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  • Writer's picturePaul Whittle

Bristol Channel 1955 - to date

British Dredging’s shipbuilding programme continued in April 1950 with the commissioning of the 561grt Bowstar. Built at Clelands of Wallsend the Bowstar. On the 10th November 1954 Trinity House vessel Alert reported that the Bowstar was “in difficulties” near Steep Holm. The Barry lifeboat went to her assistance; the Captain decided not to abandon ship and asked the lifeboat to stand by him as he took his ship slowly to the River Usk. The entire passage was reportedly undertaken stern first! During 970 the Bowstar was fitted with an AMDRILL being a system for seabed prospecting. The system drilled holes in the seabed to a depth of up to 30ft and, by virtue of a swell compensator attached to an A flame could work in “…heavy seas with swells of up to 6 or 8 feet. Bowstar was sent to Dublin for breaking up in 1973 where she arrived on 28th March.


In 1951, coincidental with Holms Sand & Gravel’s new Liverpool based company, Norwest Sand & Ballast Company, the ssAlwin was dispatched from the Bristol Channel to the Mersey to compete with the Runcorn based Richard Able & Sons and Widnes based William Cooper & Sons who were operating a number of grab loading aggregate dredgers in the River Mersey and Liverpool Bay. The move proved a profitable one as the ssPortway also soon relocated to Liverpool and three new buildings for Norwest Sand & Gravel Co Ltd were built over the next sixteen years.

Portway discharging sand on the beach at Western-Super-Mare

Portway arriving loaded at Bristol's Floating Harbour


British Dredging’s next order for new building was placed with G & H Bodewes of Matenshoek, Holland where the 596grt Bowline was launched on 25th June 1953. She was broken up at Cardiff in July 1976



On the 4th August 1955 the 596gt Bowcrest was also launched at the Bodewes yard and was to trade with British Dredging until sold, renamed Edip under the Panamanian flag in 1975. She went to the breakers in 1982.



1957 saw the building firm William Woolaway & Sons Ltd of Barnstaple start in dredging in the Bristol Channel with purpose built the 278gt Dutch built Stan Woolaway. The company next converted the Dutch built 424grt Selskar, rejected by Wexford Steamships Co Ltd as she did not reach her contracted specification, and renamed Ron Woolaway. She entered service in June 1960, just one week later she capsized near Flat Holm Island on the 18th which the crew of seven swam ashore to and from which the Barry lifeboat took them to Barry. The Stan Woolaway, connected a line to the upturned vessel which was eventually towed to Cardiff, later she was towed to Penarth where she was righted. Ronald William (Ron) Woolaway died in Barnstable on November 4th 2005 aged 75.

Ironically, the Stan Woolaway was lost when she capsized on 13th March 1967 when returning fully loaded from the Holms dredging area. She lies in about 60ft of water some 1000yards offshore and is owned by the Ilfracombe & North Devon Sub Aqua Club who retrieved the ship’s bell and presented it to the ship’s namesake, Mr Stan Woolaway, on 4th May, 1970.

Stan Woolaway

The Ron Woolaway, now fitted with “stability” blisters on her sides, was acquired by Sussex Ready Mixed Concrete Ltd in 1963, firstly being managed by P.E. Penfold and then South Coast Shipping, who re-named her Sand Finch in 1970 when they her assumed ownership. Sold again in 1975 and renamed Lucky she arrived at Harry Pound’s Portsmouth yard on 4th March 1975 for breaking up. However, her end was delayed when she was sold to the Greek owner P.Paouxis who aptly named her Lucky. Eventually her luck ran out in 2001 when she was deregistered, having been sold to Triena Shipping of Piraeus who named her Triena I when they acquired her in 1978.

Sand Finch


South Wales Sand & Gravel acquired the Rotterdam built Glen Haford in 1960 and traded this 522grt vessel until sold to Kendall Brothers of Portsmouth. The Kendall's traded her as the KB 11 from 1985 until 28th November 1995 when ownership passed to Acores-Madeira Sociedade De Extracho & Comevcializ who converted her for marine construction work with the addition of two deck cranes. Her subsequent fate is unknown.

KB11 laid up (in the river Taw?)

