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English Merchant Shipping, Trade, and Maritime Communities
Isaac Sailmaker (1653-1721) 'The Island of Barbados',
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Our research focuses on three key themes: merchant shipping, seafarers, and maritime trade.


Our key question is what was the size and geographical distribution of the English/British merchant fleet, c.1588-1765? Using a rich seam of sources we will examine the merchant fleet of England through an analysis of the country's head-ports, providing the first systematic, nationwide analysis of this sector of the economy over two centuries. Our nationwide approach means we can investigate the exogenous and endogenous factors that shaped the shipping capacity of a particular region or port and compare this directly with developments elsewhere.


For this theme we will analyse the size and regional distribution of the English/British maritime community, examine the careers of individual mariners, and reconstruct linkages between individuals through factors like kinship, financial exchanges, and trade. To penetrate further into the socio-cultural world of these seafarers we will undertake three enriched case studies of ports that represent different aspects of the maritime community: London, because of its concentration of prominent merchant companies and persons trading globally; Bristol, because of its links to the 'Atlantic world'; and Southampton, with its focus upon European and coastal trade. Our findings from this theme will help shape our work with our impact partners.


We are examining the development of England's/Britain's overseas and coastal trade. Our dataset will allow us to reconstruct the directional flow of trade routes over two centuries, and enable us to better understand the symbiotic nature of both branches of activity by demonstrating, for example, how often ships, merchants, and shipmasters moved between various branches of trade. Utilising GIS-Mapping technology, this information will, in due course, be displayed in an interactive map on our website.

Useful Links

Medieval and Tudor Ships Project -

Danish Soundtoll Registers online -

Navigocorpus Online -

Medieval Londoners -

Tudor Revels -