English Coastal Shipping, 1650-1911.

Coastal shipping and trade made a crucial contribution to Britain’s economic development, yet little is known about how coasting ships operated, particularly in earlier times. Coastal shipping was an important transport mode for a very long time and its operation had important ramifications on the rest of the economy. 

Working with Leigh Shaw-Taylor, Dan Bogart, Eduard Alvarez, we generated large numbers of data for coastal sailing speeds and port tones in England and Wales 1680-1830.  Here are some key results:

The following graph illustrates seasonal voyage speed patterns for voyages observed by customs by distance. We found voyage speed increased in spring and summer and that longer routes exhibited faster speeds.  There was large deviation in recorded speeds that seems to be related to winds and poor weather. We are looking to see if standard deviation recorded for sailing and port times reduced in the next centuries with investment in port facilities.


We also looked at ports. We found that some, such as Newcastle and Sunderland, were used much less in the winter. These ports serviced the regional coal trade, which provided heat and power to large populations in the South East. Newcastle this way played a crucial economic role.

Capture newc departs

The following is a GIS map with distribution of sample fleets and the flows of recorded goods.  Note from the left hand panel the concentration of coastal ships outside London.  Coasting fleets seem to have been based in smaller ports.  We can see on the right that Newcastle and Milford Haven were primarily exporters, while other ports like London and Exeter were net importers of goods.  London attracted significantly more coastal trade than other places.

coastal fleets and flows gis

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