10th February 1960. G & H Bodewes launched the ill fated 780grt mv Bowpride for British Dredging which sank 3.4 miles off the Spurn Lirthship on 11th January 1970. Three ships assisted in the rescue of all her crew.

In 1960 South Wales Sand & Gravel took delivery of their new building, the 500ton Glen Haford which was to continue with the company until sold to Kendall Brothers of Fareham who re-named her KBII in 1985 and laid her up in Langston Harbour four years later. She was sold to Acores-Maderia Sociedade De Extracho & Comevecializa on 28th November 1995 who converted her for marine construction work which entailed fitting two cranes on her deck. She was unregistered, presumed scrapped, in 2002.

The 550grt Isca was launched at Westerbroek for the newly formed Western Dredgers Ltd on 29th August 1960. She was completed in November of that year and traded with her original company, having sometimes dredged for coal off the South Wales coast, until Western Dredgers was absorbed by British Dredging in 1976 with whom they had had a trading agreement for the previous ten years. 1977 saw her named Le Ferlas with French owners in St Marlo who also purchased the Badminton. She returned to the UK in 1995 under the ownership of Severn Sands Ltd who named her Severn Sands. Laid up in North Devon in her less than happy latter years, she finally went to DRS Demolition National of St Austell at Yelland Quay, Barnstaple where she ended her days in the winter of 2010.

Boxer laid up at Chepstow "Boxer laid up at Chepstow". The Boxer, formerly operated by Bowker & King, was owned by Fred Larkham. I believe she was used as a work boat but not sure whether she traded as a sand dredger (though the picture suggests she was). However, Larkam certainly operated at least two sand dredgers in the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel namely the Hook Sand and Breckland. (With thanks to Nigel Jones for this correction /information)

Built by Richard Dunston in 1925, the motorised barge Tony was the first vessel acquired by John Harker Co. Ltd for their Mersey trade around 1930. Converted, she later (early 1960’s?) arrived into the Bristol Channel aggregate dredging trade. She worked for Llanelli Sand Dredging having previously been “a typical motorised canal barge used to suck up mud on the Sharpness to Gloucester canal and then pump it out into the Severn Estuary. Little else is known of her save that she had a gross tonnage of 55, was 22.4mtrs in length and a beam of 4.27mtrs.


Named after Harry Brown who had died the year before aged 84, mv Harry Brown was delivered from the Charles Hill yard in February 1961 and was to be Holm Sand’s last addition to their Bristol Channel fleet. The Harry Brown could load 850 tons of aggregate by way of her thirty metre dredge pipe and 510mm cargo pump driven by a 500hp electric motor. The Harry Brown was the first aggregate dredger “built specifically for the Bristol Channel trade” and could self-discharge hydraulically via her 150hp discharge pump or, more usually, by shore grab. She was sold to Middle Eastern owners Alwardi Marine Dredging in 1990 who re-named her Alwardi 4. She was later sold again in 1992 and 1995 and given the name Sabari and then, in Bahrain, Salaiti 17.

Harry Brown transiting the River Avon

?1961 saw the Llanelli Sand Dredging Company or George Tate of Swansea acquire Tankard X8. She was one of eight others built for the Admiralty to transport water for the Dardanelles’ Campaign in WWI. OR:- Disposed of by the government in 1922, when the British tanker Co Ltd of London acquired & named her Tankard X8 and ran her until 1950 at which time she was sold to the Prince of Wales Dry Dock Co (Swansea) Ltd. Her owner was registered as Metal Trading & Scrap (Swansea )Ltd from 1952 until she was acquired by Thomas Lodwig Jones of Swansea who still owned her when she was re-engine and converted to a suction dredger with a ten inch pump the 135grt converted to and re-engined in 1967?


Purchased by Davies, Middleton & Davies and converted from the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board twin crew steam driven hopper dredger in 1962, at 3145grt, the renamed ss Sand Galore was amongst the biggest aggregate dredgers working at that time. Launched at the Birkenhead yard of Cammell Laird on the 21st December 1934 as the Hoyle the 103 meter 32 year old Sand Galore arrived in Grimstad, Norway to be broken up on 4th April 1966 having been acquired by Hoveringham Gravels the year before.

