Many ships come and go from the quayside at 'eald horswealan pol', bringing goods from other towns, both in Britain and overseas, to be sold at the market. When they leave they also carry away much of the surplus products from Wichamstow and the other surrounding estates. Many visitors arrive here too, for the rivers and seas are as widely used as the roads (and often far faster and safer), particularly when travelling long distances. A port, even a modest one such as here gives the folk of Wichamstow a cosmopolitan air that only a few towns could boast of. Even a trader who had in a roundabout fashion arrived at Wichamstow from say 200 miles away would be regarded as a foreigner to some extent. His accent would have been different, even if he spoke the same language. So how would a truly foreign traveller have been welcomed? If the various accounts from the period are to be believed; they were welcomed with open arms and very little racism. After all, they were worth something.
It is also here that Styrbjorn ðe Scipwyrhta builds and repairs ships and boats. And hopefully, any foreign ship owners might not really know the going rate of ship-work, and pay over the odds for repairs. I told you they were worth something.
The original quayside was just a gap in the banks of the river Fisclacu. The smaller boats were hauled up on to the bank to avoid the tide letting them settle on their sides and flooding the hull. You see, the ships of the day had a pointed hull in cross-section, without any broad flat area to rest on, so they toppled over as the water receded. This is sometimes a useful trait of these types of boats for hull maintenance, but when it occurs by accident, it's a real humbug to sort matters out and to prop it up as the water is coming back in, involving a lot of spare hands. It's a huge embarrassment to the ship's owner and crew to let your vessel fall over, something not easily lived down. When the water is bailed out, there is often a great deal of silt to flush out as well.
The building of the jetty, and then the quay has enabled larger vessels to moor at Wichamstow. This meant that more goods are being pushed through the town on any one visit, making the markets larger and drawing more people from the countryside. There is one little problem that is causing some concern in amongst those who have a lot to do with ships. The river is silting up, and the shallow water under the jetty is getting even shallower. The only way to sort this out is to build the jetty further out into the stream, or build a new one further down river. The cause of this is their very own success. The volume of land that is being ploughed each year is getting greater, and the tree loss just that bit more, all conspiring to wash more soil into the river each winter.
The muddy bed of the river is littered with boulders, but not ones that have arrived by geological forces. These are the jetsam of trading missions. That is to say, rock that was carried by visiting ships who have had to jettison excess ballast in the form of rock to balance the ship in the water. Too much of this ballast, and the ship will wallow in the river, endangering the crew and more importantly the cargo if the ship were to capsize. Too little, and the ship will float high in the water making it skittish and again in danger of flipping over, especially when the sail goes up. Often the ballast is in the form of usable stone for building, or stone to be carved into querns, ensuring that profit can be made out of anything that's inside the hull, including the crew if needs be.
Click here to return to the village.