1623, Ipswich shipowners complain that Harwich impounded their ships

William Andrew, John Carnaby, John Martin and Thomas Muninge, mariners. SP 14/138 f. 103 (1623)

To the right honourable the lords and others of his majesties most honourable privie counsell.

The humble peticion of William Andrew John Carnaby John Martin and Thomas Muninge mariners, owners of divers shipes of Ypswich.

Humbly sheweth that whereas divers of your peticioners shipes, laden with coales, and the passage hoyes, laden with butter and cheese, and bound for this port of London, are all stayed at Harwich, and not suffered to proceed upon their said voyage, to the greate detriment, and hinderance of your peticioners: they humbly beseech your lordships, to order that the said shipes may be permitted freely to come to the said port of London, puttinge in good securitie, that the said shipes or hoyes, shall not saile to any other place, and the rather for that some of their said ladinge is perishable, and all most usefull and necessarie for the said citie.

And they shall daylie pray for the longe continuance of your lordships in all health and happines.

Report by Barbara Prynn

Ipswich is at the head of the Orwell estuary in east Suffolk. In 1603 the population was estimated at about 4,300. At that time it was the most important shipbuilding centre in the country after London. It was estimated in 1625, that there had been an annual average of twelve launchings for the past thirty years. A head port with resident customs and Admiralty officials, Ipswich played an important part in the Newcastle coal trade with fifty colliers of between two and three hundred  tons plying regularly between Tyne and Thames around six times a year. In 1621 the Ipswich Member, Robert Snelling, promoted a navigation bill to compel merchants to use English shipping. In that same year Snelling’s colleague, William Cage, presented the Shipwright Company’s patent as a grievance. (Snelling and Cage were both elected aldermen on 6 December 1620). A report that the ship owners of Ipswich had promoted a bill to dissolve the Shipwright Company seems to have been unfounded.[1]

In the seventeenth century the coastal trade to and from Ipswich thrived. In those days it was expensive to transport goods by road, and whenever possible they were taken by water. Many goods were transported along the coast from one part of Britain to another. Coal from Newcastle was brought to Ipswich and farm produce was taken to London.[2] In exchange for the coal, from Ipswich was sent wheat, malt, beans and butter. From Ipswich to London was sent grain, butter, cheese, woad, fish and a little cloth. In exchange London sent to Ipswich iron, soap, alum, dyestuffs and groceries.[3]

In 1614, the author of England’s Way to Win Wealth described Harwich as ‘a royal harbour’ and ‘a proper town,’ whose dry beach made it an ideal location from which to put to sea fleets of fishing boats to compete with the Dutch ‘there being no place in all Holland comparable’. However this potential remained unexploited, local fishing activity being limited to three or four vessels which caught cod and ling off Iceland every year. The town’s principal trade was the shipping of coal from Newcastle to London but an attempt to erect a staple for sea coal in the port was scotched by the Privy Council on the advice of Newcastle’s aldermen in 1616.In 1618 the newly appointed navy commissioners briefly considered developing Harwich as a naval base, only to be advised that it was ‘not a fit port except for ships on special service.[4]

The impounding of the ships from Ipswich which carried coal from Newcastle, destined for London, may be accounted for by the competition between Ipswich and Harwich for this trade.


[1] ‘Ipswich’ in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010, http://www.histparl.ac.uk/volume/1604-1629/constituencies/ipswich

[2] Tim Lambert, ‘A Short History of Ipswich’, http://www.localhistories.org/ipswich.html

[3] Thomas Stuart Willan, The Inland Trade (1976), p. 28.

[4] ‘Harwich’ in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010, http://www.histparl.ac.uk/volume/1604-1629/constituencies/harwich


This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, 1600-1625’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.