THE chance discovery of the remains of slipways and other ship-building artefacts on the foreshore at the Severnside village of Sudbrook, near Caldicot, led local maritime historian Richard Clammer to begin research which has now resulted in the publication of a fascinating new book.

Subtitled “From Sudbrook to South America” it tells the story of Sudbrook, its forgotten shipyard and the remarkable international engineering achievements of its owners T A & C H Walker.

Civil engineering contractor Thomas Andrew Walker arrived in Monmouthshire in December 1879 to complete the construction of the GWR’s troubled Severn Railway Tunnel which had recently been flooded by the infamous “Great Spring”.

Having set up home at Mountballen House near Crick, one of his first tasks was to build the new village of Sudbrook, complete with school, hospital and church to house his workforce.

South Wales Argus: Thomas Andrew WalkerThomas Andrew Walker

Walker was already highly respected for his numerous railway projects in the UK and abroad, the first phase of the immense Manchester Ship Canal. He is best remembered in South Wales for constructing dock basins at Swansea, Penarth, Barry.

By the time the challenging Severn Tunnel was successfully completed in 1886, Walker had already won a lucrative contract to build new docks in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and decided to open a shipyard at Sudbrook to construct the vessels he would need to carry stone across the River Plate from his quarries in Uruguay to the new works.

All of these made the hazardous 6,570 mile voyage from Sudbrook to South America under their own steam.

Local men Jo Talbot and William Cottington were sent out to Uruguay to build piers, railways and to found a sister village to Sudbrook named Conchillas which survives to this day as a National Historic Monument.

The Sudbrook Shipyard opened in 1888 and over the next 34 years built more than 250 steam hopper barges, coasters, tugs, sailing ships and other small vessels for the Walker Company and many other ship owners.

All are meticulously listed in an appendix while the colourful histories of many are explored in detail in the book.

T A Walker died in 1889 and was buried in Caerwent churchyard where his tomb and memorial lych gate can still be seen.

His extensive business interests passed via his executors to his nephew Charles Hay Walker.

South Wales Argus: Charles Hay WalkerCharles Hay Walker

C H Walker & Co Ltd was incorporated in 1898 and went on to build more railways and port facilities ranging from a dry dock in Egypt to a dockyard in Bermuda, and even the first railway tunnel through the Andes Mountains.

In addition, there were several more South American dock contracts and, by the beginning of the 20th century Walker had accumulated immense wealth and owned two stately homes in Surrey.

Following the First World War and a costly error in judgement relating to a new dock contract in Bueno Aires, Walker’s fortunes gradually declined and the shipyard closed in 1922 after the launch of its final ship, the “Frensham”.

South Wales Argus: Sudbrook Village, looking towards the pumping station  with Church Row on the left and the coffee house on the right. Walker was deeply religious and would  allow no pubs in the villageSudbrook Village, looking towards the pumping station  with Church Row on the left and the coffee house on the right. Walker was deeply religious and would  allow no pubs in the village

The 246-page hardback book is the result of several years of meticulous research and is beautifully illustrated with more than 300 rare photographs and plans.

As well as telling the fascinating story of Sudbrook village, its forgotten shipyard and the many vessels built there, it provides the first detailed personal and professional biography of T A and C H Walker who, despite being two of Britain’s foremost civil engineering contractors of their time, have never previously received the recognition they deserve.

In 2017 Richard and his wife Carol wrote “Beachley and the First World War”, and Richard is author of several other maritime history books.

He will be giving an illustrated talk about the new book on Wednesday, November 15, at 7.30pm at the Drill Hall in Chepstow.

This is a regular Chepstow Society meeting but non-members are welcome, and Chepstow Bookshop will have copies of the book on sale.

T A & C H Walker, Shipbuilders, Railway and Civil Engineering Contractors: From Sudbrook to South America” by Richard Clammer is published by Lightmoor Press. Price: £40.