How a major development boosted the river Wear’s oil trade

The Mobil terminal Hendon Dock.
The Mobil terminal Hendon Dock.

This week, we continue with the theme of Sunderland’s oil trade and stay at Hendon Dock where a major development on the former Monsanto Chemical Works site boosted the port’s trade in petroleum products.

In March, 1952, River Wear Commissioners (RWC) Chairman Sir Frank Nicholson announced that Vacuum Oil Company had taken over tenancy of the site for the importation, storage and distribution of various grades of petroleum products.

After struggling to recover from drops in trade and revenue experienced during the war, the RWC disclosed that general cargo tonnage and gross revenue had reached record levels in 1951.

Vacuum Oil’s investment was another example of a booming port, which already boasted a number of oil companies with direct pipeline connections to oil berths. 1953 would see the port’s oil shipments grow to a healthy 236,034 tons.

The new terminal costing some £150,000 was officially opened on May 7, 1953 by Fred Turvey, a ground-breaking Wearside motor engineer.

Built on modern lines, the installation included four storage tanks, each with a quarter of a million gallon capacity. Three were built on the hemispheroid pattern with their contents being held under pressure to avoid loss of volatile elements.

Vacuum Oil’s new refinery in the Thames estuary, Coryton, Essex, had come on stream early in 1953 and it was a major coup for the RWC that the Wear had been chosen as the company’s distribution centre for the North of England between Yorkshire and the Scottish border.

Equipment at the terminal enabled four 2,400-gallon road tankers to be loaded simultaneously from two covered loading islands in less than 15 minutes. This loading rate was believed to be higher than anywhere else in the country at that time.

A 140 by 100 feet warehouse to store packaged oil was able to accommodate 3,000 gallons.

May 1, 1953, saw the first ship to berth alongside the new installation, this being FT Everard and Sons Ltd’s coastal tanker Adroity. Previously named T3, the 457 gross-ton motor vessel had been built for Finnish owners in 1947 and had been acquired by Everards in 1953, by whom she was given her new name.

Ironically, the ship had arrived in port too early to discharge her cargo of motor spirit as final work to complete the pipeline to the storage tanks and pumps had not yet been completed.

Vacuum Oil was an American company originally founded in 1866. In 1955, it became Socony Mobil Oil before becoming Mobil in 1963. The Vacuum Oil terminal continued under Mobil branding until the site closed. It now lies beneath part of Northumbrian Water’s sewage treatment works.

The accompanying Sunderland Echo photograph shows the terminal in Mobil days.