Site of ‘Royal Charter’ shipyard

Site of ‘Royal Charter’ shipyard

On the opposite side of the Dee from the Wales Coast Path in this vicinity was the shipyard which built the Royal Charter, wrecked off Anglesey in 1859 with the loss of more than 400 lives.

Looking at the Dee today, it may be hard to believe that it was once home to shipyards which built ocean-going vessels. The lower reaches of the river had been turned into a canal in the 18th century, running between straight bunds (earth banks) which were built with rock and soil excavated from the channel.

There were many complaints in the 19th century that shipping on the river was hampered by accumulations of silt. Launching ships here was a tricky business, as the Royal Charter demonstrated when it left the yard of the Sandycroft Foundry Company.

The firm was set up by the Rigby family, which owned an ironworks in nearby Hawarden. It belonged to William Patterson when the Royal Charter was built in 1855. The new hull failed to slide into the water at the first attempt and remained in an embarrassing position for a fortnight. The North Wales Chronicle reported in September that the “monster screw steamer” had been relieved “from her awkward fix at Sandycroft” – but had quickly run aground opposite Flint while under tow to Liverpool.

Adverts for the Royal Charter’s first departure for Melbourne in November 1855 said the journey would take 60 days and the ship, registered at 2,719 tons, combined “all the advantages of a steamer with those of a clipper sailing ship”.

The vessel was lost in a storm when it had almost reached the end of a voyage from Australia. Its passengers included people who had made their fortunes in the gold rush. For more on this, see our page about the Royal Charter memorial in Moelfre.

Another famous ship from the Deeside shipyards is the still-extant Kathleen & May, built in Connah’s Quay.

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