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Gloucester Docks &
the Sharpness Canal


Vessels Index

The types of vessels using the canal have changed over the years from the sailing ships of the early days to the steamers and barges of the later commercial period and again to the pleasure craft and classic ships of today. This page provides some general information, and the following links lead to pages giving more details:

Classic Ships for Overhaul   Waterways Museum Boats
Ships at Sharpness  Coaster to Gloucester  Sand for RMC
Royal Navy Ships  Square Sail  Kathleen & May  Lightship Sula
Barges & Lighters   Sabrina Barges   Grain Barges
Bucket Dredgers  Suction Dredger  Fire-float Salamander  SL Sabrina  Steam Packets  MC Risga
Visiting Pleasure Craft   Local Boats with Interesting Names   Where Did They Go? 

Barques and steamers at Sharpness in 1892 (Photo J. Nurse)

Early Cargo Vessels
In the early days of the canal, most of the vessels bringing cargoes to Gloucester were sloops, schooners and brigs in the coastal trade with an occasional brig or barque from more distant ports. At Gloucester, most of the imports were loaded into canal boats to be taken further inland to the growing industrial towns in the Midlands. The canal was also used by trows and barges trading direct between Bristol and riverside towns in the Midlands. Tugs superceded horses for towing on the canal.

Later Cargo Vessels
During the course of the 19th century, the size of vessels in service tended to increase, with schooners and barques being the most common types of sailing vessels, and there was a growing use of steamers. During the 20th century, sailing vessels gradually died out, and motor vessels eventually replaced steamers. As the size of ships became so big that most had to discharge at Sharpness, the traffic on the canal changed to being mainly barges and lighters carrying the cargoes on to Gloucester and further inland.

Maintenance Vessels
Over the years, several different dredgers have worked to maintain the depth of the canal, and various means have been tried to dispose of the mud. Floating cranes were used to lift lock gates and bridge components, and special rigs were used for driving piles to protect the canal banks. Fire-floats were stationed at Gloucester and Sharpness.

Pleasure Craft
Passenger steamers operated on the canal for many years, and a few private steam yachts and motor boats were to be seen before the Second World War. Now the canal is used by a large number of narrow boats and cabin cruisers, and there are two rowing clubs.

Classic Ships
Sailing ships still come to Gloucester for overhaul in the dry docks.

Barque - a vessel with three or more masts, carrying square sails on the forward masts and only fore-and-aft sails on the aft mast.

Brig - a two-masted vessel carrying square sails on both masts and a fore-and-aft sail on the aft mast.

Schooner - a vessel with two or more masts carrying fore-and-aft sails on all masts and possibly square topsails on the foremast.

Sloop - a single-masted vessel carrying fore-and-aft sails.

Trow/Barge - a shallow draught vessel, originally with an open hold and square sails and later with a covered hold and fore-and-aft sails or no sails.

Lighter - a shallow draught vessel with an open hold towed by a tug.

Canal Boats - widely known as narrow boats but in Gloucester always called longboats.

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