On this Day 9th February 1828

The Welsh Fleet finally arrives - coal at last!

 The Welsh Fleet was the local name for the vessels carrying coal from South Wales to Cornwall and returning with copper ore from Cornwall for smelting. By 1828 all Cornish copper ore was smelted in Wales with the Cornish Copper Company of Hayle having ceased smelting in 1820.

John Tregerthen Short's (JTS) diary entry for 9 February 1828 reads, “Arrived the Welsh fleet; some having been nearly twelve weeks on the voyage. Coals advanced 2s. Per way; price now 46s.”

JTS lived in St Ives and often comments on the comings and goings of the Welsh fleet in his diary, not least because a number of the vessels were from St Ives and owned and manned by St Ives people. It was not unusual for the colliers to be delayed in the winter but this is quite an extreme example and the consequences for west Cornwall are plain to see. No coal is delivered so the price of coal goes up.

On 28 December 1821 JTS wrote “A tremendous gale from SSE. Coals at Hayle have advanced from 46s to 60s per way. The stock of coals at Hayle was nearly exhausted, owing to the great detention occasioned to the vessels by contrary winds and gales. Some ships came down with much difficulty on the 25th inst.; others have been up Channel twelve and thirteen weeks.”

 Note that in the second example JTS describes the vessels as having been up channel twelve or thirteen weeks while in the first example he says some of the vessels have “been nearly twelve weeks on the voyage”. He probably means the same thing in both cases, that it is twelve weeks since they left Hayle/St Ives. To give this some context it's worth noting that on 10 August 1823 JTS notes that the Ayr is back from Swansea with coals only four days after leaving Hayle loaded with copper ore while the next day, the 11th August, Henry completes the same round trip in five days.

JTS talks about coal being at 60s per way, what does this mean? It's more usual for “way” to be spelt “wey” but just as the spelling varies so to does the quantity, depending on location, era and commodity concerned. A wey is a measure of volume rather then weight so a wey of wet coal would be smaller by far than a wey of dry coal and a wey of large coal would be smaller than a wey of small coal. 

 Barton notes the following: “Whilst there may have been some slight improvement in the Newcomen engine by the 1770s, its capacity for “eating steam” was but little impaired. The consumption of the two Eastern engines (60” and 66”) at Poldice under the trial in August and September 1778 was 14,080 bushels of coal. This cost about 42s per wey of 64 bushels, giving a consumption of about 2,000 tons of coal per engine each year, at a cost of about £1,400.

This suggest that a wey was about three tons. So the price of a ton of coal had reached 15s 4d (77p) by 9 February 1828 while the earlier price hike in 1821 had seen it reach £1 per ton. £1 in 1821 would be worth about £100 today



John Tregerthan Short's diary

The Cornish Beam Engine, D B Barton, Cornwall Books, 1989


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