The Concrete Ships of Thornaby

The first concrete ship was built in France as early as the 1850’s, but it wasn’t until 1911 that the first concrete vessel, a lighter, was built in England.

Three years later,  as part of the war effort during World War One, shipyards all over the country were being set up to make concrete vessels. This was because of the high demand for steel plates, but lower demand for rolled bars which could be used to reinforce concrete.  A total number of 154 tugs and barges were ordered by the Admiralty but only barges were built on the Tees.

Blacketts and Co. of Darlington  – (Ralph Blackett and John Joseph Blackett, Engineers are the quoted buyers) – purchased a site of about 16 acres between Craig Taylor’s shipyard and the Cleveland Flour Mill for a price of £14,000. This was for the development of the ‘Victoria Shipbuilding Yard at Thornaby’ as it was known which occupied about six and a half acres of the total area. The yard is shown on a map dated 1938 as being owned by Blacketts Construction Co. Ltd.  Two slips were set up, angled downstream.

A total of 10 barges were ordered although only two were ever completed. The Admiralty expected that the ships would be cheaper to build than steel vessels but in the event the cost was about £27,000 compared with £17,000 for a similar steel vessel. The ships were constructed from basically “U” shaped sections, which were grouted together. The concrete was a mix of Threlkeld granite, whinstone chippings and sharp sand.

The first ship, ‘Cretejetty’ (745t), was not launched until 21st March 1920 from the Stockton yard and completed in May that year. The ship was 180 ft. by 32 ft. with a carrying capacity of 1000 tons. It had steam steering and a steam powered towing winch in the bow, but it had no means of propulsion and so needed to be towed.

A second and final vessel, ‘Cretejoist’ (744t),  was completed for the Ministry at the Thornaby yard in August 1920. The ships were too late for the war effort and were owned by the Crete Shipping Company Ltd. These barges were not a success; indeed only 54 barges and 12 tugs from the 154 ordered were ever completed in the country. In 1921 the company switched its operations to a new brick factory located in the St Annes area of Stockton, although it is believed the company still owned the site in 1949.  The company was still operating a brickyard in the St. Annes area in the 1950’s.

The ‘Cretejetty’ was sold to Spain in 1929 and disappeared from the register.

The ‘Cretejoist’ was sold to Norway and after a change of ownership was wrecked near Trondheim, where the German occupying forces tried without success to destroy it. Later the local harbour authorities tried without success to remove it. The wreck was still in situ in 2000.
See video at http://vimeo.com/85594976
and photos at http://vrakdykking.com/lekter-crete-joist.html

Further information on shipbuilding in the area can be found in ” Shipbuilding in Stockton and Thornaby” by Alan Betteney available to borrow or buy in Stockton Libraries