A Shipyard and a Mission Timelines: All, Victorian (1837 - 1901)


The 1871 Census shows a single man by the name of Henry M Restarick lodging at Ridgeway cottages in Northam. In 1871 he gave his occupation as “Ropemaker, employing 3 men and 3 boys.” In 1877 this same Henry Morgan Restarick (1833-1899) took over Johnson’s East-the-Water Shipyard (the Brunswick Wharf site). Restarick was an Axminster man, but no stranger to shipbuilding, for he had been office manager for John Cox & Son, shipbuilders of Bridport, and had also served as office manager at the Cleave Houses shipyard under George and John Cox. He presumably served at Cleave Houses until it closed, for it did so in 1877, no-doubt enabling Restarick to cherry-pick the redundant staff for his new enterprise. At the time he took over Johnson’s, it was the last working ship-yard in Bideford. Under him it continued to specialise in building deep sea fishing vessels.

1877 proved a busy year for Restarick, for in that year he also founded the seaman’s Bethel chapel in Torrington Street and became its first pastor. John Cox had been a Weslyan preacher and Restarick continued in the Methodist tradition. As such he was a strong advocate of the temperance movement, and very involved in local matters, twice served as Bideford’s mayor.

In 1881 John Cleveland sold, the Manor of Bideford and its lands, at least all of them except Restarick’s Shipyard, which was was specifically excluded from the transaction. The new owners were the Mayor and Corporation of Bideford, thus the Aldermen and Councillors became the Lords of the Manor. Restarick’s Shipyard, having been excluded from this transaction, would go on to play a role in the early history of the Fisherman’s Mission (aka. the Royal National Mission to Deep-Sea Fishermen).

With tobacco selling for four shillings per pound onshore, but only eighteen-pence at sea, English seamen had a strong incentive to purchase their supplies offshore. To meet this demand, Dutch vessels known as ‘copers’ (from the Dutch k?pen for ‘to buy’) were sailing with the north-sea fishing fleets, but in addition to selling tobacco to the seamen, they also functioned as “grog-shops.” As a result, drunken seamen were routinely endangering not only themselves and their ship-mates, but even their boats. Concerned about this situation, Ebenezer Mather, founder of the Fisherman’s Mission, reasoned that, by equipping a mission vessel to accompany the fleet, he could help address the issue. The mission ship would finance itself by fishing, but also carry a missionary, a medical box, and a substantial quantity of cheap tobacco, the latter to be made available at cost price and without the accompanying temptation to drink.

By 1883-84, Mather had already secured the support of tobacco manufacturers, launched a mission smack, and proved the model worked, so he decided to acquire a further three boats. The first, the Salem, he purchased from a Hull smack-owner, but the other two, the Cholmondeley, and the Edward Auriot, he had specially built at Restarick’s shipyard, as was the mission’s fifth smack, the Edward Birkbeck. The Edward Birkbeck’s launch was photographed, and the picture graces many books on Bideford history.

The activity of the mission ships was welcomed by the fleet owners, whilst the copers, finding demand for their services reduced, were eventually driven out of business.

Restarick also built ships for a range of other clients. The last boat launched from his yard in 1886, in the process becoming caught by the tide and causing slight damaging to the Long Bridge. In 1887 Restarick’s Yard was purchased by I. Baker and Son, Merchants, under whose ownership a new sea-wall was constructed, and it became Brunswick Wharf. The Baker’s warehouse sign is a familiar landmark at the eastern end of the bridge.

As if to underline Bideford’s decline as a maritime centre, the town had lost its status as a port in 1882, a status that was thankfully restored in 1928.