Evan T. Jones and Richard Stone
University of Wales Press, £29.99
Review Antony Firth
This is an absorbing account of medieval shipping, prompted by and focusing on the Newport ship – discovered in 2002 while building an arts centre near the River Usk in Newport, south Wales. It was a ‘big ship’, about 30m long and capable of carrying the equivalent of about 160 tuns (barrels) of wine. Dendrochronology indicates that it was built after 1449, almost certainly in the Basque Country; it was brought into Newport for refit or repair in the late 1460s and subsequently abandoned. Palaeo-environmental evidence and finds point to the vessel spending time in Portugal and, broadly, the Atlantic seaboard of Wales, England, France, and Spain.
The book itself comprises 12 chapters arising from a conference in 2014 that sought expressly to promote research into the ‘World of the Newport Ship’. That world proves to be both rich and complex, and is brought to life in this substantial, interdisciplinary volume. Archaeological results from the ship, including digital reconstruction of its dimensions and capabilities, are the catalyst for a series of chapters by historians drawing on a broad range of documentary sources. Packed with authoritative detail, this volume adeptly demonstrates how the stories of ships ripple outwards: from the specific dynastic machinations affecting Newport during the Wars of the Roses, out to the ‘Severn Sea’ and its web of maritime interdependencies, and further out still to the huge volume of trade and shipping that connected the Atlantic seaboard to the North, Baltic, and Mediterranean seas.
As well as operating on multiple spatial scales, the chapters oscillate between the minutiae of individuals, events, and specific vessels – including possible identities for the Newport ship – and statistical treatments of overarching patterns in ownership, cargoes, and voyages. The book includes some high-quality colour illustrations (I would have preferred even more) and is well-supported with maps, tables, diagrams, end notes, and a glossary. The editors and authors are to be congratulated for providing such a vivid analysis, skilfully navigating the maritime dimension of mid-15th-century Europe and the place of the Newport ship within it.
This review appeared in CA 345.