Cretefield – Waterford’s Concrete Ship

As a young fisherman I regularly passed a curious vessel at what we called CAP. The area also had a grander title – Bellevue – the French for a beautiful view, assigned to a then crumbling Georgian era mansion. The name was at odds with the reality of that time as it was then a run-down warehouse festooned with old ropes, chains, litter, and neglected rusting machinery. I was all the more fascinated about the vessel however because I was told it was made from concrete, and how such a craft was built and managed to float, filled me with curiosity. The ship was called Cretefield, and many times I promised to research the vessel. Thankfully Richard Lewis has done it for me, and for an “On This Day” slot Richard celebrates the arrival of this unique craft into Waterford in 1922.

On Tuesday, 13th June 1922, ‘Cretefield’, a 180’ long, 32’ wide ferro-concrete barge built at Warrenpoint and launched in April 1919, arrived at Grattan Quay, Waterford in the tow of ‘Creteblock’, a ferro-concrete steam tug built at Shoreham-by-Sea.

‘The Hopper’ as she became known locally, was used as a coal store and was to remain moored at Grattan Quay until 1973 when she was transferred to Belview to be utilised as a pontoon at the C.A.P. facility. In February 1990, she was offered for sale by the Port of Waterford by way of Sealed Tender and having been acquired by Carlingford Marine Enterprises, was towed to Carlingford, where she lies today, sunken but still visible in the outer breakwater of the Marina.

Cretefield on her fixed berth at Waterford. ©Paul O’Farrell collection

This is the story of Waterford’s Concrete Ship

In 1917, during World War I, an acute shortage of steel led the British Government to fund a construction programme for 209 ferro-concrete vessels to be built by largely newly formed shipyards around the UK. Armistice on 11th November 1918 brought an end to World War I and the need to construct ships in ‘alternative’ materials. Around two-thirds of the orders were cancelled but by the end of 1920, 12 ferro-concrete tugs and 52 ferro-concrete barges to a ‘British Standard Design’ had been launched and completed. Each was christened with the prefix ‘Crete’ followed by a noun, generally following a theme decided upon by the 17 shipyards that built the fleet.

‘Cretefield’ was one of four 712 Gross Registered Tonnage barges built at Warrenpoint, Co. Down by J & R Thompson and McLaughlin and Harvey of Belfast, the others being Cretefarm, Creteforge, and Creteforest. Each was capable of carrying 1,000 tons deadweight.

  ‘The Launch of Creteforge, sister to Cretefield’ ©Ulster Museum

‘Cretefield’ was first registered to ‘The Shipping Controller’ on 25th July 1919, Registration No. 143359. During her early life, she operated on the River Mersey at Liverpool. She was subsequently transferred to The Board of Trade in 1921 and then on to the Crete Shipping Co. Ltd. in March 1922.

She was then sold to Waterford-based coal merchant, Messrs Geoffrey Spencer, who had written to the Waterford Harbour Commissioners in May 1922 requesting permission to moor a large barge in a berth above Redmond Bridge. The Waterford News & Star Shipping News reported her in the tow of ‘Creteblock’ from Liverpool. By 1938, Messrs Spencer’s business was sold to Messrs Samuel Morris by which juncture, ‘Cretefield’ had become better known locally as ‘The Hopper’.

On 14th September 1946, Waterford Standard dedicated many column inches to reporting the complaints of the Waterford Coal Merchants’ Association that Messrs Samuel Morris enjoyed an unfair advantage over the other coal merchants, trading on the River Suir from a 1,000-ton barge. Whilst the matter reached the desk of the Irish Minister for the Department of Industry and Commerce, J. J. Cleere, it became clear that a 75-year license had been granted back in 1922, ‘Cretefield’ was staying moored exactly where she was.

Ironically, on 29th March 1940, the Waterford News and Star had written a column under the heading ‘Waterford Shipping Notes’ subtitled ‘Concrete Ships – a Waterford Example’. In the article, the shipping correspondent reported that shipping losses to enemy actions had already exceeded half a million tons and that perhaps it was time to build ferro-concrete ships again. Indeed, the correspondent was so bold as to suggest that ‘If concrete vessels become an established fact, perhaps we may see them yet built at Waterford. We have a model to choose from in the ‘Cretefield’.

In 1966, the Irish Examiner reported that Waterford Harbour Commissioners had approved a draft agreement whereby Samuel Morris would sell the ‘Cretefield’ to the Commissioners. It seems that Samuel Morris had ceased trading some years earlier. Whilst docked at Gratton Quay, the barges of Dowley’s Grain Merchants were apparently tied up alongside her. These barges were employed for various purposes including transporting dredged sand from the river at Carrick that was brought back for builders in Waterford and on the return journey, taking grain and animal feed from R. & H. Halls of Ferrybank, Waterford to Carrick.

