The outbreak of war did in fact benefit mariners in Braunton, as freight rates rose substantially and by 1943 the rate for coal was more than double the pre-war level. Many vessels were however commandeered by the government and were typically put to balloon barrage service.
The Result was not requisitioned and, free of war responsibilities, enjoyed much more intense activity than in recent years – one of her tasks being to retrieve gravel from Braunton Pill in order to extend the former civil airfield at Chivenor for use by the RAF.
In 1939 there were nine schooners and twenty-four ketches trading in the estuary but after the war and over the following years most disappeared. Although there had been no losses to enemy action, when peace returned seven ships that had been used for barrage balloon service were condemned. They had typically been moored off shore, with little or no maintenance.
Around eight vessels were sold, one was wrecked (Woodcock) and more were hulked – whereby useful resources went towards refitting those hulls that were more worthy of repair. All that remained in Braunton were two steel schooners, Result and the more recent arrival Eilian, and nine ketches.
The wartime drive for efficiency led to higher post-war expectations and owners found themselves having to make modifications to their vessels in order to keep up. More powerful engines and winches were fitted, hatches were widened and had steel rims fitted to them, pole masts and bowsprits were shortened – all of which combined to produce a ship that was more of a motor vessel with steadying sails than a sailing vessel with auxillary engine, which they were originally designed to be.
Slowly but surely the competitiveness of the Braunton fleet gave way to motorised road transport and, despite tenacious attempts to keep the remaining ships viable, many were sold out of trade. Velator Quay was little used during the 1940s or ‘50s and the Result was the last ship to be seen there in 1948. Indeed the Result was the only Braunton vessel to survive in trade at this point and labour-saving modifications were made to her by her owner-skipper, Captain Welch, which enabled her to keep trading elsewhere until 1967, when he died.
The Result now rests, rather forlornly, as a static exhibit at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. The Garlandstone survives as a water-borne exhibit on the River Tamar (at Morwellham Quay) and Bessie Ellen was purchased for restoration as a passenger charter vessel at Plymouth in 2001. The rest of Braunton’s sailing coasters survive only as memories or evocative images in Braunton Museum.
A fine resource for more information about everything maritime in Braunton is the book ‘Braunton, Home of the Last Sailing Coasters’ by Robert D’Arcy Andrew MBE (ISBN 978-1-902310-04-6), which is available from Braunton Museum. It includes many interesting stories about local mariners, wrecks and the treacherous Bideford Bar, the gravel trade and the story of the Result.
A wealth of other details are found at John Lerwill’s web-site, which reproduces the memoirs of the late AH Slee, dating from the early 1800s. An excerpt is included here, which gives an insight into the use of numerous lime kilns in the area and mentions Spreacombe mines – an important local industry:
“Sailors and others engaged in the lime trade would be up on East Hill, which had a commanding view of Barnstaple Bay, and watch for incoming ships. As soon as they saw them making for the Bar they began to prepare for berthing at Vellator and discharging next day. The chief lime burners at Braunton were the firms of Harris and Lauder and the last local family to work in the lime kilns were the Pedricks.
After the unloading operations were completed the kilns were packed and the burning began. A few days later carts would be hurrying to Vellator to fetch loads of slaked lime. There was always a limited amount for sale. Consequently competition among local farmers to get sufficient for their needs was keen.
The people living in South Street were awakened early by the horse drawn butts from the farms and on wet days the rutted streets became a quagmire. The clatter of these vehicles gave little rest to those who wanted sleep. Other carts on their way to Vellator were those loaded with iron ore from Spreacombe mines. This was a useful ballast cargo for local ships and was taken to Swansea for smelting.”