To mark World Maritime Day, we’re revisiting Garry Fraser’s wonderful article on the history of some of Britain’s ports, first published in the “Friend” in Special 211.
When Britain really ruled the waves, ports and harbours were bustling enterprises.
Let’s take a look at some of them . . .
The city’s Maritime Mile is a titanic attraction in more than one sense of the word.
The ill-fated RMS Titanic was built at Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyard. You can actually step back in time and stand beside the restored slipways where it was launched.
The slipways contain a memorial listing all those who sank on its maiden voyage in 1912.
To really get a sense of the past, you can go on board the SS Nomadic, RMS Titanic’s little sister.
But there’s more to this Maritime Mile than memories of Titanic. Sailortown is the oldest remaining residential area, with links to the harbour and its dockers. It once had over 5,000 people packed into its small, terraced streets.
The Harbour Heritage Room hosts a permanent exhibition to celebrate 400 years of Belfast’s maritime history.
The organisers of the Mile have also cleverly interwoven other attractions that reflect other sides of Belfast culture.
The city’s Titanic Studios was the main studio for all eight series of “Game Of Thrones”.
Add to that a Public Art Trail and a Treasure Trail and you have all the ingredients for a great family day out.
The nautical history of Dundee goes as far back as the 17th century. But was at its height in the 19th century when whaling and the import of jute became its life blood.
However, it’s only in the last few years that this heritage has been acknowledged, in the shape of the Dundee Maritime Trail. It might be only 1.5 miles long, but it combines public art with historic ships and buildings, merging 20th-century architecture – the V&A museum – with Scotland’s oldest preserved warship, the 19th-century HMS Unicorn.
“It all started in 1986, when the RRS Discovery, which was launched in Dundee in 1902, was brought back for a permanent berth in the city’s docks,” Doctor Andrew Jeffrey, naval historian and one of the prime movers behind the trail, says.
“The only Dundee-built ship still afloat, it is the ideal base for a tour of Dundee’s maritime history.
“This history is centred on the harbour, the river, shipyards, the shipbuilders, the ships, the crews who sailed them, the passengers who trod their decks, and the great events they were caught up in.”
The trail is suitable for all abilities and includes the Tay Road Bridge; Chandlers Lane, where the Discovery was built; HMS Unicorn; the North Carr Lightship, believed to be the last remaining Scottish lightship; Port of Dundee Custom House; and the Sailor’s Home, which bears the names of famous seafarers, including Nelson, Cook and Admiral Duncan, victor over the Dutch at the Battle of Camperdown.
Situated on the banks of the River Great Ouse, King’s Lynn has been one of the nation’s foremost ports from the 12th century onwards. Today, its nautical history is central to its standing as a tourist attraction – thanks to its Maritime Trail.
“Many notable buildings lie within the town centre,” Norfolk tourism manager Philip Eke says. “Like the Custom House (a merchants’ exchange venue from 1685) and the Hanse House (a venue for seafaring Hanse League traders from 1475- 1751), which remain as active beacons of our maritime heritage.
“The Maritime Trail offers a vital and fascinating context to such a strong and appealing history to our visitors as they explore the architecture of the town.”
The trail takes you through four of the city’s historic wards that were the scenes of centuries of life and trade – North End Ward, Trinity Ward, Chequer Ward and Stonegate Ward – and you’ll find where the young Horatio Nelson learned to sail.
You start the trail at True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum, which features King’s Lynn’s last Victorian smokehouse. You’ll finish this maritime meander at the 16th-century Marriott’s Warehouse.
“Since the Maritime Trail was founded, national awareness of the city’s nautical history has increased.
“Examples are the port trading scenes of Armando Iannucci’s ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’, as well as the major player route and port setting within Ubisoft’s ‘Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla’ videogame.”