Home Trade Voyages

"Home Trade" was the official way of distinguishing a voyage that was more local than a foreign-going voyage (and "local" in this case means local to Britain). All voyages in United Kingdom coastal waters were home trade, but short runs between UK ports and some of the closer continental ports were designated home trade voyages as well. A home trade voyage could thus involve going to near-continental ports. The definition of "overseas" ports accessible to vessels and crews under a home trade Agreement was "between Elbe and Brest limits" (in navigational terms, between the mouth of the River Elbe 54° N 8.80° E and the Port of Brest 48.36° N 4.48° W). For ship owners this meant vessels and their crews could be moved between coastal voyages around the UK and near-continental voyages under the terms of the same six-month running contract. This reduced the amount of paperwork that a short-sea operator had to undertake. How it might have affected men's working conditions is still unclear to maritime historians.

William Cram was the Brio crew member selected for detailed commentary in the annotated home trade agreement you can consult on this site. Looking at his voyages on the Brio and four other vessels over a period of three years during the early twentieth century, we concluded that he preferred keeping closer to home: his voyages were short-distance. Yet, there were home trade Agreements that also showed him "abroad", in French ports. Page 16 of a home trade Agreement contains the relevant information: a detailed account of all the runs of a vessel in the home trade together with the dates. Cram's ships traded mostly from the Tyne to ports in Britain where there was a heavy demand for coal. Between 1908 and 1911, he had regular employment on a total of five coal-carrying vessels, or colliers. All were steam powered. The Brio was frequently in London, and occasionally at other English ports such as Plymouth. So was Cram, though it is well worth remembering that the full account of six-month voyages for a ship is not an account of the voyages made by an individual. Men left for many reasons: sickness, for example. In the case of one of Cram's shipmates, his seafaring was ended accidentally when he drowned in dock at a port not far from home: another was detained by the police before he could rejoin his vessel for its next run. These incidents were reported in the logbook which is integral to an Eng. 6 Agreement.

As a seaman on a voyage to Rouen, Cram was covered by the running (home trade) Agreement: as a seaman on a voyage to Stockholm, Abo, Gëfle, and Hudiksvall he had to sign a foreign-going Agreement. The latter ports, all Baltic, were outside the Brest-Elbe limits. In Cram's case, this led to his entry in a foreign-going contract, and that required an important piece of information not called for in the home trade agreement, his home address. As it turns out, Cram gave two addresses.

The Brio showing home addresses of the crew, information commonly requested in Crew Agreements after 1894. Our featured Home-Trade seafarer, William Cram, provided two addresses (ON 97966, 1908, MHA).

More generally, there is evidence of the seasonal pattern of north east coast trade. Cram's one voyage outside British or near-continental ports took place between July and October 1908, months when the Baltic was free of ice, and the region was a source of grain cargoes, as well as pine and pitch.

He had regular employment on a total of five vessels between 1908 and 1911. They were all steam, and were typically short-sea passages. Passage times can be traced from the final page of a home trade agreement.

Reference to the sample home trade Agreement shows the Brio arriving at Rouen three days after leaving the Tyne (6/10/08-9/10/08) and making the return voyage in the same length of time (four days having elapsed unloading and loading in the port of Rouen). Later in the year the owners switched the vessel to regular runs between the Tyne and London, a two-day voyage. The vessel's deployment likely reflects the increased demand for fuel in the capital city in Winter.