Single Project


LOCATION: -5.06, 52.78

This wreck is believed to be the CHELFORD, but currently that is unconfirmed.

The CHELFORD was built by W. Gray & Co. Ltd., West Hartlepool, in 1906 for the ship broker Francis Yeoman & Co. of West Hartlepool. Francis Yeomen passed away in 1914 and, at time of loss, the name of the managing owner was given as his son Harry Yeoman, 133 Exchange Buildings, Cardiff. The CHELFORD was in ballast (i.e. carrying no cargo) and on passage from Glasgow to Barry Roads on 14 April 1918 when it was torpedoed by UB 73 in St Georges Channel. The crew managed to escape with no loss of life before the ship sank.

The builders of the CHELFORD were one of the largest employers in the Hartlepool for almost a century. Ships for the coal trade were amongst the many built by the company. Like Cardiff, the town’s fortunes were linked to coal exports. Port development began in earnest in the 1830s when the Hartlepool Dock & Railway Co. was formed (later to become part of the North Eastern Railway) and in 1835, a railway from Haswell and Thornley in County Durham carried the first coals for shipment from Hartlepool.

Just as Cardiff added docks in the nineteenth century to maximise on the capacity to export coal, so too did Hartlepool with the Victoria Dock added in 1842, the Jackson Dock in 1852 and the Swainson Dock in 1856. The port of Hartlepool and its railway links attracted shipments of coal away from the Tees. It became one of the most successful coal ports of the North East. In the years, during which the CHELFORD plied its trade, coal and coke exports from Hartlepool were reaching their peak and Cardiff was second only to Barry as the largest coal exporting dock in the world.

William Gray ran a successful drapery business and came to shipbuilding through the investments he made in several ships. In 1863, he formed a partnership with a local shipbuilder John Punshon Denton to concentrate on the building of iron ships at Denton’s yard at Middleton. The orders being received encouraged them to expand into other disused yards and consolidate on land holdings containing two dry docks. This allowed the company to undertake ship repair and overhauling as well as building.

The Coal Exchange building was built between 1884-8 and contains an ornate wood-panelled trading hall with suites of offices around it. Following its opening, coal owners, ship owners and their agents met daily on the floor of the trading hall to complete deals for the selling and shipping coal from the south Wales valleys. The owners of the CHELFORD had offices in the building. Source: Crown Copyright: RCAHMW

The partnership with Denton ended in 1874 and the company was renamed William Gray and Company and became even more successful. In 1878, they completed 18 ships and won the award for the most ships built in a year by any British shipyard. They won the same award in 1882, 1888, 1895, 1898 and 1900.

Part of the company’s success can be attributed to the 10-acre site on which they established the Central Marine Engine Works (CMEW). They quickly gained a good reputation for the quality of their work and grew to employ 1000 men. Indeed, the yard book of William Gray’s confirms that the CHELFORD was one of many, many Gray-built ships whose engines were supplied from the Central Marine Engine Works.

William Gray & Co. maintained a yard book in which technical details of the ships they built were recorded. This image is the first of the pages relating to the CHELFORD and it records dimensions, tonnage and the date – 24 January 1906 – when ownership was transferred to Francis Yeoman. Source: The Museum of Hartlepool, Hartlepool Borough Council

Francis Yeoman started out as a clerk in the firm of his uncle, Sherinton Foster, who, as well as being a ship broker and shipowner was also a master mariner. Francis eventually became a partner and the company became Foster & Yeoman. On his uncle’s death he took over the business. A partnership was then formed between himself and his brother-in-law, Joseph Murrell in 1882. The partnership was dissolved in 1902 and continued by Francis Yeoman on his own. In 1886, he was elected secretary of Hartlepool’s Shipowners’ Society, and was the district secretary of the Shipping Federation in 1902. He passed away in 1914 and the business was continued by his sons – as we know, Harry Yeoman, established a base in Cardiff’s coal Exchange Buildings.

Little documentation appears to have survived about the trading voyages of the CHELFORD. Nonetheless, all the circumstantial evidence suggests that the ship was to continue in the Welsh coal trade after being passed by the Examination Service in Barry Roads and then being allowed to pass on to its next loading berth.

A special thank you must go to Mark Simmons, Curator, The Museum of Hartlepool, for his kind assistance in telling the story of the CHELFORD.

Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough. 29 April 1914. Hartlepool Then and Now. Web.

Spaldin, Bert, 1986, Shipbuilders of the Hartlepool, Hartlepool Borough Council.

Spaldin, Bert, 2005, Maritime Hartlepool, Printability Publishing Ltd.