Kyrle Probus Club
   of Ross-on-Wye

 

Purton - 4th Aril 2013
 
WHERE do old barges on the river Severn go to die?  Kyrle Probus members discovered the answer at their recent meeting, when Paul Barnett gave a fascinating illustrated talk on the ‘Purton Barge Graveyard.’
 
Mr Barnett, a hydrographic surveyor by profession and chairman of the ‘Friends of Purton’ volunteer group which looks after the ‘graveyard,’ just north of Sharpness, explained that the site was a narrow bank between the river and the Gloucester-Sharpness canal. It was to prevent the erosion of this bank by the strong tidal currents of the River Severn and consequent flooding of the canal, that barges were beached at this point,
 
The first barges were dumped on the bank in 1909 and further vessels were added, up to the 1970s. Each vessel was taken out of Sharpness dock just before a high tide and towed by a tug towards the foreshore. The tug would then slip its tow rope and the released vessel would charge on the tide up the bank as far as possible.
 
 Once beached, holes were cut in the hull of the craft to allow subsequent tides to deposit silt inside and so anchor the vessel on the bank. Mr Barnett said that 220,000 tons of silt were carried up and down the river each day on the tides.
 
As a result of so many barges being dumped, the ground level has built up over the years with layers of barges being formed, as later arrivals lay on top of the earlier ones. Research by Mr Barnett has identified the remains of over 30 wooden vessels protruding above the present surface.
 
 Unfortunately many have been plundered by thieves stealing metal fastenings and also timbers which may have been used in construction locally, while some have been damaged by vandals setting fire to them. Mr Barnett said the aim of the Friends of Purton was to have the site protected by having it scheduled an ancient monument.
 
As well as the wooden barges, concrete barges can be seen on the nearby bank and some 18 steel barges and lighters may be seen protecting the bank between the Severn railway bridge and the old entrance to Sharpness.  In total, there were over 80 vessels in the Purton Barge Graveyard collection, said Mr Barnett.
 
‘This is the largest collection of beached vessels in mainland Britain and we believe it is a site of archaeological interest and of national and international importance,’ he said.

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