The fact that theirs was a tough life can be appreciated by this photo of Pill pilots and ‘Westernmen’ taken around 1880. In the challenging waters of the Bristol Channel, there is a long history of pilotage from ports on the the Welsh and English sides of the Estuary, including Bristol itself. The records of pilotage out of Pill, at the mouth of the River Avon, go back to 1497 when bargemaster James Ray was appointed by the Mayor and Corporation of Bristol to pilot John Cabot’s ‘Mathew’ on its historic voyage to the New World.
Pill subsequently became the centre for Bristol Channel pilots, but the relationship between Pill and Bristol was not a happy one and this strained relationship could probably fill a book of its own. This extract from the Bristol Channel Pilotage Act of 1807 defines the pilotage area as;
. . . from a certain Place about Four Miles Eastward of King Road and so down the River Severn and Bristol Channel to the two small islands called the Stipe Holmes and the Flat Holmes … (and their authority shall) be extended to the Appointment of Pilots for the conducting of Ships and Vessels into and out of and upon the whole of the Bristol Channel, and the several Ports, Harbours and Creeks belonging to and issuing from the same … (that is) all Vessels passing up and down and upon the Bristol Channel to and from the Eastward of Lundy Island, and in or upon the several creeks of the said Channels.With permission from John Clandillon-Baker, UK Maritime Pilots’ Association