The 1238grt Bowqueen was launched at Ailsa Shipbuilders on 29th November 1962 and delivered to her owners F.Bowles & Sons Ltd in February of the following year. Her ownership changed to British Dredging Ltd in 1966 and on 9th September 1965, shortly before she capsized in a gale in heavy weather, she sent out a radio message that she had taken a heavy list in the vicinity of Gunfleet Spit. It was initially reported that the Captain and his wife, together with two seamen, were lost but one of the seamen was on leave but not signed off the Ship’s Articles. The Master and four crew members of the Trinity House Pilot Vessel Pelorus received gallantry awards from the Board of Trade for their involvement in the incident. The Bowqueen was subsequently salvaged, and traded for several years before being sold in 1988 to Arimadeira-Extracao e Comercializacao de Areiras de Maderia Ltd, who registered her in Funchal and renamed Susana Cristina > Still trading in 1993.


The somewhat infamous coal-fired steam-driven Catherine Ethel was purchased from the Vianda Steamship Co Ltd of London by H. Hamlin of Cardiff in 1939 who eventually, in 1962, converted her into a suction dredger working in the Cardiff area, including the Glamorganshire Canal. Built in Great Yarmouth at the yard of Crabtree & Co Ltd for F.W.Horlock of Harwich in 1906 she started her working life as the ss Mistley. Named Catherine Ethel in 1918 when acquired by J.Leete & Son Ltd she was sold to Vianda Steamship five years later. On 5th December 1951 the Catherine Ethel was responsible for emptying the Glamorganshire Canal when she struck the inner sea lock gates en route to her discharge berth at the canal’s “Pond”, causing them to collapse. The escaping deluge drove the ship against the outer gates which gave way under the sudden weight of water and ship. As the canal emptied into the River Taff the Catherine Ethel was swept onto the adjacent mud flats where she safely lay till floating off on the rising tide. The 158 years of Glamorganshire Canal’s operation was ended and it was never used again. Apparently largely unscathed by the experience, the old lady continued to trade with Hamlin and after with Llanellie Quarries Ltd who acquired her in 1963 and sent her to the breakers in 1969.


Ex-rugby international Peter Evans, who had a concrete block and ready-mix river side business in Llanelli’s old tinworks buildings, obtained a licence to dredge the East Helwick shoal area of the Helwick Bank with the 109grt Severn Carrier which was launched on 16th September 1933 at the Bristol yard of Charles Hill for owners Severn Canal & Carrying Company. Evans named her Carry, installed a crane on her foredeck and put her aground on sandbanks to load. He used Nevill’s Dock as a base but had to screen the sand to remove all the cockle and mussel shells. This was an extra cost and he acquired a second crane on the quay to empty the newly named Carry and load lorries. The operation became too expensive and when the company got into financial difficulties in 1963 Issac Jones, who was one of Peter Evan’s customers, took over the business, relocated to Carmarthenshire Dock and named the company Burry Sand Company. The Carry’s crane was removed and an eight inch suction pump installed. She was broken up in Llanelli in 1971

On 4th April 1963 the 552grt Glen Gower was launched at the Foxhol yard of Fergus Smit for owners South Wales Sand & Gravel Co Ltd.

Following the death in 1963 of Freddy Peters, the founder of Bristol Sand & Gravel, the company was sold to Bowles & Co of Cardiff who amalgamated the Bristol Sand & Gravel ships into the British Dredging fleet such that by 1966 it was the largest fleet of aggregate dredgers in the Bristol Channel area.

Glen Gower


William Woolaway & Sons ordered their first purpose built dredger from Goole shipbuilders who launched the 355grt Wm. Woolaway on 29th February 1964 which vessel was to become ARC Marine’s Arco Tamar in 1973 before being broken up in 1990

British Dredging’s next ship was the 735grt Instow which was built by Scheeps in Holland in 1964 for Western Dredgers of Newport which company became part of British Dredging in 1976 . The Instow was laid up in 1981 before ending her days with Barainian owners UCO Marine Contractors LL who acquired and had re-named her Uco XVlll in 1983.



1965 also saw the arrival of British Dredging’s 836gtr Moderator. Built by Boele’s Schps & Mchf at Bolnes for Western Dredgers of Newport which merged with British Dredging fleet in 1965. She was old to UCO Marine Contractors in 1983 who named her Uco XIX.

