As the steam paddle tug, Eppleton Hall, left Sunderland Harbour in November, 1964, another era drew to a close on the River Wear.
Built in 1914 by Hepple and Co of South Shields, she had spent all her working life on the Wear – initially under the ownership of Lambton and Hetton Collieries.
Although now obsolete in France Fenwick Tyne and Wear Co Ltd's modernised fleet, she had been deemed fit for further service by neighbouring Seaham Harbour Dock Co.
Affectionately known as the "Eppie," this spirited little workhorse was last of a once ubiquitous fleet of paddle tugs, first seen on the Wear during the 1820s.
Propelled by side-lever steam engines, they were originally wooden-hulled, with construction materials later progressing from iron to steel. Introduction of screw tugs towards the end of the 19th century would fail to completely oust the paddler for many years to come.
At the end of 1950, France Fenwick remained the dominant North Eastern tug-owning company. Operating 26 vessels on the Tyne and Wear, it had swallowed up many competitors and become the sole ship-handling operator at Sunderland.
Half the fleet was based on the Wear, where paddlers were in the majority.
Besides Eppleton Hall, these were Roker, Wexford, Seaburn, Corsair, President, Houghton and Lumley.
Seaburn was first to go, being broken up at Dunston by CW Dorkin in 1952.
She had been built for the North Eastern Railway in 1890.
With the introduction of new diesel tugs from 1955, more paddle tugs became surplus to requirements. That year, Corsair and Lumley were scrapped by JJ King of Gateshead, with Wexford being dismantled in 1956 by Sunderland shipbreakers, Thomas Young and Sons.
Built in 1892, Corsair had been transferred to France Fenwick in 1925, on the takeover of Coulson Tugs on the Tyne. Like Eppleton Hall, the 1907-built Lumley had once served Lambton, Hetton and Joicey collieries. Wexford had been launched in 1888 for the Wexford Harbour Commissioners.
In 1959, the iron-hulled President also ended her days at Young's shipbreakers.
Roker, Houghton and Eppleton Hall survived until the 1960s. Roker, built for Sunderland Towage Co. in 1905, was sold to Forth tug owners in 1962, but was scrapped four years later. Houghton – another former Lambton collieries vessel – was broken up by Clayton and Davie at Dunston in 1964.
Eppleton Hall's sojourn at Seaham inevitably ended with a one-way voyage to the breakers' yard. Having arrived at Clayton and Davie in 1967, she was rescued in a partially dismantled state during 1969.
After restoration at Bill Quay, she sailed to San Francisco Maritime Museum, arriving there in March, 1970.
She is now one of only two surviving British-built paddle tugs – the other being the former Tees Conservancy Commissioners' vessel, John H Amos.