The remains


Plaque at Purton


What’s in a name? Well in the case of Purtons Harriett it’s a question of two Ts.

Confusion once reined over this little barge and at first it appeared as if her true identity would be lost forever. However to date some of her mysteries have now been unravelled as a direct result of Stuart Bryan & Judith Hague determined 1991 work to rediscover her secrets and identity as the last known example of Kennet built barge within the U.K..

Built to classic trow lines, several authors had incorrectly described The Harriett as the Gloucester trow Harriet O.N. 69913 built in 1876 by Fredrick Hipwood. This is now known not to be the case as current research has shown that this Harriet was lost 21st February 1944 at Stonebench Turn on the Sharpness to Gloucester Canal, following a collision with motor barge Severn Trader.

Furthermore and based on her streamline strakes, the Purton remains have also been mistaken for the Droitwich built trow or Wich barge Harriet O.N. 13317 which was built 1827 Bower Yard Salop by. John Harris, only to be broken up in Bristol in c.1934 by T.R Brown.

As a result it is now known, partly due to her construction and partly due to her ornately carved transom, that Purtons Harriett started life at Honey Street and destined to work in Bristol Docks for Fred Ashmead & Son until she was beached high and dry in 1964 safe from all bar the very highest of tides. Awaiting a time when her lineage is once again cherished.

LPB Identification
DRM Identification
Ref. A
AJP Identification
Source (HCJ)(DM)(SB)(CG)(LPB)(RM)(JC)(DJW)(RD)(KR)(EA)
Name P.o.R Description Dates
Harriett Bristol Wood barge 1905 - 1964
Official No. Not known Code N/A
Builders Honey Street, Robbins Lane & Pinnigar
Dimensions Length 72ft Breath 14.1 ft Depths 5.10 ft

Tonnage – (1869) Gross c.60 ton Net B.D

Engines None By N/A H.P. N/A
Beached date 24th March 1956
Beached by Capt Jimmy Common, Eric Aldridge, Doug Munday,
Bill Deacon
Miscellaneous Has mast tabernacle
BS2.40 Carried away by flood 1935
Put ashore on Severn bank between Sharpness and Purton close to pier of old Severn Railway bridge seen there by Graham Farr 1975
Graham Farr Negatives held with the collection
Honey Street Type Chine Built Barges (for Celtic and Ajax as barges, see Aurora)
1 & 2 Details of Diamond while B.U. at Ashton 20.09.052 (Sm)
3 Ajax do. 03.10.52 (Sm)
4 Garnet do. 16.10.52 (Sm)
First Owners Fred Ashmead & Son

Fred A Ashmead, Bristol (35)

Historic overview

London and Bristol were linked by the Thames and Severn Canal in 1794 but this link was long and unreliable. It took 9 or 10 days to travel from Brimscombe to London and 12 to 14 days to make the return journey. The opening of the Kennet and Avon Canal in 1810 created a more effective link between London and the west coast port of Bristol. The canal became an important highway in the days of poor roads, before the railways were built. It took about 7 days to travel along the canal from Bristol to London. The reverse journey took about 8 days through the inland county of Wiltshire.

Honey Street

In the canal side hamlet of Honey Street, between Devizes and Pewsey, the firm of Robbins & Co started trading in timber shortly after the opening of the canal. Soon they were making some of their imported timber into craft for the water. The original partners in 1812 were Samuel Robbins, Ebenezer Lane and Samuel Pinnigar and so the firm was known as Robbins, Lane and Pinnigar. The firm did not vacate Honey Street until the late 1940s, defeated by the then decaying canal, and finally it ceased trading in 1950. Some of the craft the company made were for their own use to carry timber from Avonmouth and Bristol, the rest were sold to other carriers. The business was very successful and continued making barges for over 100 years. They probably stopped producing barges in the first quarter of the 20th century and certainly by 1937, they were using barges which had been built elsewhere.

In the 1840s, the advent of the railway alongside the canal caused a rapid reduction in the canal’s traffic and Honey Street wharf concentrated on producing boats for further a field. Narrow boats were built for the Midland waterways and small flat bottomed sailing boats (trows) were built for the Severn. But the main output of Honey Street was barges for the Thames area, South Wales and Bristol Docks.

The barges for the Thames area, in particular the river Wey Navigation and the Basingstoke Canal, were known as Kennet barges and they were particularly successful. When the Basingstoke canal opened in 1794 the swimhead barges, with their punt like bows from the River Thames were locally being replaced by barges with rounded bows. The swimhead barges had right angles at the chines: that is the sides were vertical and the hull bottoms were horizontal, and this caused the craft to dig into the shallow clay linings of the canal. The barges with rounded bows have curved chines and overcame this problem. Robbins & Co built curved shaped hulls on their trows and they capitalised on this when building their highly successful Kennet barges. Some of these were sailed as well as towed. The towing was generally by horse, before the advent of tugs. The lines of these barges were copied by local bargebuilders on the River Wey and the Basingstoke Canal.

