You’ve probably driven over the Northern Spire Bridge countless times now, or walked past Claxheugh Rock plenty of times throughout 2020 as we explored Sunderland.

But did you know that there’s a 102 year old, concrete steam tug called the SS Cretehawser that’s nestled on the banks on the River Wear?

Here’s the story behind the forgotten remains of the SS Cretehawser… 

Featured image: Hover Media / Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums


By order of the Ministry of Shipping… 


Image: Hover Media 


The story begins way back in 1919 with the Ministry of Shipping; the governing body of British ports, shipping and waterways. 

An order was placed with the Wear Concrete Building Company to design, create and build eight concrete steam tugs to effectively tow iron ore from Northern Spain all the way to Britain via the North Sea.

Measuring in at 125 feet and weighing roughly 262 tonnes, the SS Cretehawser was powered by a screw driven, 3 cylinder engine from Central Marine Engine Works in West Hartlepool that boasted 120 horsepower – a pretty impressive feat for machinery of that era.   

Majority of the ship’s main structures were made from concrete. However, parts of the deck and other areas were constructed using wood to save on weight and cost. The SS Cretehawser was capable of accommodating 17 crew members should workflows require. 

It’s rumoured that the forecastle (the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast) was designed to house a gun mounting should the vessel encounter enemies while out at sea. Thankfully, this was not fitted as the armistice agreement was reached following the conclusion of World War I. 


A short working life… 


Image: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums


By the time 1935 arrived, the SS Cretehawser arrived at the end of her commercial life and was then sold to the South Stockton Shipping Company Ltd for scrap money.

The remains of the vessel hulk was bought by The River Wear Commissioners for use as an emergency breakwater and subsequently moored at the South Dock. 

In 1942, the SS Cretehawser was unfortunately shelled during an air raid from German bombers and subsequently towed up the River Wear and left on the mud banks near Claxheugh Rock – not far from where she was originally built. 

So, next time you’re out and about on a walk with the pooch or passing over the Northern Spire Bridge, keep an eye out for the SS Cretehawser – a brilliant artefact that symbolises Sunderland’s shipbuilding heritage. 


Have you seen the SS Cretehawser in Sunderland? Get in touch online. Twitter: @SunderlandVibe, Instagram: @SunderlandVibe, Facebook: @SunderlandVibe.

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