Mid-18th century trade with Southampton

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Mid-18th century trade with Southampton


This article by Alex Anderson was first published in the 1964 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Southampton is fortunate in possessing in its Civic Record Office an almost continuous series of trade records, in the form of Petty Custom Books, for the years from 1723 to 1773, which are supplemented for a few years in the 1740s and 1750s by Port Books, the Royal custom records, now in the Public Record Office.

No island records

These books record ship movements into and out of the port and its dependent harbours, with the names of the ships, their masters, the merchants concerned, and particulars of their cargoes. Unfortunately, no similar records appear to survive in Jersey or Guernsey. The present paper may serve to show that the study of local records on the English mainland may help to amplify our knowledge of Island history, for it is largely upon these records of Southampton trade that it is based.

Trade between the Channel Islands and Southampton had, of course, been carried on for very many years before the 18th century. It dated back at least to the time of the Norman conquest, when Southampton had been the principal port for communication between the King's English possessions and his Norman ones, of which the islands formed part, and it had been continuous ever since.

Its importance relative to Southampton's total trade had varied: in Southampton's medieval golden age trade with the Channel Islands had been a minor matter, but in the days of the port's decline in the 15th to the 18th centuries, it was one of several trades, none of them in themselves large, which kept the port from declining into complete obscurity. It was of sufficient importance to the town to justify the taking of special measures to retain it, as happened early in the 16th century when Poole threatened to capture the island trade.

The importance of the Southampton trade relative to the islands' total trade is less easy to determine, but it seems fairly certain that for geographical, navigational and traditional reasons Southampton continued down to the 18th century to be either tbe main centre or one of the major centres of island trade with England.

It is significant that the Act of Parliament of 1660, which permitted the export of wool to the islands for their knitting industry, specified Southampton as the only port from which the export might be made.

A substantial overseas trade was essential to the islands, for their population was already far more than their own natural resources could sustain. Jersey had at least 15,000 inhabitants and Guernsey 10,000 by the beginning of the century. The continuance of the trade between Southampton and the islands was thus a desideratum for all the parties concerned.

Ship movements

In the period 1723-1773 there were something of the order of 200 to 350 overseas ship movements annually at Southampton; two-thirds or more of these would usually be Channel Island arrivals and departures. Figures for a few sample years will show the pattern:

1733 1744 1748 1756 1763 1773
Southampton total 204 211 212 211 324 257
Jersey 53 64 56 61 96 96
Guernsey 66 98 79 100 151 115
Alderney and Sark 4 8 6 9 2 12
CI total 123 170 139 170 249 223

Increasing trade

Outside the walls of Southampton in the mid-18th century

It is apparent that both Southampton's total trade, measured in terms of ship movements, and the trade with each island was tending to increase. These figures probably give an exaggerated impression of the proportion of Southampton's trade which was concentrated on the islands, for it is to be expected that the ships on the island run were on average smaller than those trading between Southampton and Portugal, Spain, Italy, Norway and America; nor were their cargoes so valuable as, for example, the wine shipped from Iberia (though, as will be noted later, some wine came through the islands).

In the days of sail, all ship movements were fairly irregular, and not until near the end of the 18th century was there any attempt to have even a regular schedule of departures from the mainland. Thus it is to be expected that the numbers of ship movements in 1733 and 1772/3, while they suggest average frequencies of about one and two a week respectively, do not imply that these were in fact the frequencies obtaining in practice.

For one thing, there were then, as now, more sailings in summer than in winter, not because of the tourist trade (which did not then exist) but because the winter weather was often unsuitable for sailing; and throughout the year the traffic varied depending on the cargoes offered, the amount of shipping available, the keenness or otherwise of masters, and other factors.

In a study of arrivals and departures in the 12 months from Christmas 1747 The much greater frequency of movements between June and October is noticeable. So is the bunching of the only three arrivals between January and June on March 26; this might be the result of ships sailing in convoy, but on the whole the pattern of arrivals and departures in Southampton at this time from other ports does not support this.

What is very apparent is that while there were times when sailings in either direction were quite frequent, there were others, especially early in the year, when communications were virtually at a standstill. It seems likely that the pattern of movements in 1747/8 is not untypical of a year in our period.

