HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT OF TEIGNMOUTH DOCKS
Historians tend to look to maps of a given County to establish
if a particular place was of significant importance. Early maps of Devon, dated 1534
and 1575 do not
actually show Teignmouth, implying perhaps that a small town on the Southwest
coast of England was in fact
unimportant. However, Teignmouth Docks
have been in existence at least since the thirteenth Century, although they
would have mainly been used for local activity.
In 1326, the threat of invasion called for all ships over 50 tons to be
called for service. Teignmouth supplied
eight such ships and one hundred and sixty three men. This was the second highest in the County.
In 1272, when Edward I came to the thrown, Teignmouth was a
little fishing town and was just beginning to make a name for itself as a
port. The prosperity of Teignmouth Port pleased the
Bishops who received tithes from it, and by the early Fourteenth Century
Teignmouth was a thriving Port, trading mainly in fish and salt. However, by the end of the Fourteenth Century
and the beginning of the Fifteenth Century the demands on Devon’s Ports had
diminished because Henry V was trying to build a Royal Navy so as to reduce the
Nation’s dependence on Merchant Shipping.
Teignmouth had in previous times been divided into two manors,
East and West. The Lords of the Manors
had suffered greatly during the Civil War in England, for both had
been royalists. Later in 1690, Teignmouth saw the last invasion of Britain when French
troops landed on English soil. No doubt
enraged by the news that James II had been defeated at the Battle of Boyne in Ireland, the French
troops landed and destroyed most of West Teignmouth by fire. The
local churches were ransacked and the parish records destroyed, yet despite all
this no lives were lost. The damage caused by the fire cost about £11,000. The
only building that survived the fire was the public house, The Jolly Sailor
situated near to the docks. All the
original buildings at the docks were destroyed by the fire and were rebuilt and
some still remain today.
The Eighteenth Century was generally successful for Teignmouth Port. West
Teignmouth was growing fast.
Clay had started to be exported from the Teign Valley in 1700 and
by 1740, 500 tons of clay was being exported and by 1785 this had increased to
9,995 tons. Previously it had been
exported on horseback from the Bovey Basin to Exeter or Topsham,
now it traveled by horse drawn barge.
Wool was also exported from West Teignmouth. Transport for most goods by sea was easier
and cheaper than by road, despite experiencing interference from weather
conditions and tolls. Many favoured Teignmouth Port, as it was a
port with cheaper tolls than Exeter.
Although Teignmouth Port had started
to be a thriving enterprise, it was still classified as a creek and therefore
under the jurisdiction of Exeter until 1853.
In 1836 an Act of Parliament was passed for improving the harbour of Teignmouth. This gave Teignmouth Port some
independence, which the locals had been wanting for some years. The issue of
independence was based on two related issues.
Firstly the collection of custom duties and imposition of town tolls and
secondly but more importantly, Teignmouth businessmen complained about having
to travel to Exeter to deal with custom formalities and complained that Exeter
was receiving Monies from the docks at Teignmouth and yet not sharing
responsibility for the maintenance or improvement of the harbour.
The new independent port of Teignmouth had revised
governing rules that stated that harbour commissioners
were to be nominated by the two Lords of the manors and other interested
parties. The new harbour commissioners also took over the debt
of £5,600 and had to raise a loan of another £15,000.
Early Nineteenth Century maps of Devon show
Teignmouth in large and bold letters and nearby Torquay marked as Torre in small letters.
In 1850 the railway line was extended to both Teignmouth and
Torquay. This proved to be an economic
success for Torquay and of course has helped make it the Town that it is today
however, Teignmouth was not greatly improved by the coming of the railway and
if anything the business of the docks suffered slightly. What pleased the locals was that all ships
that sailed from Dawlish to Torquay bore the
registration letters of TH, the first and last letters of Teignmouth. This remains so today.
Teignmouth Port, by now
handled a variety of goods. Imports were
mainly of wood pulp, but 40,000 tons of coal was brought in annually. Railway sidings had been constructed at the
old Quay in 1851 when the first imports of coal began. Quay Road, which still
exists today, was also established for easier access to the Quays. Clay was also an important export of Teignmouth Port and one
company had exported more than 30,000 tons annually. Manganese, lead, iron and granite were also
exported, although the port prospered from Clay. In 1886, Teignmouth Quay
Company was formed and had a variety of directors, among them Seale Hayne.
