On the waterfront: Keeping river running deep

From the early years of the River Wear Commissioners (RWC), dredging of the river was essential in improving navigation to support trade and shipbuilding.

Saturday, 17th June 2017, 4:00 pm

In 1876, harbour engineer Sir John Coode recommended a harbour improvement scheme partly aimed at identifying a solution for increasing water depths at the harbour entrance and elsewhere.

He proposed that by dredging as far as Hylton Ferry and even to the limit of RWC jurisdiction at Biddick Ford, increased tidal flow would have a scouring effect, so increasing depths in the lower harbour and on the bar. Furthermore, the upper reaches would be opened up for shipbuilding and trade expansion.

To achieve this goal the RWC required additional dredging plant, but it was not until January, 1881 that tenders were invited for construction of a new dredger.

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The vessel was to be a single-ladder dredging machine of 70 nominal horse power, capable of dredging in its own draught of water and also to any depth down to 31 feet. Required to raise 500 tons of material per hour, the craft would be one of the most powerful in the country.

The hull was launched by Osbourne Graham and Co of North Hylton in 1881, before being towed to the Tyne, where Hawks, Crawshay and Sons of Gateshead installed her machinery. The total cost was around £16,000.

Designed by RWC engineer Henry Hay Wake, the vessel measured 130 feet in length, having a 32-foot beam and draught of only six feet six inches.

Registered as Wear Dredger (although she carried the name Wear), the 338-ton vessel underwent satisfactory trials on the Tyne before arriving at Sunderland on December 8, 1881.

To support her operations, six 302-ton iron dumb hopper barges were delivered in early 1882, four (Wear Hopper No’s 28 - 31) having been built by John Crown and Sons of Monkwearmouth and the remainder (Wear Hopper No’s 32 and 33) by M Pearse and Co of Stockton.

Wear Dredger played an important part in river improvement, being capable of lifting between six and eight thousand tons of spoil a day.

Although used along the entire river, much of her early work involved deployment between Deptford and Hylton.

A working model of Wear Dredger and one of the new hoppers were exhibited at the North East Coast Naval Exhibition at Tynemouth during September, 1882.

In 1934, after acquisition of the bucket dredger Viscount Ridley by the RWC, it was decided to sell Wear Dredger, which by that time had become known as Wear Dredger No 1.

Towed by France, Fenwick Tyne and Wear Co Ltd tugs Robert Redhead and Conqueror, she left the Wear on November 13 to be scrapped on the Tyne.