This ship-owning and chandlery business began as John Coppack, shipbroker, Connah's Quay, when Captain John Coppack opened an office in the front parlour of his house in Chapel Street, Connah's Quay, in 1860. Up to that time he had been captain of the 'Beatrice', taking coal and cargoes of bricks to Spain and returning with iron-ore.
At first the firm used chartered ships, but the business prospered rapidly and the brig 'Gomersall' was bought. John Coppack's first new ship, the 'Hannah Coppack', was completed in 1861. He captained this ship himself for a few years and then retired ashore to manage his business. In 1875, with Captain Samuel Vickers joining as partner, the firm became known as Messrs. Coppack and Vickers. It remained a family concern, with several changes in name. It became Coppack, Carter and Co. from 1883, when H.C. Carter joined the firm, until 1892 when it returned to the original name of John Coppack. From 1898 the firm became Coppack Bros. and Co., and remained so except for a period between 1910 and 1924 when the founder's son was in charge and the firm was called Thomas Coppack and Co.
Ships associated with Coppacks in the early years of the firm included the sailing ships 'Florence Muspratt' and 'Princess of Thule', the latter coming under Coppacks' control in 1881. In the same year the single screw tug 'Albert' was bought following the success experienced with paddle tug 'Fire King', used to tow vessels out of the Dee. Besides the nucleus of ships owned by the firm, Coppacks managed vessels for other owners, especially T. Ashburner of Barrow, J.C. Edwards (the Ruabon brickmakers), and Samuel Coppack, a Chester merchant. Although Coppacks was principally a coasting shipping concern, it was well known for its links with the French vegetable trade, delivering to the English market during the early summer months of each year.
The start of the twentieth century saw the change from sailing ships such as 'Whitriggs', 'Lizzie May' and 'Not Forgot' to those powered by steam. During the second quarter of the twentieth century, Coppack Bros. often had ten or more ships. 'Bolham', 'Elidir', 'Farfield', 'Hove', 'Normanby Hall', 'Santa Rosa', 'Trevor' and 'Watergate' were some of the important ships during this period.
There was also a change in the nature of their business. Before the 1950s, they had direct control over their trading operations, employing the captains and crews of the various ships. After this time, they increasingly let the trading part of the business be handled by other shipping firms, and concentrated on the shipbroking and chandlery side. After the Second World War there was a steady decline in the coastal trade, so that by the 1960s the Company was left with only two motor vessels, the 'Indorita' and 'Normanby Hall'. The diminishing importance of Connah's Quay as a port accelerated this process.
The fact that Coppack Bros. survived so long was no small achievement. For example, between 1927 and 1934 the firm lost four ships, 'Scotsman', 'Mourne', 'Santa Rosa' and 'Rosabelle' as the result of collision and other accidents at sea. The firm is unique and important in that it was until late the only private firm of coasting shipowners on the North Wales coast still operating, and must have been one of the oldest established coasting businesses in the British Isles.
The firm took an obvious interest in various Dee navigation schemes and several partners from the beginning of the twentieth century played an active role as conservators and members of committees of the Dee Conservancy Board (in particular, Messrs. J.W. and Thomas Coppack during the 1930s). As a result, there are a number of minutes, reports, accounts and papers of the Board found in this collection.
The records during the Second World War period provide some valuable documentation on the way in which the conflict affected shipping firms. The 'Duurswold' was one Dutch ship loaned to Coppack Bros. in 1943 and returned to its original owners after the war. Loss sustained by the firm is illustrated in one case by insurance papers and correspondence concerning damage suffered by S/S 'Farfield' from enemy aircraft in 1941. Some members of the Coppack family made a personal contribution to the war effort in the writing and arrangement of patriotic song and verse.
The collection adds considerably to Flintshire Record Office's holdings of records relating to shipping firms on the North Flintshire coast and shipping in the Dee Estuary. It provides valuable source material on an industry and way of life which has almost disappeared in this country.
Coppack Bros. ceased to operate as a shipping firm in 1971, and as a ship's chandler's business in 1977.