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A Bude History Lesson

April 06, 2021

Here's a part of Bude's history you might find of interest...

The great cliffs north of Bude seem to attract shipwrecks, and in the old days the cliftops were dotted with iron stanchions and cables remaining from previous salvage work.

The SS Belem was a Portuguese ship that was seized at Lisbon Harbour in 1916 to be loaned to the Italians to bring coal from England, after originally being launched in Germany for the Hamburg-America line in 1890.

SS Belem at Bude


Her last voyage saw her falter in fog at Northcott Mouth, on November 20, 1917. A crew of 33 men was rescued, but the ship could not be saved as her back had been broken. Evidently, the remains of the ship can still be seen today during low tide, scattered across the beach of Northcott Mouth.

One fascinating account was documented by local lady, Audrey Elymer. She spoke to Arthur Madge in 1998, who was eight years old and a boarder at St Petroc’s School, Bude, at the time of the wreckage of SS Belem.

He told Ms Elymer that at midnight on November 20, 1917, he and five other boys in his dormitory heard five loud bangs. The boys were told by their housemaster that the noise had come from a ship that was experiencing problems off Northcott Mouth, who, at dawn, walked the boys along the cliffs to see what was going on.


SS Belem at Bude

Arthur said the Portuguese crew was being helped ashore by the ‘lifesaving gang’, and after the incident local people gave out clothes and food. He even recalled he and friends spending their pocket money on tobacco and sweets to give to the men.


SS Belem at Bude

 One of the Belem's propshafts is now the supporting pole for the Barrel on Barrel Rock and in 2018 remains of the Belem wreck were exposed at Northcott Mouth, near Bude.

 Barrel Rock