The 1069 Voyage

A smaller replica of the ship that sailed from Lyme

JUST three years after the Battle of Hastings when William the Conqueror invaded England and claimed the English throne, a Lyme merchant ship set out on a voyage to the city of York.

An account of the voyage is recorded in The Chartul of Selby Abbey and is linked to a grant of land at Selebya (Selby) given by William to a monk, named Bededict, who is described as “a brother of the house of Saint German at Auxerre”.

In a vision, the monk had been instructed to establish a religious cell in North of England. When Bededict arrived in England from France he confused Selebya with Salesbyria and found himself in Salisbury, Wiltshire.

The Bishop of Salisbury came to his rescue; because he held land and had a house in Lyme he was aware of its maritime activities. The monk was sent to Lyme and it is recorded in The Chartul that “he set sail from Lyme in a merchant ship bound for York in the year 1069”.

The evidence would suggest that this was not the first passage of a Lyme ship to that city. The Bishop would hardly have sent Bededict on a maiden voyage, he was after all on a mission for both God and King.

The sea passage to York is about 450 miles with numerous hazards and strong tidal flows. Portland Bill with its notorious race is followed by Saint Aldhelm’s head, then there is the Needles (entrance into the Solent). The treacherous ship swallowing Goodwin Sands were a further threat as was the squall prone North Sea.

Next came the Humber Estuary and finally the long haul up the River Ouse to Selby, which at that time was separated from York by some 10 miles of woodland. There can be no doubt that it was a dangerous passage in a clinker built vessel with an estimated length of 14 meters and a beam of almost four meters.

By necessity it would have had to be a stable craft, the six oarsmen would have achieved a speed of about 3.5 miles per hour, under its single sail and with a favourable wind about double that distance. Its strong timber construction made it capable of carrying a cargo of between 6-7 tons.

Depending on the weather, the voyage could have taken between four to six weeks. While there is no indication as to the cargo, French wine is a distinct possibility.

The voyage to York predates any other from Lyme by 225 years and puts its maritime history into a new national perspective. It begs the question as to why the town’s museum completely ignores this important historic event.

Footnote Challenge: It would be great if either the yacht or gig club could stage a re-enactment.

Peter Lacey
Local historian

JOIN OUR MAILING LISTStay up to date with all the news from Lyme Regis, Uplyme & Charmouth by signing up to our regular newsletter.

View our privacy policy.

Donate to LymeOnline