The typical features of the barges from Honey Street were the style of transorned stern, the shaped guard rails, the stiles and timber heads for mooring and towing and the design of the rudder. The barge building site was rural rather than industrial. The timber carrying and barge building formed an integrated timber business; even the oak chips from the barge building were carried by canal to Harris of Caine, where they were used to smoke bacon. As well as the timber side of the business, Robbins & Co made iron work, shod horses (presumably so that they could tow the barges) and repaired machinery. They even produced fertilizer from the acid they carried from Avonmouth. Also, many of the barges were built for use in Bristol Docks, at the end of the canal. These were generally larger than the true Kennet Barges and usually carried 80 or more tons, as opposed to the 60 tons of a smaller Kennet barge. These larger barges were called Honey Street barges. Although large ships could be brought from the Bristol Channel. via the Avon, under the suspension Bridge and into the floating Docks, such large ships could not go east of the city centre, where much of the industry lay. St Anne’s Board Mills and the United Alkali Works needed regular bulk shipments of their raw materials. So towed barges, such as Honey Street barges were in great demand to do this final transshipment.

These barges were generally made as large as could possibly squeeze through the locks of the Kennet and Avon Canal, for they were not designed to spend their working life passing through many locks on a regular basis, unlike their sister Kennet barges. One of the design differences was the steering position. Because the Kennet barge passed under many low bridges, the tiller or shifting beam was operated with the barge standing on a low platform in front of the rear cabin.The Honey Street barges were steered from on top of the aft cabin.

Into the 20th century

ln 1950 most of the fleet was purchased by Fred Ashmead and Son, who had been a carrier using Honey Street barges since 1840. In their early days the Ashmeads provided transport the length of the Kennet and Avon, but with smaller craft. They even did round trips by continuing up the Thames, along the Thames and Severn canal, down the river Severn and back into Bristol. Much of Ashmead’s work in the later years was to carry wood pulp to St Annes and this continued until 1967. The 1950s and 1960s saw a decline in the use of such barges, because of the general decline of docks and the replacement of local water transport by the ubiquitous lorry. Accordingly, barges from Honey Street became disused and disappeared.

The Survivors

The Kennet barge Unity was built in 1896 and used by its builders until 1933. In the latter part of its life it was used to check the navigability of the Kennet and Avon Canal to ensure that its owner and competitors, the Great Western Railway complied with their agreement to maintain it. Finally the Unity was abandoned and only the huge rudder was subsequently rescued and conserved for display in the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust Centre in Devizes. The rudder, incidentally is some 1.7 metres by 1.5 metres. This, as far as is known is the only remnant of a true Kennet barge. Boat builders in the Basingstoke and Wey areas drew heavily on the designs of Robbins & Co, an example being the “Wey barge” Speedwell. This was built for William Stevens of Guildford at the Guildford Dapdune Yard. It is now preserved in the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum, but can only be described as a second cousin of the true Kennet Barges. There are remnants of a Honey Street barge in one of the public houses at Limpley Stoke near Bath. These were taken from the barge that lay derelict for many years near Dundas Aqueduct and was finally destroyed by fire in the 1970s. Until recently these were the only known remains of the barges from Honey Street. Note: This article was originally given as the 1992 GSIA AGM talk and was illustrated but the present illustrations are those of the editor.

Historic images
Harriett 1934

Bow view of the Harriett Bristol Bridge, Bristol 2lst October 1934, The Graham Farr Collection

Harriett 1984

Looking North over Harriett’s iconic stern timbers 1984

Harriett 1948

Harriett in Bristol Docks 14th August 1948 The Graham Farr Collection

Recent images
Harriett 2002

Time & Tide looking North over Harriett’s iconic stern timbers 9th August 2002. The L. P. Barnett Collection

Harriett 2002

A Sea of Green - Harriett’s mast step 9th August 2002. The L. P. Barnett Collection

Harriett 2002

With her name a faded memory looking South 9th August 2002. The L. P. Barnett Collection

Harriett ancillary information

Bristol maritime enthusiast Jim Crissup identified the Harriett as a … Wooden dumb barge (ex Fred. Ashmead)… as being located during his 1986 survey

Lloyds register

Nor registered

Mercantile register

Nor registered

Mercantile Navy List loss

Harriet 69913 Gloucester Gloucester 1877 24.8.43 Collision

Scheduled Monument

No. 1021451 – registered 09-06-2010


Fred Ashmead & Son First owners
Ken Rogers – Ashmeads barge Superintendent
St Annes Board Mills, Bristol traders
Reynolds Mill, Gloucester traders
Capt. Jimmy Common – Beaching tug Resolute Skipper
Bill Deacon – beaching bank party
Doug Munday – former coasting crew and beaching crew
Eric Aldridge– beaching helmsmen

Analogue transcripts
Eric Aldridge

Skipper of Dredger No 4, Date of Interview 01.07.03
Eric recalls that the vessel Harriett, currently at Purton is not the former trow of the same name as this vessel was lost on the canal above the Pilot Public House on the four mile turn, and was subsequently recovered using grappling hooks. Evidence to support this claim can be substantiated as Eric went on to recall that sections of planking and frames were recovered during dredging operation some time later and he was informed by the then dredger, foreman Bill Deacon, that they were the remnants of the Gloucester trow Harriet which had been missed several years before by Bill and the Briton Ferry during operations to recover her from the canal bed.

