Britain and the Ocean Road: Shipwrecks and People, 1297-1825

Ian Friel

Britain and the Ocean Road uses new first-hand research and unconventional interpretations to take a fresh look at British maritime history in the age of sail.

The human stories of eight shipwrecks serve as waypoints on the voyage, as the book explores how and why Britain became a global sea power. Each chapter has people at its heart – sailors, seafaring families, passengers, merchants, pirates, explorers, and many others. The narrative encompasses an extraordinary range of people, ships and events, such as a bloody maritime civil war in the 13th century, a 17th-century American teenager who stepped from one ship to another – and into a life of piracy, a British warship that fought at Trafalgar (on the French side), and the floating hell of a Liverpool slave-ship, sunk in the year before the slave trade was abolished.

The book is full of surprising details and scenes, including England’s rudest and crudest street name, what it was like to be a passenger in a medieval ship, how a fragment of the English theatre reached the Far East during Shakespeare’s lifetime, who forgave who after a deadly pirate duel, why there were fancy dress parties in the Arctic, and where you could get the best herring.

Britain and the Ocean Road is the first of two works aimed at introducing a general audience to the gripping (and at times horrifying) story of Britain, its people and the sea.