Cretefield at Belview ©Mick Bryne 

In 1973, ‘Cretefield’ was moved downriver to act as a pontoon at the Co-operative Agricultural Purchase (C.A.P.) fertiliser facility at Belview, Co. Kilkenny and on 14th December 1973, the Munster Express reported that a list developed by ‘Cretefield’ had resulted in a discharge of a vessel being disrupted. It was suggested then that the possibility of a permanent structure should be considered although this was said to be a matter for C.A.P. On 1st March 1974, the Munster Express reported that ‘sooner or later the Belview operation will have to be upgraded with a formal jetty to replace the ferro-concrete barge ‘Cretefield’ based on the anticipated arrival of a 5000-ton ship ‘Brigit Ragne’ discharging imported fertiliser’. The Munster Express further reported on 9th March 1979, that the C.A.P. berth at Belview was lying idle having been purchased two years prior by Irish Sugar Co.

On 6th February 1990, ‘Cretefield’ was offered for sale by way of sealed tender by the Port of Waterford and advertised in the Irish Independent. The tender had to be delivered to the Harbour Office Waterford by 12 noon, 16th February 1990, marked ‘Tender for Plant’. The winning bidder was Carlingford Marina Enterprises in what was their second purchase of a ‘Crete Ship’, having acquired the hulk of ‘Cretegaff’, then lying on the River Boyne at Drogheda, in 1988.

Having been towed to Carlingford, ‘Cretefield’ was sunk in the Carlingford Marina breakwater wall. A scuttled ferro-concrete ship provides the ideal foundations for a breakwater as it settles and nestles into the mud. Today, her bow and name are clearly visible at low tide from the land side and the entire length of her hull and deck are visible from the Lough.

It is a sad fact that the fate of many of ‘The Crete Fleet’ was to end their days as breakwater foundations, but in the grander scheme of things, if you have to end your days somewhere, it might as well be in Carlingford Lough.

Arriving to Carlingford Marina. ©Carlingford Marina Enterprises 

‘Cretefield’ can be seen on Google Earth at 54°03’06″N 6°11’24″W, just a few kilometers from where she was built at Warrenpoint and now having spent a century in Ireland or which two-thirds was on the River Suir!

Two other ‘Crete’ ships exist in Ireland today. ‘Creteboom’, a steam tug built at Shoreham-by-Sea, lies on the River Moy at Ballina where she has been since 1937. ‘Cretegaff’, sister to ‘Creteboom’ and the last surviving floating example of a World War I British ferro-concrete ship, floats in Carlingford Marina, a few metres away from ‘Cretefield’.

Final resting place. © Richard Lewis

Carlingford Marina breakwater is also notable for being the location of another historic concrete caisson, this time of World War II vintage, a ‘Mulberry’ pierhead prototype called ‘Hippo 1’ that was built in Conwy, Wales in 1942, was towed to Garlieston, Scotland for testing in 1943 and was then abandoned until acquired by Larne Harbour for use at Curran Quay in 1952. In 1993, when Curran Quay was extended, ‘Hippo 1’ was, amazingly, re-floated and towed to Carlingford Marina where she lies today.

© Richard Lewis

About the Author

Richard Lewis, a native of Manchester, resides in Carlingford and operates a bike hire business in Carlingford. Intrigued by the history of ‘Cretegaff’, he set about researching the entire fleet of ferro-concrete ships that were conceived during World War I and has completed a 360-page manuscript for a book to be entitled ‘The Life & Times of The Crete Fleet’. Further information can be found on the website www.thecretefleet.com and on Social Media of the same name.

Acknowledgments

This article relies on research made possible via www.irishnewsarchive.com, www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk, https://hec.lrfoundation.org.uk, and numerous other internet resources.

A number of contributors, too numerous to name, have provided information about ‘Cretefield’ via the Waterford Maritime History group on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/567921866682390/ and I should like to thank in particular  – Des Griffin for his help and also Paul O’Farrell, Mick Bryne, Ulster Museum and Carlingford Marina Enterprises for displaying their photographs for which they hold the copyright.

Rockabill & Tuskar; The last of the Clyde

To generations of locals, the Clyde boats were a byword for employment, trade, emigration, and holidays and the final two that were often referred to at home were the Rockabill and the Tuskar.  Two very different ships, two different personalities but two ships that were part of the very fabric of a maritime port like Waterford.

