Cavendish Ship Stores
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Special Report on BASS (100th anniversary) - from The Ship Supplier (Edition 28)
History of BASS
The earliest specifically established 'British' ships stores organisation of which some records have survived claims that in 1906 "The Liverpool Ships' Stores Dealers Association" was formed with John Burnyeat as the honorary secretary writes Sean Moloney.
The wisdom of forming a trade association was probably ahead of its time but the advent of the Great War in 1914 meant it became invaluable. In Liverpool at least, the ships stores industry had a unified voice with which to lobby the bureaucrats who regulated the country's major ports. According to historical records, it was not until 1915 that the British Ship Stores Association first saw the light of day and operated more as a regional organisation. The term 'British' in this context may have been a misnomer and little more than a convenient umbrella.
According to 'BASS History 1906-2006 One Hundred Years of Service' by Peter Andersen, ship supply in Britain started many years earlier that the formation of the Liverpool Ships' Stores Dealers Association in 1906. Samuel Pepys The records of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) contain many references to ships stores and outfitting. In those days the Royal Navy was a happy hunting ground for ship suppliers and dominated the suppliers' time more fruitfully than the more 'mundane' mercantile sailors.
As the industrial revolution took hold in Britain, wooden ships gave way to iron hulls and from there
he industrialisation of both the land and the sea took place. Cities such as Glasgow, Newcastle, Sunderland, Hartlepool, Whitby, Hull, Liverpool, London, Southampton, Bristol and many more all came alive to the sound of riveting gangs, as iron plate was fashioned into hulls that sailed around the world.
Ships' chandlers were tradesmen who dealt in ropes, canvass and other equipment needed to fit out a sail or steam ship while master shipping butchers and provision merchants supplied much of the rest.
According to Peter Andersen, in a small shipbuilding town like Whitby when a new ship was under construction, trades people of all kinds often supplied items accepting a part share of the ship in lieu of payment. So quite literally, the draper, watchmaker, grocer, chemist as well as the butcher, baker and candlestick maker all clubbed together to own a share in a ship. It was truly a local business at a very local level.
The ship supplier was a businessman operating in his own local area. There were wider horizons for those who were entrepreneurially inclined. One such person was an Irishman called William Grace who having being refused permission by his father to gain a commission in the Royal navy, ran away to sea.
After two years he returned home and his father bought him a share in a Liverpool firm of ship chandlers. He soon became bored with life in Liverpool and moved to Callao in Peru where his father helped place him in a local firm. This Liverpool ship chandler then settled in New York in 1865 at the age of 33 where he founded the company W.R. Grace and Co and went on to secure practically all the contracts for supplying the iron, timber and food needs for the Peruvian Railways. William Grace was to buy the New York and Pacific Steamship Co which became the Grace Steamship Co and in 1880 at the age of 48, became the first Catholic Mayor of New York. The Grace Shipping Line was to survive into the 1960s as one of America's finest.
In those early pre-refrigeration days, there were some butchers who specialised in dealing with livestock for such voyages. In 1914, there were 129 butchers in South Shields along with a quarter of these being shipping butchers. It must be remembered that huge blocks of ice were supplied to ships by ice merchants and only when primitive refrigeration come in did this trade disappear. Typical provisions for a tramp steamer in those days would include 60 tons of potatoes, 30 tons of beef, 180 sides of bacon, eight cases of tongue (each case contained 144 separate pieces) as well as eight cases of kidney, 720 dozen eggs, 36 whole hams, 30 cheeses and perhaps more importantly about 610 kilos of prunes. All delivered by horse and dray.
As in many other industries, the coming of the railways brought a boon to distant ship suppliers who could order items by telegraph from distant manufacturers and have the items delivered in a matter of days, consigned to their local railway station. Companies with more than one branch could send bonded stores or other items by steam train from Hull to Liverpool or London to Bristol.
Many may have forgotten that Cardiff was once a premier port for the export of Welsh
coal around the globe. It seems that every shop or office in the Bute Street of 1880 had a very direct shipping connection. At the turn of the Twentieth Century it was common for the produce of factories in British cities to the shipped to the colonies by ships built from the very genesis of the industrial revolution. The British ship supplier played a small but by no means insignificant part in the voyage of every ship that sailed from the United Kingdom. The ships sailed the world and set new standards of mercantile excellence that has been copied by nations with wider trading ambitions. It is hardly surprising that in the northern shipbuilding town of West Hartlepool the town motto became "E Mare Ex Industria" – or in English 'From the Sea Comes Industry'. And part of that industry which played such a vital part in the fitting out and despatch to sea of ships of all kinds were the sail makers, ship chandlers and shipping butchers.
According to Bob Blake, managing director of Admiral Harding and current chairman of the British Association of Ship Suppliers, BASS membership is important to today's British ship suppliers who care about the quality of their service and who feel they can benefit from being associated with an organisation that stands for quality through its own work ethics and those it expects from its members.
"Being part of a respected organisation like BASS is important and we take that seriously too by imposing strict quality standards of world be members that extend further than the ISO9000 rules," he told The Ship Supplier. "All new members are vetted for quality and we will even inspect their premises to ensure they are who they say they are."
This pride in high standards achieved is demonstrated by BASS members such as Derry-based Allied Ship Supplies (Ireland) Ltd. "We pride ourselves on the high standard of services achieved and credit for this lies in the devotion of our staff and their attention to customer feedback," said James Deehan. "Based in the Port of Derry, Northern Ireland, we have good accessibility to the whole of the island of Ireland and the UK. This allows our people to respond on time to customer needs and makes us an attractive supplier to shipping visiting any of the ports in N. Ireland and the UK," he added.
Membership of the association has been declining over the past five to six years due to the normal issues of consolidations and amalgamations within the industry and currently (2006) stands at around 69 member companies. "The ship supply business in the UK is very hard and has become more competitive than ever," said Bob Blake. The situation has been compounded by the fact that under ISO regulations shipowners now demand two to three quotes for each supply request so the relationship aspect of doing business in the shipping industry has been taken out.
This important role BASS has in lobbying regulatory and authority bodies that affect ship supply companies has if anything increased.
"BASS plays an important role in OCEAN" said Bob Blake, to the extent that it has helped to influence the industry's main regulators in Brussels. But it is BASS's work and association with the International Ship Suppliers Association (ISSA) that has helped to underline its importance internationally.
September 1968 was a crucial year in British ship supply history as BASS became a full member of ISSA. As a gesture of the changing mood in Britain, during 1969 ISSA held a general assembly in London at which the Association of Marine Catering Superintendents was asked to address.