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.
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.
‘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.
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.
‘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’.
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.
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.
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.