Passage times

The time taken on the passage, like the frequency of sailings, was extremely variable and depended on wind, weather and other factors. Jersey was somewhat slower and more difficult of access from Southampton than was Guernsey. The port records give little indication of the time of passage, save when a ship reappears in Southampton after a return voyage of only a few days to the islands. From other sources, however, it can be deduced that the voyage between one or other of the islands and Southampton was often accomplished within 24 hours; two to five days was not uncommon, ten days not unheard of; on occasion, in a time of violent and contrary weather, a ship might be buffeted back and forth across the Channel for anything up to three months, sheltering in Cowes Roads, Yarmouth Roads, Portland Roads, Weymouth Harbour or elsewhere, before she was able to make port with cargo, passengers and crew alike the worse for wear.

War, too, could impede sailings when convoys had to be waited for, as in the case of the Judith in 1745-6. She sailed from London on September 22, made Southampton about the end of October, and reached Guernsey on the r Sth of February following; she had spent nearly five months of this time in waiting for convoys, and only 15 days sailing.

Island ships

The trade was largely carried on in Island ships. Of the 16 ships named in the list of movements, twelve were Jersey ships, two Guernsey ones, and one of Cowes, while one (the Prince William) appears variously as 'of Jersey' or 'of Southampton'. Examination of the records in other years shows that this predominance of local shipping was usual. It is notable that only three ships sailed with any frequency - the Hope (7 round trips),the Charming Betty( 5) and the Prince William (4). The other ships made only one or two trips in the year, possibly because their captains were occasional sailors only, with some other occupation during the rest of the year, or (more probably) they usually traded to ports other than Southampton.

The Itchen area of Southampton in the mid-18th century

Two of the "once-only" voyagers, the two Johns, called at Southampton en route from London, probably in order to enter their wool cargo as required by law. Of the ships them¬selves, not a great deal can be said: the port records do not give their rigs, tonnages or crew strengths. From other sources, it may be deduced that the larger ones were often "sloops" or "snows" of 30 to 80 tons, while the smaller vessels might be mere boats of 10 or 12 tons." The crews would probably range from two to eight in addition to the master. The names of the latter need only to be glanced at for their origin to be known.

The raison d'etre of all this coming and going was, of course, trade - the transport of commodities to and from the English mainland. From Southampton came supplies necessary to the island's economy, either for use or consumption there or for manufacture and re-export: from Jersey there went agricultural produce, manufactured goods, some raw materials for processing, and a small quantity of re-exports to England of goods imported from foreign countries into the island.

Stocking trade

Most important to Jersey's economy was the wool and stocking trade. I need not attempt to describe here the island's stocking-knitting industry, which has been well documented elsewhere. The Channel Islands' own sheep population had declined with the planting of cider orchards, and the special exportation of English wool (limited to 4,000 tods to Jersey, 2,000 to Guernsey, 400 to Alderney and 100 to Sark) was permitted from Southampton only.

The stocking trade was more important to Jersey's economy than to Guernsey's, and Jersey took up something approaching her full quota (3425 tods, or about 110,000 lb of wool) in 1748, whereas Guernsey took only 1,300 tods. One ninth of all cargoes shipped from Southampton to Jersey were of wool. The wool did not necessarily originate in Southampton or its neighbourhood. In the few cases in which there is evidence of its original port of shipment, it was loaded in London, and the ships called at Southampton only to enter their wool as required by law; but wool also came coastally to Southampton from other South coast ports, notably Rye.

Nevertheless, all the raw material (other than island wool) for this important Channel Islands industry came through Southampton, and, in return, large quantities of stockings were shipped to Southampton. In 1748 Jersey sent 14,022 dozen pairs of stockings to Southampton (Guernsey sent 5,529 dozen pairs), and nearly every incoming cargo at Southampton included some bales of stockings.

Other commodities

Another important commodity in the trade was leather. In this case, the raw material went from the Island to be processed at Southampton and was returned to Jersey - the reverse of the process described in the case of the wool trade. Green hides and calfskins, with smaller quantities of other skins-rabbit, lamb, fox and otter - were sent to Southampton, and tanned leather was exported to Jersey. This would seem to suggest that tannery facilities in the island were inadequate. It seems unlikely that no tanning was done in Jersey, for oak bark was also sent out from Southampton. Perhaps some islanders did their own tanning, while others sent their hides to the mainland for tanning.