In 1965 the Burry Sand Company purchased the 147grt steam driven Arrun Monarch which they converted to an oil burner. Renamed Coedmor and lengthened to 32.85mtrs with a new gross tonnage of 181 that same year. Launched in 1946 for the Ministry of War by the James Pollock Sons & Co. Faversham yard the VIC 57 (Victualling Inshore Craft) was a Clyde "puffer". Re-named Arran Monarch by her new owners the Wansbrough Paper Co. Ltd. in 1948 she was carrying cargoes of coal in the Bristol Channel when purchased by P. Herbert of Bude, Cornwall. In 1964 she was renamed Coedmor and converted to a suction dredger by Hallacombe Aggregates of Wadebridgh and used for sand dredging at Hayle. British Dredging acquired Burry Sand in 1989 by which time some 700,000 tons of material had been dredged by the company from the Helwick Bank. The Coedmor ended her days owned by DGW Sand of Hayle where she was broken up in 2003.

Arran Monarch

Coedmor at Hayle

Incorporated on 28th March 1938, Sand Supplies (Western) Ltd was established as a joint venture between Bristol based Thomas Silvey and Renwick, Wilton & Dobson. Both companies, having their roots in the coal trade, had been operating small coasters and motor barges in the fast declining coal trade, some of which they thought suitable for conversion to suction dredgers thereby giving them a foothold in the expanding sand trade. In the event four motor barges were sent for conversion to the yard of R & W Davis at Saul on the Gloucester/Sharpness Canal.

Renwick passing Portishead 5.11.1969

In 1965 the four conversions included the Nigel which had been so named in 1920 by her new owner one Captain Green. Acquired by Thomas Silvery in 1940 and used as a collier the 1915 built 134grt Nigel had a cargo capacity of some 90tons. She was the ex Admiralty X-lighter X46, known as ‘Black Beetles’, of which 225 were built as an emergency measure in World War 1 out of a need for shallow drafted ‘landing craft’ to be used as water and fuel tankers. Early ones, but apparently not the X46 , were towed to the Mediterranean and saw service in the ill fated Gallipoli campaign. Built at the yard of Osbourne Graham & Co in Sunderland she was acquired by H.S.Colborn of Bristol in 1927 and twice re-engined. Firstly in 1928 with a 1918 2cylinder engine by Ruston & Proctor of Lincoln and again in 1965 by Ruston & Hornsby when she was converted to an aggregate dredger. Kept in the ownership of a number of Silvery companies, she was sold to Newport Marine Aggregates Ltd. of Bristol in 1972.

Nigel off Avonmouth 13.3.1965 (Photo: Malcolm Cranfield)


In 1966 British Dredging leased part of Dunball Wharf in Bridgewater from Duncircle Ltd which in turn leased the wharf from the freeholder, British Rail.

1966 Bristol Sand & Gravel amalgamated with British Dredging.


W. Woolaway & Sons Ltd was acquired by the Amey Group in 1967.


Burry Sand Company increased their fleet with the acquisition of the Dutch built coaster Orselina which they converted to a suction dredger in 1968. The 258gt Orselina was launched at the Capelle yard of A.Vuijk & Zonen in September 1938 with the name Brixham. Renamed Ebrix in 1940 and Orselina by her new owners Hazely Ltd in 1960 her brief life as an aggregate dredger ended when she was broken up at Llanelli in 1972.


In 1968 Sand Supplies (Western) converted the 129gt 1938 built Denby and named her Sand Topaz which was broken up in 1974. That same year, the company also acquired the 132gt Wycliffe built in 1949 she was converted to a dredger but not renamed the Sand Pearl until 1970. The Sand Pearl was sold to T.E.Grace in 1980, to Barum Sand & Gravel in 1992 and lastly to West Country Sand & Gravel. She was last seen as a hulk in Barnstable.


Sand Topaz passing Avonmouth's south pier bound Bristol 17.7.1971. (Photo: Malcolm Cranfield.)

Wycliffe passing Portishead 29.9.1964

Photo: Malcolm Cranfield

Sand Pearl Photo: Malcolm Cranfield collection


Launched on 11th April 1949 at the Dartmouth yard of Philip & Son for John Carter of Poole, the 368gt Wimborne became the Jersey Castle in 1968 before being acquired by Sand Supplies (Western) in 1970 and traded her as the Sand Gem until sold with the appropriate name Black Gem By SCS Dredging of Northfleet in 1981 who intended to trade her as a coal dredger off the Durham Coast. Come the day, coal dredging licences could not be obtained and she continued to trade as an aggregate dredger, mainly in the Solent until TC Fraser (Metals) Ltd of Cambourne purchased her in 1990 and took her to Padstow where they broke her up.


