Gold Ribbon Banner
Thursday, November 21, 2019

CretetreeOn the bank of the bank of the River Wear at South Hylton lie the remains of Cretehawser, concrete evidence (literally) of a period of early 20th century British maritime history.

At the end of World War One steel, the preferred ship-building material, was scarce, as was skilled labour. On both sides of the Atlantic shipbuilders fell back on reinforced concrete as a temporary solution to the problem.

The use of concrete as a building material is no new phenomenon; the Roman Empire pioneered its use in construction and one of the ancient aqueducts still supplying modern Rome was made of the material. If ships suffered light damage, in theory they could be repaired with an application of fresh cement. In practice, costs of construction were much higher than estimated.

Cretehawser, built at Southwick by the Wear Concrete Building Company (a subsidiary of Swan Hunter), was launched on March 15th, 1919. She was a sea-going tug of 262 tons, 162 feet long with a beam of 28 feet and draft of 13 feet and was followed by sister ships Creterope, Cretecable, Creteboom and Cretestem. In service, Cretehawser towed several loaded barges often of coal but the imposition of dock fees on all three craft rather than just the tug made the practice totally uneconomic.

The abandoned vessel has lain beside the Wear since 1942 after her withdrawal from service during the Depression. Initially she and other vessels were gutted, being intended as makeshift breakwaters. The first German air raid on Sunderland changed matters for the Creteships. Creteboom suffered a direct hit and was sent to the bottom of Hendon Dock creating a huge navigation obstacle of shattered concrete. A major salvage operation was mounted to raise the debris from the dock. Sister vessel Cretehawser, now engineless, and a sitting duck for enemy bombers, was towed out of dock up-river and grounded, opposite the old Hylton Colliery, to prevent her suffering the same fate as Creteboom.

In 1962, 20 years after her grounding, a spokesman for the River Wear Commissioners said “Cretehawser is a dead duck as far as we are concerned. She was put there and forgotten and I suppose she will stay there forever”. Despite the steering limitations, sailors who served in the concrete vessels spoke of them with some affection. Mr Ramsden of Grangetown said “Cretestem was a good a ship as I sailed in”. In the Great Gale of 1920 she did salvage work on the Tyne (during a local tug operators strike) when many ships broke loose (including a captured German liner).

The concrete tugs’ added weight was a definite advantage when towing, and in docking, to reduce heeling. They had a crew of 12. The foc’sle had a turtle back making it seaworthy in bad weather and shielding the windlass and anchor gear. The galley and entry to officers’ quarters were between funnel and foc’sle. Concrete barges were usually around 1,000 tons and built, like other ships, on keelblocks. Some yards used precast sections, others used steel sheets as lining instead of wooden shuttering so the finish was smoother. Waterproofing compound was added to the concrete but construction work was weather-dependant as frost prevented work and intense heat dried the hull too quickly.

Warrenpoint In Gloucester, Ferro Concrete’s yard employed 380 workers who turned out both barges and massive 800 ton Creterock – commissioned by the Shipping Ministry. The latter, with a length of 180 feet and beam of 31 feet was launched into the Gloucester Ship Canal broadside on, drenching unprepared spectators on the far bank. She was followed by five further Gloucester vessels with the suffix Crete-- Road, River, Ridge, Ravine and Rampart. Designed initially to carry ammunition and other military supplies, they were launched too late to be used in the Great War.

Of the barges made in Gloucester, around 20 were dumped in the mud to strengthen the bank between the Severn and the Sharpness Canal. The Purton barge graveyard, as it is known locally, gave up one of its craft to serve as an exhibit at the National Waterways Museum Gloucester Docks (see photo). At the time of writing, the barge is not on view at the Docks but there is a concrete narrowboat on site.

After World War One, 21 firms were building concrete boats at the behest of the Ministry of Munitions but the economies of using unskilled labour were sadly offset by the higher cost of materials. A steel barge could be made for £17,000 but a concrete one cost a whopping £27,500. Out of 154 vessels ordered only 54 barges and 12 tugs were completed, as their original use for ammunition carrying was of less importance.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - February 2014 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!


