On the Waterfront: Polka Hole’s intriguing past.

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WHILE we are still no closer to discovering how Polka Hole acquired its curious name (On the Waterfront, May 25), readers might be interested to learn of some of the activities which once took place at this site adjoining the old South Pier.

During the latter part of the 19th century, the foreshore behind Tide Gauge Jetty was infilled to create reclaimed land, where a timber and creosoting yard was established by Calder & Son to stockpile timber for the local coal mining industry.

Construction of Roker and New South Piers, begun in 1885 and 1893, respectively, required huge quantities of concrete, which were supplied by the concrete mixing house erected at the seaward end of Tide Gauge Jetty.

Built on wooden staging and trestles, a wagonway crossed Polka Hole behind the timber yard to supply the plant with raw materials.

Concrete required for pier foundations was encased in jute bags, weighing either 56 or 116 tons.

These bags were formed in boxes, slung in the well of a twin-screw bag-barge (designed by RWC engineer, Henry Hay Wake) and suspended from hydraulic cylinders. It is thought the barge was named Concrete – perhaps a reader can confirm.

The barge would steam alongside the mixing house, where a bag was filled with fresh concrete and laced up. Afterwards, the barge manoeuvred directly above the pier foundations to allow the bag to be deposited there.

The concrete mixing house was demolished during the early 1920s after work on foreshore sea barriers to the north and south of New South Pier had been completed.

Many sailing ships found their final resting place at Polka Hole, where they were beached and dismantled by ship breakers.

Occasionally, sinking ships would be run aground to save them, as in the case of the steamer Pinnas in 1888.

In 1914, two reinforced concrete caissons were built for use in the construction of the new No 1 and 2 electric coal conveyor belts at Hudson Dock. The caissons were launched from a temporary slipway, then towed into the docks by tugs.

RWC maps of 1905 show that a proposed river retaining wall would have obliterated most traces of Polka Hole, including John Furness Tone’s Wave Basin Battery of 1860.

Fortunately, as work was never carried out, this listed structure has survived.

Removal of the Tide Gauge Jetty and the opening TW Greenwell & Co Ltd’s new dry dock in 1925 saw further encroachments.

Extension of the company’s fitting-out quay to 800 feet in 1952, as part of a yard modernisation programme, reduced Polka Hole’s waterspace even further.

Apart from the old gun battery, only the slipway of the former lifeboat house now survives as a reminder of Polka Hole’s intriguing past.