The Hunt for the Stonehouse Hulks – Part 2

by Paul Barnett

The Hunt for the Stonehouse Hulks Part 1

Following a most enjoyable ground penetrating exercise within Harper’s Field and the subsequent recovery and confirmation of boat fixings from two predetermined areas in the south eastern quadrant of the field, research returned to the identification and history of the vessels.  This of course was made easier following the discovery of several detailed photographs, taken by maritime historian Grahame Farr in 1936, which confirmed that the vessels were the Stroud wide beam barges Perseverance and Ila. 

The barge Perseverance

Perseverance. Written on the side is James Smart & Son, Chalford. Registered at Stroud No 16.

Built with canoe-sterns, the barges appear to have been commissioned and built specifically for use on the Stroudwater canal, giving them access to the Port of Brimscombe via locks measuring 75ft 3in x 16ft 1in x 4ft 6in. Carrying loads in excess of 40 tons of cargo, notably coal, it is likely that the barges may have travelled from Lydney Dock to Framilode-on-Severn and onward to the Stroud valley and the industrial heartland of the Cotswolds.

The barge Ila

Ila. Written on the side is E. T. Ward & Son Ltd

Sadly, very little is known about either barge prior to their abandonment, and indeed confusion reigns in the case of Perseverance as it is thought that there was more than one barge of the same name.  However, for the purpose of this piece, I remain satisfied, upon viewing Grahame Farr’s index card held in the Greenwich Caird Library of the National Maritime Museum, that Stonehouse’s Perseverance is the Gloucester built, wooden fore and aft rigged, chine barge launched in 1859. 
This is further confirmed by the Gloucestershire Archives entry D4292/1/8 which states:


27872 Glos 1859 unknown RC 18 December 1917 vessel converted to landing stage”    

Ila’s history is proving equally difficult to pin-point, principally due to the limited amount of archive material available in public deposits.   The author would dearly like to be directed to such material and of course remains open to any advice or guidance in the meantime.

Made of finest Gloucestershire oak, Perseverance was originally registered in the Port of Gloucester on 24th January 1860 and issued with the Official Number 27872, with a signal code PTDC, thus allowing her access to the River Severn.  Her sole owner at that time was Gloucester based Roderick Rice who purchased the 67.4 x 14.1 x 3.6 (feet and inches) vessel of 41 registered tonnage.  Business was not as expected, as the vessel was sold on 28th July of the same year to William Rowles of Saul (38 shares) in partnership with fellow Saul merchant Robert Hayden Jones (32 shares).

29th March 1871 saw the transfer of 38 shares to George Ford, the manager of Ryeford Mills, Stonehouse, with 32 shares retained by Robert Hayden Jones, only to see them transferred once again to William Rowles on 27th July 1878, possibly upon the death of Robert.

The Ford – Rowles partnership continued until the late 1880s when the Perseverance was sold to sole Bristol owner John Shelton. It’s at this time we see her re-registration at Gloucester in January 1889 and her reconfiguration to a one-masted open sloop.  On 25th March 1889 the 64 shares were transferred to John’s widow, Rhoda Shelton. Mrs Shelton continued to trade with the vessel, re-registering it in her name both in 1892 and again in 1897, until she passed the ownership on to Joseph Smart, Bristol merchant on 11th November 1902.

22nd April 1910 saw Perseverance’s sale to her last Bristol owner, Thomas Robert Brown of Knowle who sold her to Frampton ship owner James Herbert on the 9th May 1910. It is believed that further to this sale, she will have seen considerable service in the Bullo Pill coal run from the Forest of Dean to the Cainscross Gas Works, possibly under the management/long lease of coal merchant James Smart & Sons, Ryeford, Stroud.



Model of a James Smart coal truck

A model of a James Smart coal truck.