Most Popular

  • DFDS and Moby +

  • Flying Focus Calendar 2020 +

  • Seized Stena Impero Leaves Oran, Owner Confirms +

  • Visits to Brixham and the Pin Mill Race +

  • Coal Carrier to Serve Japanese Power Stations +

  • 1
  • 2

Latest Products

Maritime Log

  • RNLI to Cut 135 Jobs +

  • Twenty Years of Cruise Ships +

    Twenty Years of Cruise Ships ON AUG 30, the Port of Tyne celebrated 20 years of cruise ship travel. Read More
  • Race Through Horrendous Seas to Aid Fishing Vessel +

    Race Through Horrendous Seas to Aid Fishing Vessel ON THE afternoon of Aug 30, a fishing vessel reported to the Coastguard that she had lost power near Peterhead, Read More
  • RAF Chinooks Arrive by Sea From us and Fly to Their Base From Quayside +

    RAF Chinooks Arrive by Sea THE Atlantic Container Line (ACL) won a contract from Boeing Defence UK to transport seven Chinook helicopters across the Atlantic Read More
  • Launch of a Unique Memorial to a Memory +

    Launch of a Unique Memorial to a Memory THE NEW Invergordon Shannon class lifeboat which enters service next spring will feature the names of thousands of people in Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Tanker Returns to Shipyard After Hurricane +

    Tanker Returns to Shipyard After Hurricane The Grand Bahama Shipyard (GBS) officially resumed operations and welcomed back its first commercial vessel following Hurricane Dorian. Read More
  • Boost for Area's Exports and Jobs Forecast +

    Port of Morrow in Oregon THE EXTENSION of the barge service at the port of Morrow, in Oregon, is one of only three projects on Read More
  • USCG Cutter and Two Life Boats Ensure Damaged Vessel Reached Post +

    USCG Life Boat In a four-day operation off the coast of Oregon, three separate vessels of the US Coast Guard towed a 50ft Read More
  • Operation to Salvage Three Tugs +

    Tug Salvage THE US Coast Guard has launched an investigation into the sinking of three vessels in the Illinois River near Hardin, Read More
  • Terminal Being Made 'Big Ship Ready' for 2021 +

    Terminal Being Made Big Ship Ready WORK has started on the expansion of Seattle’s Terminal 5 so it can handle container ships of up to 18,000 Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3


  • Next Generation of Bulk Carrier Handed Over +

    Next Generation of Bulk Carrier Handed Over THE JAPANESE shipbuilder Japan Marine United has delivered what it described as “a next-generation energy-saving bulk carrier” to Nissen Kaiun, Read More
  • Coal Carrier to Serve Japanese Power Stations +

    Coal Carrier to Serve Japanese Power Stations THE Japanese shipping line, Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha (K Line), have taken delivery of the coal carrier Corona Citrus, 88,000dwt, built Read More
  • Network Demands Recovery of the Second VDR +

    Stellar Daisy A new search has been demanded to recover the second Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) from the wreck of the South Read More
  • First of Giant New Container Ships is Handed Over +

    MSC Gulsun THE SWISS-based Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC) has taken delivery of one of the world’s largest container ships, the MSC Gulsun, Read More
  • The Last New Magnolia Ship in Series +

    The Last New Magnolia Ship THE Singapore-based container shipping company Ocean Network Express (ONE) has taken delivery of the 14,000 teu capacity ONE Cygnus, 138,611dwt, Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • US Navy Orders Another Two Expeditionary Sea Base Ships +

    US Navy Orders Another Two Expeditionary Sea Base Ships American News The expansion of the US Navy’s amphibious capability continues with the announcement that General Dynamics NASSCO has received Read More
  • RFA Tideforce is Welcomed into Service +

    RFA Tideforce BRITISH News THE FOURTH and last of the new Tide class tankers, RFA Tideforce, was offi cially accepted into service Read More
  • USS Cincinnati to be Delivered to US Navy +

    USS Cincinnati US News USS CINCINNATI is the latest member of the expanding littoral combat ship fl eet to be delivered to Read More
  • Scorpene Sub Snags +

    INS Khanderi indian News The troubled Scorpene class submarine program hit another snag in June. Read More
  • US Navy’s Frigate Program Passes Significant Hurdle +

    USS Minneapolis-St Paul US News The US Navy has unveiled its plans for the purchase of a new frigate known as FFG(X). Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • DFDS and Moby +

