people. The sailors lived on South Street. The chapel on the hill was lit to guide the ships to shore. More and more people came to Braunton and more houses where built and more people became sailors.
The impact it had on Braunton was quite a big one, it changed from a soggy, wet marsh with no boats at all, to a very happy village with food, coal, gravel, tourists and all! It caused more houses to be built and for more people to be working in a shipping industry.
The journey finishes when you go there yourself. Next time you go to Velator see if you can find any historical artifacts of your own and try to memorise what happened there hundreds of years ago. There’s a big plan that Velator should be changed and converted. Some people think different but some say it should be improved. It would be nice to be kept."
"Velator Quay, North Devon in Braunton has changed quit a lot. People come here to fish, check out the boats, see the river, dog walk and remind themselves of happy memories.
Before it was changed, the river at Velator was only a meandering shallow river, so only little boats could pass like canoes. Then a Dutch engineer came along and cut the Caen into a much straighter and deeper river so now much bigger boats could pass. Also he made a Quay which is where Velator got its name.
After the changes, the river was used to transport gravel and coal and much more. The boats where led home by a fire on Chapel Hill.
Much later after all of this, the Quay started to crumble and know one knows if it will be rebuilt or fall apart.
We have concluded our journey around Velator Quay, informing you about Velator of today and days gone by. Our information was obtained by using books, the internet and are great visit to Velator. Next time you visit check out the boats, also try to find some evidence of ship wrecking you never know what you’ll find."
By Bradley Foster
Listen to a "sea shanty" written by Sam Richards about Velator Quay and the last man to sail from it.
Taw Torridge Estuary Forum
For more information about the Estuary and it's modern-day management, please see the web-site of the Taw Torridge Estuary Forum.
The North Devon Coast
North Devon has some of the most spectacular and varied coastal scenery in the country and wonderful seascapes. The coastal and marine life is amongst the richest in the country. Wild and unspoiled places are interspersed by coastal communities and popular resorts where livelihoods owe much to the coast and sea.
It is the aim of Coastwise, an independent community initiative, to increase understanding of the coast, its wildlife, and its importance to North Devon in the past, present and the future. They do this through sharing knowledge, undertaking conservation activities and projects, and addressing current issues. Click here to see the Coastwise North Devon web-site