Bartram and Sons of South Docks were famous for launching ships into the sea from the South Outlet.
Post-war competition saw a need to build larger vessels but these could only be launched if the outlet was to be extensively deepened.
In 1953, one of the yard’s slipways was extended from 450 feet to 525 feet to accommodate a larger class of ship.
With dredging provided by the River Wear Commissioners (RWC) and private contractors proving very expensive, Bartram’s management team decided to build their own craft to carry out some of the work.
As a result, on December 18, 1953, the 79 gross-ton Walrus was launched from Bartram’s. Largely prefabricated, she was a non-self-propelled craft fitted with a grab and suction apparatus.
The Walrus’ official number was 181156.
Speaking at the time, a company spokesman said: “This will be a permanent addition to our plant and should prove a very useful craft.”
Final fitting out of the craft took place in the nearby New Sea Lock, which had been permanently sealed at its seaward end by mid-May, 1953 after that year’s infamous East Coast storm surge.
The little vessel caused industrial unrest at Bartram’s when a total of 18 engineers of the yard’s maintenance and shipfitting department walked out over a demarcation dispute.
At a meeting on April 28, 1954, maintenance engineers, members of the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) decided to stay out until an engineer was placed in charge of Walrus’s machinery instead of a labourer.
“There is about £50,000 worth of intricate machinery in the Walrus and we contend it should be an engineer’s job to look after it,” said a spokesman.
Evidently, the dispute was soon settled as the dredger had been back at work for a few months by the end of June 1954, increasing the depth of water in the channel into which ships would be launched from the new berth.
After heavy rain filled Walrus with water, the dredger had to be beached in the South Outlet but was saved after Sunderland Fire Brigade pumped her dry on the night of August 20, 1954.
One method of dredging sand from the outlet was by using a suction pipe kept afloat by steel box sections connected to Walrus.
This pipe was linked to another, which enabled sand to be discharged on the far side of the breakwater.
Sometimes divers would blast subsea rock for the pieces to be removed by suction.
At low water, Bartram’s also used a bulldozer to excavate the channel.
After being taken over by Austin and Pickersgill, the Bartram’s yard launched its last ship – the Australind – in 1978.
Does any reader know the fate of Walrus or have a photograph of her?