The Clyde boats of my parents’ generation of course represented the last of the ships and a fine coasting tradition that spanned well over 100 years.  The Clyde Shipping company started out life, unsurprisingly I guess given the name, in Glasgow on the banks of the River Clyde in 1815. As the company prospered it entered the Irish market in 1856, initially to Cork but quickly to other ports such as Waterford.  It was a stalwart of the Irish goods trade, particularly in the South East, and Waterford as a result of its location was a pivotal hub. In 1912, the company further strengthened this link when it bought the rival Waterford Steamship Company.[i]

The old Clyde Shipping Co Offices
The old Clyde Shipping Co Offices, Waterford Quay

Down the years there have been many notable ships, none more so than the Coningbeg and Formby But two that are equally deserving of mention are the Rockabill and the Tuskar

The Rockabill(1931) was named like all the Clyde ships after 1860, for lighthouses (or lightships) around the coast of Ireland and the British Isles. She was built by D&W Henderson & Co on the Clyde.  Her maiden voyage took her from Liverpool to Waterford on the 5th of February 1931.  She was primarily a cattle and cargo-carrying ship but she had accommodation for 12 first-class passengers on the starboard side (I have read this was on the port side too however)of her upper deck and steerage passengers too.  Meals were provided but were not included in the cost, which was said to be very appealing to passengers, especially on rough crossings![ii]

Rockabill at Waterford. 29/10/1954 Shortall CQ.47. Andy Kelly Collection

She departed from Waterford quays between Reginald Tower and the Clock Tower and dropped cattle to the Wirral shore of the Mersey and later dropped her passengers to the West Waterloo Dock (east side)[iii]

Sailings continued during WWII until she was requisitioned for war duties in Liverpool on the 15th Sept 1943.   Sailings continued with relief ships on the route including the Skerries.  She finally returned to the route on the 4th of May 1946 (at which point the Skerries was sold).[iv] 

After the war, her routine was set at a fairly leisurely pace.  Her twenty-hour (approx)  trip commenced on a Saturday from Liverpool arriving at Waterford on Sunday.  She left again on Tuesday arriving in Liverpool on Wednesday morning.  Sailing times were set to suit the tidal conditions. A cabin berth was £3 10s single or £6 return. Steerage was £2 single fare (Not many traveling in steerage would have the luxury of returning after all) Children between 1-14 were charged half fare.[v]

Some described the Rockabill as an unlucky ship and several accidents/incidents were recorded about her, perhaps because she lacked the power required in strong tidal conditions.  There’s a locally famous image of her across Redmond’s Bridge in Waterford on 15th December 1956 after she drifted into the bridge while turning.  Luckily both the bridge and the vessel survived the incident as she floated away on the ebbing tide. Another incident occurred on 1st June 1942 – three miles east of Hook – when she ran aground but was fortunately towed to safety by the coaster Mayflower[vi]

The Rockabill against Redmond Bridge, Waterford. (L.M. 035 05) Andy Kelly Collection.

My aunt Margaret told me once that she first emigrated to Liverpool aboard the Rockabill in the 1950s, extended members of the Doherty’s were fairly well established in the port at that stage, I imagine my father probably took the same route when he first went to sea on the Coast Line ships from that port too. As far as I can recall my grandfather sailed on her.

Rockabill last sailed into the port of Waterford in April 1962.  The Waterford News & Star of Friday 6th April[vii] recorded the event on the front page with a photo and headline ”Today a 31-year-old connection will be severed” and went on to outline her role in the port and the technical difficulties that hastened her demise.  Her final journey out the harbour brought her to Cork and the breakers yard of Haulbowline Industries Ltd.  It was a historic journey and worthy of recording.  She was the final steamer (coal burner) of the Clyde fleet and had proudly borne this mantel since 1953.  I’m guessing as such she was our last coastal trading steamer and so ended a chapter of our maritime history that started with the first steamers that operated such as the Mail Packet ships at Dunmore East (the early 1820s) or the Nora Creina in 1826.