The Depression of the 1930s and the results of the First World
War had seriously affected the Port, and the Quays were almost derelict and in
a bad state of repair. In 1932
Teignmouth Quay Company changed the management and made the decision to pull
the Port back into a well-organized, safe and economic success. The new management saw the possibility of
expanding the port into the busiest harbour in the
South West of England. Part of one of
the Quays had sunk below the surface of the River Teign. The machinery was dated and the buildings
also dated back to the late 1690s. The
one good point that made the port worthwhile, was that it still handled 23,000
tons of cargo a year. A redevelopment programme costing thousands of pounds over the next 33
years began to fall into place. In 1939
the Port was handling 86,979 tons a year compared to that at the start of the
redevelopment programme in 1932.
In 1939 Britain was once
again at war. Trade was very poor and
the docks were used as a storage depot and things did not improve until after
the war. In 1958 reports show that from January until the end of November that
year, 111,283 tons were loaded at Teignmouth Port. Ball Clay
was now the leading export, being shipped to Scandinavia, France and Italy. Before the War, 40,000 tons of this clay was
being exported and by the end of 1959 this had increased to between 127,000 to
150,000 tons. Teignmouth Port did not only
export cargo but had imports too. These
included some 4,000 tons of timber, 2,500 tons of fertilizer, 2,000 tons of
grain and nearly 1,000 tons of rock salt. In 1962 the port handled 8,365 tons
of scrap metal bound for Germany, Holland and Spain. During 1980, 502,000 tons of cargo was
transported through Teignmouth, 319,417 tons was exported and 182,828 tons was
imported. Some 600 vessels used the
port, carrying such cargo as clay, grain, timber, steel, logs, cement and
fertilizer. In 1968, United Builders’ Merchants bought the company. Eleven
years later, the company yet again changed hands and was bought by Jeff Boyne
and Keith Dunn. The following year in
1988 it was sold to Associated British Ports, and Jeff Boyne remained the
Managing Director. In 1987, Clay was
still their major export.
The closure of Exmouth Docks in
December 1989, led to Teignmouth being the only port between Plymouth and
Southampton. Subsequently there was a
huge increase in the amount of cargo handled, and in 1990 imported and exported
cargo totaled 889,000 tons. The
increased workload for Teignmouth Docks led to more labourers
being required, which was good because as generally rule work in Teignmouth was
Ball clay was, and still is to be found in the Bovey Basin and the early
exploiters of this natural resource would have sold it to local pipe
makers. The first record of it being
shipped out of Devon was in 1700, when John Osland
transported ‘20 tons of tobacco pipe clay’ from Teignmouth to London. The first Clay merchant was a Dorset man who
leased clay land in the Bovey Basin and exported
490 tons from Teignmouth to London during
1726-1729. From 1730, shipments of clay
were small, but regular until 1742 when there was a steady increase. The vast majority was shipped to London however; in
1729 the first shipment was dispatched to Staffordshire
via the Port of Liverpool for potters,
including Josiah Wedgewood. During the eighteenth Century it became
popular for individual merchants to cease trading independently and to form
partnerships. These partnerships have
since become the ball clay companies of the district. In 1809, Whiteway,
Watts and Co was formed, followed by a second company called Blake, Davy and Co
in 1853. In 1860, there were three
companies sharing the ball clay industry between them, firstly Whiteway, Watts and Co, secondly, Devon and Courtenary Clay Company and thirdly, Watts, Blake, Bearne and Co. Later
in the nineteenth Century, Watts, Blake, Bearne &
Co absorbed the two other companies mentioned above as well as two smaller
companies later formed, and remained known as Watts, Blake, Bearne & Co
(WWB). The clay industry had suffered
during the First World War and the subsequent economic depression and was
beginning to recover when the Second World War broke out. The effects of the
Second World War were more dramatic than the First World War. The administration of the Port of Teignmouth,
which had been exporting the ball clay, fell under the control of the
Admiralty, which rather rapidly meant that exports of clay ceased during the
war. Exports of other goods and some
clay continued by railway to other ports.
Both the Company of Watts, Blake and Bearne
and the clay industry suffered greatly and lost half its labour
force during the war, and by the end of the war the exported amount of clay had
been reduced to a mere 4,000 tons. After
the war, following an enquiry from the Board of Trade, the ball clay industry
had been transformed. Over the years
ball clay had been exported from Teignmouth Docks to a variety of destinations
across the world, and still continues to do so.
1. H.J.Trump, West
Country Harbour, Teignmouth and the Teign Estuary, Brunswick Press Ltd, 1976.
2. Trump, West Country Harbour
3. Grace Griffiths,
History of Teignmouth, Ex Libris Press,1965, p45.
4. Griffiths, History of Teignmouth, pp. 98-99.
5. Western Morning News, 30th December
6. Express and Echo, 30th
7. L.T.C. Bolt, The Potters’
Field, David and Charles, 1974.
© Julie D Goucher, All
Rights Reserved 1997