In the 19th and early 20th century, Connah’s Quay was one of the largest and most important ports on the Dee Estuary. From where you are standing you could have watched numerous river craft ploughing up and down the river delivering and collecting their cargoes.
In Roman times, Chester had its own harbour, and became the principal port in northern England. But even as early as the 15th century the silting of the river was causing concern and a ‘Royal Brief’ was commissioned in 1449 to assessed the problem. In 1677 another report concluded that the river was so choked with sand that a vessel of 20 tonnes could not reach Chester. It proposed the construction of a deep water channel along the Flintshire shore to allow continued access to Chester by larger vessels.
In 1737 this deep channel, the River Dee New Cut, was built. It followed the southern bank of the Dee from Chester to the small
hamlet of Golftyn, where a stone pier was built to shelter boats, waiting for favourable winds and tide. Connah’s Quay developed around this pier, and most of the population were employed in shipping or related industries.
Many industries developed around the port, taking advantage of the cheap transport the estuary offered. Tramways and railways linked the port with nearby ironworks and collieries and the opening of the railway link to Buckley in 1862, also enabled Buckley bricks to be exported from Connah’s Quay.
One of the most important industries drawn to the area was John Summers Steelworks. The business had begun when John Summers senior, a Lancashire clogger, bought a nail making machine at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and began making nails to fasten iron strips onto the bottom of clogs. After his death his sons carried on the business and expanded into North Wales, building the Shotton works in 1896. By 1909 the company was the largest manufacturer of galvanized steel in the country, in addition to producing steel nail strips and sheets. Locals have memories of watching the coasters turning in the estuary to collect their cargoes of sheet steel and coils of steel rope from the John Summers wharves. The blue buildings of the modern steelworks, now run by Tata Steel, till dominate the northern riverside.
By the 19th century Connah’s Quay was thriving, mainly exporting coal and bricks but also chemicals and fertilizers, and importing timber from the Baltic. In 1844 ships were recorded leaving for Barrow, Cardigan, Ireland, France, Germany, Nova Scotia and Norway.
One of the most successful shipping companies was established by Captain John Coppack, in the front parlour of his house in Chapel Street, in 1860. The business expanded and traded for over 100 years, beginning with sailing ships but later using steam powered vessels, running 10 or more ships at its peak in the early 1900s.
Shipbuilding flourished too. Best known were Ferguson and Baird, who were renowned for their wooden sailing ships. One of their boats, the Kathleen and May, was restored to its former glory in 1988, and is still sailing, the last remaining wooden hull three-masted top sail schooner. It was built in 1900 for Captain Coppack and originally named Lizzie May after his two daughters, but was renamed by a later owner.
The decline of the traditional industries in 20th century, and the competition from faster rail and road transport reduced the trade on the river and the port declined.
Look out for the work of Random – Flintshire’s Banksy – the mysterious graffiti artist who leaves his black and white stencilled drawings on structures along Flintshire’s coast, inspired by the old working class industries in the county.