Clements Hall
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Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe, South Bank and Bishophill areas of York

Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe, South Bank and Bishophill areas of York

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Clementhorpe Boatyard and Slipway

Clementhorpe boat building has a very long history. A modern marker plaque informs us that shipbuilding has taken place since medieval times, with one of the yards being owned by the then Archbishop of York. Clementhorpe shipbuilding appears in an etching of 1718 by Edmond Barker. Boats had to be small enough to pass through Naburn Lock after 1757, until a new lock of larger capacity was built in Victorian times (1887-89).

The Slipway itself was built in 1836 by the Ouse Navigation Trustees. It was equipped with powerful winches and chains, and could accommodate a vessel up to 215 feet long. It closed in the 1930s.

The Yorkshire Gazette of 3 December 1836 advertised the sale of a “Commodious slip way and shipbuilding yard, conveniently adapted for the building and repair of vessels…the upper part of the slip way is about 215 feet length above the summer level of the river.”

In the 1843 William’s Directory there are two boat builders in Clementhorpe. They were both started by ships carpenters – Thomas Green at one and Richard Wray at the other. Greens yard was taken over by the Horner family in the 1850s and then by a number of businesses through the 1870s and early 1880s. Wray’s business was continued by his wife, who lived at Ings Cottage, and later by their son Joseph. The boats, which are variously described as sloops, barges, ships and boats, were mainly small vessels for the river trade or pleasure purposes.

At least ten boat builders operated in York in the nineteenth century, and of these eight were in Clementhorpe or the Skeldergate Postern area.



Key Events

Thomas Birch

Baines 1823 Directory


John Nicholson

Baines 1823 Directory


Joseph Turpin

Baines 1823 Directory


Mr J. M. Horner

1857 Shipping Report


Messrs. T Cooke & Sons

1877 Shipping Report

Into liquidation August 1879

Mr Charles Verity

1884, 1889 and 1893 Shipping Reports

Sold out March 1893; bought by Henry Connell of Selby

Messrs. Wray

1838, 1839 and 1885 Shipping Reports


Messrs. Robert Green & Sons

1845 Shipping Report


From the limited information available, it would seem that most of the boats built at Clementhorpe were between 40 and 120 tons. Many were for use in the river-borne coal trade or were pleasure boats, but there were also a number of fishing and sea-going vessels. The Yorkshire Gazette of 6 July 1861 announced the sale by auction of a number of pleasure boats belonging to Mrs Wray of Clementhorpe. The sale was due to declining business. On 29 June a further notice specifies that there were six superior pleasure boats for sale, of various sizes and with oars.

The Wray family was well-known in these parts, and it makes several unwelcome appearances in the local press. On 16 September 1865 the Yorkshire Gazette reported a case in which Joseph Wray, of Clementhorpe, was summoned by his mother for wilful damage and assault. The York Herald of the same day reported that Wray had broken a table and two chairs before assaulting his mother Maria.

Ship launches were generally a good spectator event, and therefore justified coverage in the local press. For example:

  • The 11 May 1844 edition of the York Herald reported the launch of ‘The Swan’ a 100-ton vessel at the patent slip. The ship was built by Messrs. Green and Son, and “the launch was effected in a masterly style, amidst the hearty cheers of a numerous crowd.”

  • On 21 November 1857 the York Herald reported that “On Tuesday last, a beautiful new ship was launched from the ship building yard of Mr J. M Horner of Clementhorpe, in the presence of a numerous company who had assembled to witness the event. The length of the vessel is 62 feet.”

  • The York Herald of 18 May 1875 described the building of a large fishing smack at the Clementhorpe yard. Apparently, the unusually large size of the boat attracted public attention. The boat had a difficult launch but, eventually, “glided” successfully into the water.

  • On 5 May 1876 the York Herald reported that Messrs. T. Cooke and Sons had launched a “smart little steamer which the owners designate a steam gondola.” It was intended for passenger transport.

  • In 1876, on 24 June, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported that Mr Steward, an Inspector to the Board of Trade, had approved a vessel built and owned by Joseph Wray. The steam yacht Lady Elizabeth was inspected and passed with flying colours.

  • The York Herald of 9 November 1877 reported the launch of another fishing smack by Messrs. T. Cooke and Sons at the shipyard in Clementhorpe. “The launch was successfully made, and was witnessed by a large number of persons. This may well have been the ‘Dew Drop’ – see below.

  •  On 14 November 1881 an advertisement was placed in the York Herald for the sale of “The screw pleasure steamer Elizabeth, licensed to carry 80 passengers.” Particulars could be obtained from Wray’s boat yard.

  •  On 1 June 1883 the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer had an advert for ships carpenters to work on small craft at Verity’s shipyard.

  •  The Shields Gazette of 4 March 1884 announced the launch of a ship at Verity’s yard. It was described as a “keel” for a coal merchant on North Street. On 6 March, the Beverley and East Riding Recorder also reported the launch, adding that the Mr Verity was “formerly of Beverley” and that the new owner was “Mr Frank Press, coal merchant, North Street.”

