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When Connah's Quay was a busy port

Tall ship at Queensferry
Tall ships were once a common sight on the Dee estuary

By Nick Bourne
Looking back on Connah's Quay's boat building past amid news Britain's last three-mast topsail schooner built on Dock Road is to return to local waters after more than a century

Connah's Quay fishermen set up a group this year to find funds to reopen a dock enabling boats to be put into the waters of the Dee once again.

But a century ago it was a different story with several boatyards building ships and barges to order in the port of Connah's Quay, and then setting sail to exotic locations such as south America.

That all ended with the demise of the port in the 1960s, marking an end to a sea-faring tradition stretching back to the 1500s, according to Connah's Quay historian Vic Williams.

Kathleen and May
The Kathleen and May was built at Connah's Quay in 1900

He attributes the success of the port to one man, entrepreneur Charles Davison (1822-1908), who owned the land on which he established the port on Dock Road.

Today it's an industrial estate with no dock to access the Dee, although local fishermen are hoping to remedy that situation.

Davison brought the former Buckley railway line to the dock and helped link it to the Mold-Wrexham line from which goods were transported across the region and then put to sea and exported around the world.

Not much remains as a legacy to Connah's Quay's busy port.

The Custom House - a pub - built 1774, still stands alongside the old railway line which is now a cycle track.

A short ride away is Railway Terrace, a row of houses built to house Davison's workers.

And Farfield Hall, Davison's stately-looking home, still stands, used as a Masonic lodge and community facility.

Historian Mr Williams' bungalow on nearby Derwen Close, near Connah's Quay Cemetery, was built on what was Davison's orchard.

He reckons a memorial should be erected in memory of the man who did so much for Connah's Quay.

Farfield Hall
Farfield Hall, built as the family home for the founder of Connah's Quay port

"I can't think of anyone who has done more," says Mr Williams who is busy writing a book about the history of Connah's Quay.

In an earlier volume, Connah's Quay 1566-1966, The Diary of a Port, he lists the boatyards and the boats they put to sea.

Among them is the name Lizzie May. Today, it's Britain's last three-masted topsail schooner, which was later renamed the Kathleen and May.

It came to the public's attention when used in the 1970s BBC TV drama The Onedin Line.

The schooner was built in 1900 by Ferguson and Baird - in what is now a timber yard next to the Custom House - for another famous son of Connah's Quay, John Coppack, who was a businessman, boat broker and owner.

"Its launch caused much local excitement," said Mr Williams. "With the master of Mold Road School entering in his diary that children were given a day's holiday for the launch.

"The ship glided gracefully into the water amid the loud cheers of the spectators."

By 1998 it was lying derelict in Gloucester before Devon businessman Stephen Clarke restored the boat to its former glory.

Now it is to make a return to the region's waters once again, running public trips along Liverpool Bay and the north Wales coast from Liverpool's Canning Dock after being a static feature as part of Liverpool Boat Show next spring.

Railway Terrace
Railway Terrace was built for workers' homes adjacent to the port's rail line

Thanks to the popularity of the BBC costume drama, the boat is one of the most famous built at Connah's Quay, but the first was in 1858.

That was a schooner called Mag, built by David Jones who also made another called William and Leigh in 1864 for a Buckley brick manufacturer to transport his wares.

By the early 1900s, demand for wooden boats started to fall and by January 1915, the owner of Ferguson, the yard that built the Kathleen and May, was in Chester Bankruptcy Court.

And, according to Mr Williams, alongside this, the port of Connah's Quay was in decline.

Other associated businesses continued on the dockside but, when the railway lines were closed in 1962, the quay was hit again, compounded by silting of the Dee - although plans for the use of hovercraft was mooted as a possible remedy in 1961.

The port was eventually bought by the local council and converted into an industrial estate in the late '60s.

Earlier this year, Deeside fishermen set up a group, Quay Watermans and Recreational Association, hoping to regenerate Connah's Quay docks for leisure use, mirroring the successful restoration of nearby Greenfield Dock further along the Dee estuary.

Boats and railway carriages on the dock at Connah's Quay port, date unknown
Boats and railway carriages on the dock at Connah's Quay port, date unknown

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