Eric further recalled that Purton’s Harriett was at one time employed by Reynolds carrying grain from Bristol.


Aldridge Diaries

C Camm trow Harriet sunk with gravel at the Patch Oct 15 1904
Trow Harriet got up Oct 22 1904
Harriett to Plymouth July 23 1912

Geoff Farr

Geoff conducted a research programme of St Annes Board mills and has advised that the factory went over to oil in 1961 and this was updated in 1966. Further he advised that wood pulp transportation began by road in 1969 following a dispute at Portbury Dock. In line with this, he advised that the early stating last load of wood pulp to mills leaving Nethern Lock towed behind Fred Ashmeads Tug Hubert A.this time due to it weak timber construction it was then taken and beached at Purton very soon thereafter.

Hugh Conway Jones

Not registered at Gloucester

David R. MacGregor

Marine Historian, Date of interviews 20th March 2003 & 10th July 2003
Upon his later visit during the 1960s David recorded the Harriett as Ref. A

A J Parker

PURTON: KEY TO PLAN OF BOAT REMAINS Reference A. J. Parker (1998)
39. Harriett (1898), barge.


The remains of 35 vessels were recorded in a linear group; many were engulfed in the growth of the swarth. All the barges were wooden and averaging about 20m in length. All the vessels were probably trows with their open central holds identifiable and at least two had been fitted with engines. Two others had names carved on their transoms, “Severn Collier” and “Harriett of Bristol”. The Harriett is in a fair condition with hold and cross beams in place and also its main mast step. It has also retained its pump. Represent an important group of vessels displaying a variety of designs and construction techniques within a single craft type. {Source Work 2842.}

Historical details of ‘The Harriett’ built in 1898 and other Severn/Bristol wooden vessels are in GSIA 1992.

9. A barge Harriett, built 1898. This boat has been studied extensively but is in a bad state of decay. {Source Work 484.} (Note LPB build dates to be confirmed)

Ken Rogers

Fred Ashmead Superintendent. Interview 17th February 2008
KR recalls the Harriett was owned by Ashmeads and was employed in carrying 40-60 ton of wood pulp to St Anne’s Board mills until they finished trading in 1960s. At this time and due to its weak timber construction, the Harriett was then taken and beached at Purton very soon thereafter.

David Wheeler

Not recorded by David in during his 1957 visit however he gave a physical description of her and was able to identify the remains as Harriett of Bristol (F Ashmeads). He further went on to describe her as being “fresh and sitting on the mud” at that time.

Len Williams

Port of Bristol Warehousing Manager
Len states that the Harriett was a well known and frequent grain barge in Bristol.

Dicky Woodward

British Waterways as Suction Plant Operator. Date of interview 10 May 2003 & 8 June 2003
Dick identified the Harriett by name and vividly recalled that the Edith was next to Dursley and “below that is Harriett …… which they tried to float at one time using a excavator to dig it out”
At this, Dick relays the story that once whilst working on the blower, four men arrived with a JCB and requested the location of the Harriett.

From this Dick was under the impression that they were either archaeologists or a local preservation group, as they intended to dig the Harriett out of the bank with the view to removing and preserving her. However upon initial investigation it was soon discovered that the task in hand would require more resources than the party had at its disposal, and the plan was later scrapped. (Despite the author’s best efforts, I have been unable to confirm this to date).

Finally Dick recalls that Edith, Voltaic, Dursley and Harriett are described as being beached in the lower reaches of the site, possibly late 50’s early 60’s. This was carried out by Eric Aldridge and Doug Monday as he was working in Lydney on the Suction Plant at the time and thus unable to assist.

2014 Survey
Phase one report
Harriett excavation

For three days in September 2009, members of the ‘friends’ joined forces with Archaeologists and students of the Nautical Archaeology Society to undertake a survey of the mast head section of Purton hulk ‘Harriett’. With no extant Kennet Canal narrow beam barge to research, this dig provided a unique opportunity to answer some of the questions regarding the construction of these type of vessels. This undertaking and subsequent research laid the foundation for ‘Harriett’ to be both registered as a ‘National Historic Ship UK’ registration number 2347, and in June 2010, to be ‘scheduled’ as a Ancient Monument, number 1021451. Affording the ‘lady’ legal protection to rest in peace. ‘For further details see ‘Harriett’ page on site site.