  • The Yorkshire Gazette of 8 December 1888 described how a Mr John Hobson had engaged Mr C. Verity to “draft and build the steamer, which will probably be completed by May next.”

  • On 15 May 1889 the York Herald reported the launch of the pleasure steamer at the Clementhorpe yard. The boat was a stern-wheeler, “an innovation so far as the Ouse is concerned.”

 Examples of local boats featured in a number of different publications, including:

  • The ‘Queen’, a 2,000 ton 9-gun vessel was launched In 1781. Built by Ralph Dodsworth, the vessel was designed to ply the Baltic trade.

  • The ‘Dew Drop’, launched by Messrs. T. Cooke & Sons in November 1877, was a 75 ton fishing smack. It was 81 feet long and 20 feet wide.

  • The ‘Clara’, launched by Mr Charles Verity in March 1884, was a coal boat. Weighing in at 110 tons, it was 59 feet long and 14 feet wide. The boat was owned by Francis Press, a coal merchant of North Street.

  • In April 1885, the ‘Millie’ was launched by Messrs. Wray. This was a pleasure boat, designed for use on the River Derwent.

  • The ‘Confidence’, launched by Mr J. M. Horner in November 1887. This was 62 feet long, 17 feet wide and weighed 120 tons, making it the largest ship launched in York by this date. The owner was Captain Joseph Whitteron.

  • Charles Verity also built the ‘May Queen’ in May 1889. This was a pleasure steamer, accommodating 200 passengers, and owned by Mr J. Hobson. The boat weighed 75 tons, and was 84 feet long and 15 feet wide. It is recorded making an excursion from York to Selby and Goole.

There were also various press announcements about the development and improvement of the shipyard area. For example:

  • In 1845 a contract was let for the construction of a new hauling bridge over the slipway. The Yorkshire Gazette of 15 February reported that the old bridge had fallen into disrepair, and that the new one was to an improved and more convenient design.

  • The 11 August 1849 edition of the Yorkshire Gazette reported that the slip connected to the shipyard had been considerably lowered and a new and substantial cradle attached which could accommodate the largest vessels using the river.

  • The 11 June 1864 edition of the York Herald reported the erection of the slip-yard in 1845 when the City Corporation agreed to lease a piece of ground and a cottage at Clementhorpe to the Ouse Navigation Trustees at an annual rent of £10.

  • The 7 August 1879 edition of the York Herald reported the liquidation of T. Cooke and Sons shipyard, and suggested that the lease should be put out to tender by the City Council.

  •  The 17 June 1889 edition of the Yorkshire Evening Press complained that the Corporation of the City had permitted the towing path or footway from Clementhorpe to get into a scandalous condition.

  • On 10 January 1891, the York Herald reported that the Navigation Committee of York Corporation was trying to let the shipyard in Clementhorpe.

  • The 24 December 1891 edition of the York Herald reported that the slipway, for the docking and repairing of vessels, had been re-constructed. “Vessels can now be got into the yard without difficulty.”

  • On 24 December 1892 the York Herald reported that a contract had been let by the City Council for the piling of the riverbank from Clementhorpe slipway to the City boundary.

  • The York Herald of 31 December 1892 reported that a committee of York Corporation had commissioned a feasibility study into the conversion of Clementhorpe slipway into a dry dock accommodating vessels of up to 7 feet draught.

  • On 1 December 1894 the Yorkshire Gazette reported that work had been completed on the planting of trees along the Clementhorpe bank of the river.

  • On 8 September 1930 the Leeds Mercury announced that the City Council had agreed to pile and fill in the slipway at Clementhorpe.

CLEM - Shipyard

This air photo taken in 1921 clearly shows the slipway. A large boat has been hauled up for work to be carried out, while a number of smaller vessels are moored at the entrance. The small Slip Bridge, which linked the two stretches of wharf along the river front, can just be made out near the moored boats (Photo courtesy of the YAYAS Evelyn Collection)

Boats and the river have always been part of the Clementhorpe scene. The York Herald of 17 November 1875 described how Thomas Air of the King’s Staith and Thomas Wrai [sic] of Clementhorpe had agreed to a sculling competition on the River Ouse, to be rowed on Saturday December 11. Thomas Wray was a local shipbuilder. A further race between the two competitors over one mile in open outrigged boats was reported in The York Herald of 17 November 1877. The winner received a gold plate valued at £1. It would appear that their race was an annual occurrence, because earlier editions report the two of them training in skiffs on the river close to Tom Wray’s shipyard.

The small slip bridge or drawbridge across the riverside end of the slipway obviously posed some danger to pedestrians – and especially those returning from a heavy session in the local beer house. There are several mentions of accidents in the local newspapers, for example: the Morning Post of 23 August 1881 and the Yorkshire Gazette of 27 August 1881 reported the death of a coach-builder, Henry Burnett of Clementhorpe, by drowning in the River Ouse. He fell into the river off the slip bridge over the entrance to the shipyard. Like many other coroner’s courts dealing with local deaths, this one was held at The Slip Inn.