James Smart business card

James Smart business card

Dates for Perseverance’s beaching are sparse; however, readers are advised that a photo held at the National Maritime Museum Woolwich Photo Archive, detailing the beached vessel, can be purchased, (at great expense) and is annotated thus:

4b 19-l-19 Ryeford 80.1 Perseverance Stroudwater Barge (brought coal from Bullo Pill) 22.5.36 owned by James Smart & Sons, Ryeford, Reg at Stroud

Grahame’s index card has her fate marked conclusively thus:

Converted into a landing stage

Record Closed 6.12.17 Glos Reg

At Ryeford Bridge awaiting breaking up 1936

Grahame also took and recorded the following negatives:

Perseverance wd bge 1859 Gloster

1 Stern qr Laid up at Ryeford Bridge

2 Deck and treenails 19.04.36 (76 -77/36)

April 1936 onboard Perseverance looking forward.

April 1936 onboard Perseverance looking forward.

April 1936 onboard Perseverance looking aft.

April 1936 onboard Perseverance looking aft.

Unlike Perseverance, information relating to Ila is so sparse that huge amount of her history remains shrouded in mystery.  However, and by complete chance, a photograph of her afloat at Ebley Mill does exist.  Sadly, the photographer’s identity and indeed the photo’s back story has been lost, which clearly highlights the need to correctly annotate our photos as we take them.

Ila at Ebley Mill

Ila at Ebley Mill

What little that can be offered regarding the Ila does include a Woolwich photo of her on the bank at Ryeford and can also be purchased via the following reference:

4b 19-l-19 Ryeford 80.1 Ila E. T.Ward & Sons Ltd

A brief history of E. T. Ward & Son and the curious tale of the coal lump

Edgecombe Thomas Ward was born 18 March 1826 in Holborn, London, and died March 1904 in Stroud.  Edgecombe Thomas Ward became a senior businessman and local character in Stroud, after, it is said, that he walked from London to set up his business, staying first at Lydney where he worked and made contacts in the coal industry.

After establishing a coal merchant’s business, he settled with his family in Gloucester Street, Stroud. He married twice, his first wife having died, perhaps in childbirth as was common in those days.

E. T. Ward Coal Merchants became a huge business in the area, with branches in many of the local towns and villages. The coal was originally brought by barge from Lydney, using the canal up to Stroud. The first coal yards were at Dudbridge, one at Ryeford and one at Walbridge, Stroud. Later it became all rail hauled, with Ward having his own fleet of railway wagons.

Model of E T Ward coal truck

Model of E T Ward & Son coal truck

The business remained in the family until the late 1960s, working from its yard at London Road in Stroud.  Many recall a huge lump of anthracite coal, which stood at the entrance gates outside the office and became a local landmark. This lump, it is suggested, was obtained from the Aberpergwm Colliery, South Wales in 1926 and arrived as part of a coal shipment in the bottom of a railway truck, which had been filled with small anthracite cobbles. 1976 saw Ward’s stop trading and in doing so auction sections of this famous 6cwt lump, with the proceeds going to help provide equipment for Stroud hospital.

Ward’s advert of 1902

Ward’s advert of 1902

A further search of newspaper archives turned up the following fascinating advert on 11th November 1932:

For sale Barge Ila 1932

For sale Barge Ila 1932

Finally, it is known that both Perseverance and Ila were eventually hauled ashore in Harper’s Field and photographed in situ as make-shift chicken coops by 1936.   They continued in this guise until being consumed by fire for the iron fixings they contained.  Both were initially thought to have been consumed by the same fire, however recently discovered photos taken by Stroud based photographer Norman Andrews, dated 23rd April 1966, clearly show the remains of Ila in situ whilst only sparse remnants of the Perseverance are shown.

Research continues.

The Hunt for the Stonehouse Hulks Part 1

E.T. Ward and Son had a coal yard at the canal wharf in Stonehouse. This was on the corner of Downton Road and the Bristol Road opposite the Ship Inn. Now part of Boakes Drive.

E.T. Ward coal yard

E.T. Ward coal yard sign can just be seen behind the wall at the centre of the photo. Corner of the Ship Inn on the left. Looking down Regent Street towards Bridgend.