Sunday, 20 March 2011


There was, in the early eighteenth century, a craft plying the Estuary called the ‘Water Tin Quart’. This is according to a thin book about Topsham by D.M. Bradbeer called ‘The Story of the Manor and Port of Topsham’ and published by Town and Country Press in 1968. Mr Broadbeer doesn’t reveal his source but he must have found one.

The business of the ‘Water Tin Quart’ was no less curious than its name. It sailed up and down the Estuary from Topsham to Exmouth Bar where it laded a cargo of sea water which it carried back to a salthouse in Topsham. (Meekin's salt manufactory at Riversmeet which gets a mention under 'Saltworking' in the Topsham-Exton Cycle Walkway Environmental Statement.) At the saltworks the sea water was transferred into a huge cauldron. There it was boiled until salt granulated.

The name ‘Water Tin Quart’ must have been a Georgian joke. Perhaps there was something about the lines of the vessel that reminded its owner, the salt boiler John Meacham, more often known as John Meekin, of a tin quart measure. She must have made the trip more or less every navigable tide to keep the business going. She would have been a familiar sight on the river.

Salt, of course, was much in demand in the eighteenth century on the Estuary because of the cod fishing off the Newfoundland coast. The ships that carried the fishermen across the Atlantic could not set off without a hold full of salt. The enterprising Mr Meekin, according to D.M. Bradbeer, went on to bring in rock salt by sea from Liverpool, to take his business to what is now the Bridge Inn, and to make a small fortune.

No comments:

Post a Comment