On the River Wear, just past the Northern Spire Bridge and in front of Claxheugh Rock, sits an old boat beached on the riverbank. On closer inspection, the boat is unique for the fact it is made out of concrete, as opposed to metal.
The fact concrete is capable of floating will undoubtedly be a surprise to some, which has led to a longstanding local explanation that the structure was intended as a decoy for German bombers in the Second World War, who sought to target Sunderland shipyards.
However, that isn’t true. The ship was never put in that location on purpose, it was in fact once used as a serious vessel and abandoned, but the association of it with WWII is not completely misleading. Known as the SS Cretehawser, this boat was a concrete steam tug created in the year 1919. It was following the events of the first World War that supplies were low and iron was in scarcity (following the overwhelming application of it for military use).
With ships also low in supply, the British government ordered the Wear Concrete Building Company to construct eight concrete steam tug boats that could be used to import iron ore from Spain. While the ship’s main structure was made from concrete, other parts were made from wood, and it was powered by a screw driven, 3 cylinder engine from Central Marine Engine Works, made in Hartlepool, that had 120 horsepower.
After construction, the Cretehawser was owned by the British government’s board of trade who put it to use for imports. In 1922, it was then purchased by Crete Shipping Co. Ltd., London – Stelp & Leighton Ltd. However as shipping became plentiful again, it was sold to scrap dealers in Stockton on Tees in 1935, before being sold to Samuel Levy in South Shields and onwards to the River Wear commission, where it served an emergency role. It was moored in Hendon.
However, in 1943, the Cretehawser was bombed and damaged by the Luftwaffe. To move the damaged vessel out of the way, it was pulled upstream and beached on the banks of the River Wear which became its final resting place. 80 years later, it remains in that spot and has since become a local icon.