Posted by: travelrat | June 4, 2010

The Purton Hulks

Purton; 24th April 2010

A concrete barge sounds an unlikely kind of vessel, but there is such a thing.

You’d think, as many people did at the time, that it would go straight to the bottom … but, that’s precisely the same opposition faced by ironmaster John Wilkinson, when he launched the first iron boat in 1787!  But, it worked; the Captain of the Edward Elgar recalled bringing a concrete barge down the canal to its final resting place in the early 1970s.

He pointed the barge out to us, as it rested abandoned and forlorn, moored to the canal bank. But, some of them were put to use … as reinforcement for the river bank. At Purton, where we moored overnight, the canal runs only a few paces from the Severn, and, in 1909, a collapse in the bank of the river called for a wall to be built, to protect the canal. But, it was no ordinary wall. The Chief Engineer, one A.J.Cullis, arranged for several redundant ships and barges to be beached at high tide, and gradually fill with silt and form a wall, to protect the canal from further erosion.

Over the years, the hulks were added to. The most famous was the schooner Katherine Ellen, impounded in 1921 for running guns to the IRA. And, several concrete barges were added during WWII.

Early in the morning, I was able to inspect the Purton Hulks, as they’re called, more closely. I hadn’t intended to; I went to photograph the boat at its moorings, and forgot to take my key. But, we were moored only a few steps from the Hulks, and it was a good way to fill in the time until someone else got up, to let me in.

The ships aren’t forgotten; a plaque records the name of each, and some are sponsored by individuals and businesses in the area.


  1. I really enjoy your historical posts – they are always so interesting. I didn’t know about the gun running. Sounds like something from a John Le Carre novel.

  2. One of these concrete barges is a houseboat at Shoreham see

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