Liam Jacques recently passed on to me this toast holder from the Rockabill. His dad Cha was steward on the vessel and took it as a memento from her last voyage before going to the breakers
The company stamp and flag on the toast holder

Her replacement was a few months in coming on duty and when she did she was for a very different function. The Tuskar (1962) was built by Chas. Connell & Co as a motor vessel of 1,115 tons, launched on the 18th of April 1962.  She was designed to carry cargo and containers however and her maiden voyage to Waterford was not until the 26th June 1962 (the MV Sanda covered the route at this time).  She worked the route until the 10th December 1968 before being sold to a Yugoslav company and renamed the Brioni.  She would be broken up in 1988.[viii]

Tuskar crew at Waterford. Any help identifying the men is appreciated. Martin Tracey 1st man on the left, Tommy Connors is the second from the left, Des Hutchinson 6th from the left, and Tommy Cleere 7th. Davy Fardey 3rd from right. Photo courtesy of Demma Hutchinson (son of Des)

I suppose the reason that she was known so well to me was that my father sailed on her, for a time in 1968 after the new job he had come home to on the building of Great Island Power station was complete.  But maybe it’s also because, as was often the habit with the Clyde, there was more than one vessel to have the name.

Although there were five ships that shared the name, the first I have information on is Tuskar (1890) which acted more in a relief capacity on the Waterford route from what I have read, and was lost on the West Coast of Ireland during WWI. Tuskar (1920) was specifically built to accommodate the trade on the Waterford run and first sailed the route on the 1st of September 1920.  She worked alongside the Rockabill for a time but after import duties started to take a toll on the company’s business she was sold to Swedish owners in 1937.  She would later be seized by Nazi Germany and her ultimate fate was to be sunk off the Greek coast in 1944.[ix]

SS Tuskar (1920) leaving Waterford. Andy Kelly Collection

The arrival of the MV Tuskar into Waterford was covered in many of the national papers of the time and according to the Cork Examiner[x] she arrived in Waterford on Monday 25th June.  On Tuesday a reception was held aboard and she was shown off to an invited audience. (although Des Griffin of the Waterford Maritime History Facebook page told me recently that although he was only a child he was able to go aboard and explore the ship from stem to stern) The guests included the following dignitaries: “Councillor John Griffen,  Mayor; Mr. Sean Gillen, City Manager; Mr. F. Cassin. Chairman of the Harbour Board; Mr. P. Breen, President, Chamber of Commerce, were received on board yesterday. The attendance also included Captain Chestnut, Mr. William Logan, and Mr. A. Cuthbert. Glasgow, managing director and director of the company respectively, and Mr. W. D Sterling, a local manager.”

The article went on the describe the ship as a ; “1,597-ton vessel… a 15-ton and three five-ton cranes…equipped for the container traffic with accommodation for 450 cattle and a refrigerated hold for 100 tons of frozen cargo. Her speed is 14 knots.”  She departed on Wednesday with a general freight cargo and what was to be her mainstay on the route 370 cattle and 40 horses.

Her career was short-lived and there is little of the drama or excitement that would be connected to her forbearers.  The one tragedy with which she is associated in the papers was the drowning of a 16-year-old apprentice at the L&N of Broad Street as it then was.  James Hanrahan of Morrison’s Road was lost down the side of the Tuskar when she berthed at the Clyde wharf in June 1966.  James was apparently cycling along the quay with his fishing rod when the bike swerved and James was thrown over the handlebars.  James’ body was later recovered by the Portlairge in September.

MV Tuskar, photo courtesy of Frank Cheevers

In 1967 she was reported as carrying up to 1000 live pigs, the largest consignment to leave the port since WWII, accumulated due to a bacon strike[xi].  While in 1968 the Munster Express[xii] carried a photo of a powdered milk shipment being loaded aboard, paid for by the Cork Rotary Club, and bound for Liverpool and hence India to assist in famine relief.

But in December of 1968, the newspapers both national and local carried the story of the sale of the ship.  A company spokesman explained in the Irish Independent[xiii] that the sale was partly due to government policy to slaughter and process animals in Ireland.  Perhaps not surprisingly the Munster Express[xiv] was more concerned about the impact on jobs the route closure heralded and more generally in the position of the Port of Waterford in the overall scheme of maritime affairs in Ireland.

The sale of Tuskar was only another step in the sad decline of a once vital employer in the city of Waterford and her environs and although the company offices would remain open for another few years the writing was on the wall.  Today all that remains are the iconic offices on Customs House Quay, the sculpture to honour the crews of the Coningbeg and Formby, and the fading memories of those that were lucky enough to see them sail into port. 

I’d like to thank Demma Hutchinson and Mark Fenton who helped me with this piece, both their dads also sailed on the Tuskar.  If anyone has any memories to share of the crew or as passengers  I would be delighted to receive them for addition to this piece.


Sources used includes:

McElwee. R.  The Last Voyage of the Waterford Steamers.

[McRonald. M.  The Irish Boats. Vol II Liverpool to Cork and Waterford.  2006. Tempus. Stroud. Gloucestershire. Pp130-137