The Dutch flagged Westerbroek built Auriga was Sand Suppliers (Western) next acquisition which they named Sand Jade in 1970. This 398gt dredger was also sold for coal dredging off the north east coast in 1981 and became the Dianne K of Hartlepool before being sold to Greek owners in 1986 and being broken up in Aliaga, Turkey in 1996.


Converted at Saul and re-named Sand Sapphire, 1975 Saw a significant increase in Sand Supplies’ ship size with the acquisition of the 860grt ex- Cy Threesome which was launched as the Pass of Glenogle on 11th December 1962 at the Deptford yard of Sir James Laing & Sons. Being an ex tanker, she had excellent accommodation such that all crew members had their own cabin, luxury indeed. The Sand Sapphire was sold to Alwardi Marine and Dredging before ending her days on the beach at Alang, India where she was broken up in 2003.

Sand Sapphire at Hotwells Bristol


In 1978 Llanelli Plant Hire Co.Ltd. acquired 301grt Dutch flagged general cargo ship mv Rhone which was converted to a suction dredger at Goudriaan in the south of Holland. She retained her name and traded in the Bristol Channel dredging the Scarweather & Helwick Banks and discharging the companies berth in the Prince of Wales Dock, Swansea. Other times she would dredge for coal off Lavernock Point and take it to the wharf at Briton Ferry on the River Neath. It is reported that “…The unusual dredging operation off Lavernock Point relies upon the recovery of washings jettisoned by returning shipping in the past and is a maritime equivalent of the re-working of mineral waste tips on land….” She was sold in 1996 and renamed Ribiera Grande under which name she worked off Fayal Island in the Azores, by 2006 she was no longer a registered ship.


In 1978 Holmes Sand formed a joint dredging enterprise with British Dredging and took the name Bristol Sand & Gravel Co …in 1986 this J/V was sold to Amey Roadstone for a reported £4.25 million for which the Brown family (Holms Sand & Gravel Co) received a proportional share.


In 1979 Sand Supplies continued to upgrade their fleet with the purchase of the Norwegian flagged 1973 built Frierfjord. The run crew from Norway to Cardiff included the then company chairman Thomas Silvey. The Sand Diamond’s conversion of circa £1million included a 1000 ton cargo capacity and a hydraulic discharge capability which allowed her to turn on the tide at her Newport berth. Sold and re-named Tariq in 1992 the Sand Diamond was finally named Farouk by her Baharainian owners, Alwardi Marine and Dredging, who purchased her in 2003.


November 1986 ARC Marine acquired Holms Sand & Gravel Ltd with their vessels Harry Brown & Norleader.


In 1989 British Dredging acquired Burry Sand Co Ltd.

In August 1989 ARC Marine acquired the assets of Sand Supplies (Western) Ltd including their dredgers Sand Sapphire, converted in 1975, and the Sand Diamond, converted in 1979.


In 1995 Severn Sands Ltd acquired the Severn Sands being a replacement for the Rhone which was sold in 1997. She had previously been sold and renamed Le Ferlas in 1977, the Severn Sands was the Dutch built 550grt Isca which was launched on 29th August 1960.


In August 1998 RMC acquired 50% stake in British dredging.


2005 Severn Sands Ltd acquired from R. Lapthorn & Co Ltd the 794grt Hoo Maple which had already been converted to self discharge bulk cargoes, mainly aggregates, with 900 tons per hour discharge rate. Converted to a suction dredger by Severn Sands Ltd and renamed Argabay she was able to deliver sand not only to Newport & Chepstow, as could the Severn Sands, but also to Cardiff and Newport. At this time Severn Sands Ltd employed some 27 people, was owned by Bob Breen and was licensed by Swan Grove Estates to extract 150,000 tons from the River Severn ( Bedwyn, Charston & Dunn Sands) each year until 2013 with additional licence applications pending.


Persimmon Homes planning permission to redevelop British Dredging’s Corporation Road Site in Newport.

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