ON THE WATERFRONT: Into the age of steam

As Wear shipbuilding moved into the era of steam, parallel developments in marine engineering were keeping pace.

Friday, 29th April 2016, 1:00 pm
Wreath Quay engine works

While engine builders such as George Clark, North Eastern Marine, John Dickinson, Doxfords and Scotia Engine Works are still recalled, some lesser known concerns have faded into history.

One of these was based at Wreath Quay on the north side of the river beneath where the Stadium of Light now stands.

Established as Wreath Quay Engine Company by Charles Ross Simey in 1876, dredging of the neighbouring river bed allowed steamers to remain afloat at high water but to be grounded for repairs and inspection as the tide fell.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The first vessel to use the facility was the 815 tons gross steamer Luneburg, owned by HT Morton of Biddick Hall, which was beached on September 4, 1876 for general overhaul and fitting of a new propeller.

Although said to be making a large profit, the works were put up for sale in 1878 after Simey was declared bankrupt. Taken over by JW and F Wilson in 1879, the premises saw use for manufacture and repair of sawmill machinery, but in 1883 were adapted to make marine boilers.

Along with Wilsons’ Monk Street Engine Works, Wreath Quay Boiler Works were auctioned in 1887 without any bidders being forthcoming.

After some years of disuse, the works were reopened in 1895 by Hugh MacColl in partnership with John Jameson, who again adapted them for repair and construction of marine engines and boilers.

Despite only being about 35, Jameson possessed considerable engineering skills but unfortunately died in 1896. Soon afterwards, MacColl formed a new partnership with Gilbert Pollock.

At its peak, MacColl and Pollock Ltd employed around 500 men, engining some 400 vessels during its history. These included Canadian Greater Lakers, oil tankers, small passenger ships and tugs. World War One orders for the Admiralty included engines for gun boats and trawlers.

Said to be the first of its type on the North East Coast and perhaps the world, a 65-ton all-round cantilever crane was installed in 1905, such cranes being referred to as “hammer head” cranes.

The 4,976 tons gross steamer Grelfryda built for Griffiths Lewis Steam Navigation Co Ltd of Cardiff in 1917 and the 5,573 tons gross Badjestan, launched by Bartrams for Common Bros’ Hindustan Steam Shipping Company of Newcastle in 1928, were among the largest vessels to receive engines at Wreath Quay.

Apart from 125 bhp diesel engines installed in the Scarborough excursion ship Royal Lady, launched by Crowns in 1934, work after 1931 involved repairs only.

Another Wearside victim of the 1930s economic downtown, MacColl and Pollock closed its doors in 1935, the works later being dismantled by Thomas Ward Ltd of Sheffield.