This rapid ad hoc survey of a limited spread of marine engineering and energy related topics in 2014 (see Sea Breezes print edition) coincides with arrival at my request from Andy King of City of Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives, of images of three vessels from a collection assembled by Jim Crissup and I also acknowledge the help of Doug Northcott.
These three vessels I recall with great nostalgia. I would see one or all of them, Bessie Surtees, Bobby Shaftoe and Hexhamshire Lass, on my earliest visits to the Tyne in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Sometimes they were the only ships moving especially up under the Tyne Bridges. They were ash hoppers specially built by Charles Hill at Bristol to serve two new power stations on the Tyne well above the Newcastle bridges, effectively at the head of navigation. And very smart stylish vessels they were.
The power stations were opposite each other on the banks of the Tyne and were called ‘The Stellas’ North and South, 240 MW (megawatts) and 300 MW respectively, the Southern one being built on the site of Stella Hall, a demolished stately home. They each used two thousand tons of local coal a day and were a landmark for over 40 years. I remember seeing them from the rail line I would use to visit Newcastle as a youngster, the rail line that would also bring in the locally mined coal to keep the turbines turning. When rediscovering the story of these now demolished plants what struck me very strongly was that every last item of engineering was UK made and mostly within a few miles of the site: Parsons producing the turbines, Clark Chapman more plant, and Reyrolles the electrical switch gear and controls. The boilers, the largest in Europe at the time, came from Sheffield. By comparison a small electricity generating plant constructed near my home last year was assembled from steel and machinery brought from Italy, Germany and Holland.
So in the mid 1950s with the building of the Stella Power Stations were ordered these three hoppers. The low air draft vessels were full of character, as is the norm with Charles Hill ships. Named after historic North Eastern characters, Bessie Surtees was the first into service in April 1955. They were managed by Stephenson Clarke and had seven crew, 560gt, of 151’ overall and were said to carry 500 tons of ash. A visit to the Tyne would usually see one of the trio, maybe at Tynemouth or passing through the bridges, under the Low Level Swing Bridge if the tide was low, or through it if not.
These days more than likely the ash waste would be used in some kind of manufacturing process but in those unenlightened days it was dumped three miles offshore and at the peak of their work the three ships would dump between them 800,000 tonnes per annum of ash from The Stellas, Dunston and Blyth power stations. But sea dumping became severely restricted and during the early 70s the stations worked less hard and produced less ash and Hexhamshire Lass and Bobby Shaftoe were sold, the former as a sand dredger in Hampshire and not scrapped until ’93 while Bobby Shaftoe was understood to serve the French navy – named the Le Couregant. I am not aware of how she met her end. Bessie Surtees too I lost track of but is reported to have last flown the Portuguese flag before scrapping.