A GLOUCESTERSHIRE maritime historian has written a book after spending 21 years researching the Purton Hulks.

Paul Barnett, who grew up in Dursley, has been fascinated with the ‘ship graveyard’ ever since he was a boy and is about to publish Fore & Aft: Lost Ships of the Severn Sea.

“This was a great place to play,” he said.

“It was a fascinating collection of vessels.”

There are 86 ships along the length of the River Severn, most dating back to the 1950s. Redundant ships were deliberately beached to reinforce the riverbank and so owners could avoid the costs incurred were they to sink at their moorings.

Paul, who comes from a maritime family and spent time in the merchant navy, set out to research the ships after being horrified by the damage caused by arson and graffiti that he saw after revisiting Purton Hulks in 1999.

Finding a lack of information at Gloucestershire Archives, there was no requirement to record the end of a ship’s life in those days, Paul decided to document them himself.

“I thought it might be useful to try and record what was there.

“It has been a labour of love.

“It’s played a major role in my life,” Paul said.

“Gloucestershire has often been overlooked we have got a 220-mile waterway.

“This is something I feel is an integral part of the maritime history of the UK. We should be proud of it.”

Purton Hulks is now recognised as the largest ship’s graveyard in mainland Britain.

In 2010 one of the boats, Harriett, was designated a scheduled monument by Historic England.

It is the only remaining example of a Kennet barge anywhere in the world.

As well as Purton, Paul’s book provides information about ships in Sharpness, Shepperdine, Lydney and other places along the River Severn.

Anyone interested in purchasing a copy of the book should email barnadillo@aol.com

More information about Purton Hulks is available at friendsofpurton.org.uk