  • From Port Glasgow Nationalisation to Philip & Son, Dartmouth +

    Red Eagle So, not many months ago, nationalisation was unfashionable and unlikely ever to return, especially within the EU where that institution’s Read More
  • Alan Sinclair to Nova Star +

    Glen Sannox Those in management positions must dread the retirement of those characters who retire from their life’s work with a wealth Read More
  • Fragile Future for Calmac +

    Isle of Arran TMore and more, I am reading reports that say the media, and the public too, are well aware of the Read More
  • Oscar Goes to Italy +

    Oscar Wilde Irish Continental Group has entered into a bareboat hire purchase agreement for the sale of its 1987-built Oscar Wilde to Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • Visits to Brixham and the Pin Mill Race +

    Visits to Brixham and the Pin Mill Race In July, the brigantine Tres Hombres called at Brixham on passage from the Caribbean to Amsterdam with 35 tonnes of Read More
  • From Gloucester Tall Ships to Kenyan Sailing Dhows +

    Royalist Gloucester Dock is linked to the River Severn at Sharpness by a 16 mile canal. Read More
  • The Zea Servant +

    Zea Servant The Hong Kong registered Zea Servant arrived late June from Hull. She was in Campbeltown to load wind turbines for Read More
  • The Green Band of Marstal +

    Bessie Ellen The Danish Maritime Museum had the schooner Bonavista built on the island of Aero at Marstal and this year they Read More
  • Norweigan National Day +

    Thorodd I was in Montrose on the Norwegian National Day, 17 May, when its independent constitution from Sweden was confirmed in Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Flying Focus Calendar 2020 +

    Flying Focus Calendar 2020 FOR MORE THAN 30 years, Flying Focus, based in the Netherlands, has specialised in maritime aerial photography.. Read More
  • Seized Stena Impero Leaves Oran, Owner Confirms +

    Seized Stena Impero Leaves Oran, Owner Confirms It was good news to hear in late September that, according to the ship’s owner, Stena Bulk, the detained tanker Read More
  • Gulf Tensions Result in Cruise Cancellations +

    Oceana IN THE ‘MESSAGE FROM THE BRIDGE’ I referred to the tensions with Iran in the Gulf, following the seizure in Read More
  • Waverley Appeal Reaches Half Million Milestone +

    Waverley Appeal THE WAVERLEY – the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world – had to be withdrawn from service in May this year Read More
  • Welcome to 'Spirit Of Discovery' - Farewell to 'Oriana' +

    Spirit of Discovery WITHIN the last two months the British cruise industry has welcomed the arrival of Saga Cruises, 58,250gt, Spirit of Discovery, Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Silversea Cruises has Partnered with French Luxury Glassmaker Lalique +

    Silver Shadow SILVERSEA CRUISES has partnered with French luxury glassmaker Lalique to enhance the dining experience onboard Silver Shadow and Silver Moon. Read More
  • Billionaire Arthur Blank has his own Dreamboat +

    Billionaire Arthur Blank's Dreamboat ARTHUR BLANK helped create the American home improvement store chain, Home Depot, and it seems that now, his new fl Read More
  • Boudicca Pays Tribute to D-Day Veterans +

    Boudicca Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines were proud to have played its part in hosting 250 D-Day veterans. Read More
  • Captain of a Modern Passenger Carrying Sail Ship +

    Sea Cloud 2 If you have ever wondered what qualities a Captain of a cruise vessel might need to have listed on his Read More
  • Every Ash Cloud Has A Silver Lining +

    The ash cloud crisis continues to cause uncertainty as we see sporadic closures of airspace and cancelled flights, and this Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places


An Unexpected Job in Cuba

In 1948, I joined the MV Yamaska Park as an EDH and, over the first few days aboard, I became Read More
Suez Canal

The Creation of the Suez Canal - Part Two

IAt the end of 1858, the company’s Works Committee convened for the first time. It included an impressive assembly of Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

Seventy-Five Years On

Seventy-Five Years On

In 1944, Tom Bradbury was serving as a 22-year-old Royal Navy lieutenant in the DIDO class cruiser HMS Scylla. Having Read More
The Falkland Robinson Crusoe

The Falkland Robinson Crusoe

During the 1982 South Atlantic conflict between Britain and Argentina over control of the archipelago known to the British as Read More
  • 1
  • 2