Roker and New South Piers

For more than a century, the curved arms of Roker and New South Piers have formed a safe haven for shipping using Sunderland Harbour.

With its imposing, but now timeworn lighthouse, Roker Pier has long overshadowed its southern neighbour, which remains incomplete to this day.

Had it not been for the outbreak of the First World War and its effect on the finances of the River Wear Commissioners (RWC), it is probable that two fine lighthouses – instead of one – would stand sentinel at the entrance to the Wear.

With construction of Roker Pier having commenced in 1885, work began on New South Pier in 1893.

Both were designed by RWC engineer, Henry Hay Wake, who had intended that the latter should be 2,844 feet in length with a granite lighthouse at its seaward end.

In 1908, with 168 feet left to construct, work on New South Pier was suspended to determine how an impending harbour improvement programme would influence sea swell entering the harbour.

This scheme involved widening and deepening the harbour entrance channel and dredging the lower reaches of the river beyond Wearmouth Bridge – as far as Lambton and Hetton and Wearmouth coal staiths.

In 1912, as dredging had not caused any appreciable difference to swell leading into the harbour, the RWC decided not to extend New South Pier's length, other than to complete its unfinished end in a permanent manner.

Plans were then drawn up to construct a roundhead, which would overlap the existing pier end by about 40 feet and provide a clear entrance between the pier heads of 727 feet, instead of 600 feet, as originally proposed. A granite lighthouse was also to be erected on the roundhead.

By June 1914, construction of a steel caisson for the roundhead was well advanced. It was proposed to tow the caisson downriver and sink it on to a specially-prepared foundation of concrete bags.

With declaration of war the following August, however, work on the pier was abandoned. What became of the caisson remains a mystery and instead of a fine lighthouse, a temporary navigation light pillar became permanent.

Although constructed in a similar manner to Roker Pier, New South Pier differs in that it incorporates a nine-feet-high parapet wall along almost its entire length. Set into the wall are 40 arched recesses, which provide refuge from breaking seas.

A huge 20-ton gas-engined block-setting crane, mounted on rails, was used to set 15-ton granite blocks on to foundations of concrete-filled jute sacks.

With a boom capable of revolving 360 degrees, the crane could position blocks 64 feet ahead of its leading wheels.

A continuation of the pier to form a breakwater abutting the docks was completed in 1922.