The most important foodstuff sent out from Southampton was wheat, for Jersey did not grow enough for her population. As all local historians know, wheat was at times exported from Jersey with unfortunate results, but none appears to have been shipped to Southampton, though Guernsey sent wheat there. In 1748 nearly 300 quarters of wheat came to Jersey from Southampton.

The next most frequent import was biscuit, no doubt to supply the island's ships, and particularly the Newfoundland fishing fleets. Other foodstuffs imported included malt, cheese, peas, sugar, flour, tea, molasses and red herrings; but some of these came only occasionally, and it may well be that more of the imported foodstuffs were brought from other ports, such as London and Bristol, than from Southampton.

Textiles were also a large and regular import. They were mostly coarse cloth, such as bayes, kersey, worsted stuffs and shag, but occasionally broadcloth, flannel, serge, shalloons, cotton, East India goods, lace and silk goods (especially silk hand¬kerchiefs) were imported. Very occasionally some unwoven yarn-flax or linen yarn--came out. Haberdashery was a regular import.

Building materials were a frequent cargo. Bricks, probably of Southampton manufacture, came out in substantial quantities, and laths, lime, tiles and glass were also imported.

Tobacco pipes

A remarkable number of tobacco pipes was imported from Southampton, where there was a clay pipe factory, the clay being shipped from Poole. In 1748 Jersey had 386 gross of pipes, and Guernsey 391 gross - a total of over 55,000 pipes to each island, or nearly three per head of the entire population. Granted that these were clay pipes and consequently short-lived, these figures seem to suggest that the islanders were heavy smokers.

Domestic goods imported included brooms and brushes, earthenware, rugs, rush chairs, furniture and "household goods"-a phrase which in the records seems to imply household removals. Some wearing apparel, especially felt hats, was imported.

Various kinds of metal and metal goods also came from Southampton. Ironmongery and ironware were the most important, but iron, copper and lead, as well as wrought goods - brazery, pewter, silver plate, tin goods and nails - were also regular imports. Coal was not regularly brought from Southampton - it came in the 17th century from Newcastle and in the 18th from South Wales - but occasionally a cargo of coal, previously brought to Southampton from Newcastle, came across, probably at a time when Jersey's supply was low and quick replenishment was needed. There was a regular trade in coopery - barrel hoops (probably of Southampton manufacture) and staves. Ship's chandlery, oak plank, whale-oil, horses, foreign silver coin and a variety of oddments also came out more or less frequently.


The export from Jersey to Southampton was considerably less than the import.

Apart from stockings and leather, the most important export was agricultural produce. Cows and bulls were sent with some regularity, and horses less frequently. Cider was a regular export. There were occasional consignments of eggs, bacon, chestnuts, butter and oysters. Almost the only non-agricultural export was of rags, probably for use in the paper-making industry in and around Southampton. There was an occasional trade in re-exports such as anchovies, French prunes and Smyrna raisins.

Lastly, there was a small but fairly regular re-export of French and Iberian wines. In Jersey this trade was not, at this period at least, of any real significance; the export never exceeded 6 tuns (24 hogsheads) in a year, whereas Guernsey, where the Channel Islands wine trade centred, sent as much as 369 tuns in one year (1745). Nevertheless, this trade is of interest because of the fiscal anomalies which made it possible. The duties on wines, and particularly the double duty on French wines, bore heavily on the English importers, who had to pay duty at once on importation on wines which might not be drinkable for several years. By bringing the wine to the islands and storing it there, however, payment of duty could be postponed until the wine was finally imported, when required for sale, into England.

A further advantage was that French wine could be mixed in the island cellars with port, and then passed through the customs as port at the lower rate of duty, though the resultant mixture might be more popular than port with the English drinker who still preferred his traditional claret. As a result of these factors, there grew up in the 18th century a substantial trade in wine through the Islands, which by the 1780s accounted for nearly 14 of the total national wine import. In the earlier part of the 18th century, over a third of this trade entered England through Southampton; but as the century wore on, while the trade increased, it moved away from Southampton, whereas Southampton imported most of her wine direct from Portugal. Up to 1773, Jersey's share in this trade remained very small; on its subsequent history, the Southampton records are silent.

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