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Shoreham-by-Sea 'Creteships'
John ver Mehr's yard, River Adur, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, UK
Shoreham-by-Sea 'Creteships'
associated engineer
Guy Anson Maunsell
date  1918 - 1920
era  Modern  |  category  Ship  |  reference  TQ218049
photo  courtesy family of William John Seaman
Guy Maunsell moved from a civil engineering career to serving with the Royal Engineers in the World War I trenches of France in 1917. The following year he was recalled from the war to build concrete ships — and design one of the shipyards that manufactured them, at Shoreham-by-Sea. One of the boats remains afloat in Eire.
Perhaps surprisingly, concrete ships were not a new idea — small craft were built in France (1848), Holland (1887), El Salvador (1890) and USA (1899). The first large vessel was the Italian lighter Liguria (1905), and in the early years of the 20th century many European and American nations were building sea-going concrete vessels.
Shoreham has a long heritage of shipbuilding, from before Tudor times, but by the end of the 19th century it was almost non-existent. But World War I (1914-18) was to revive its shipbuilding capabilities. The depredations of submarine warfare during the conflict led to a huge demand for replacement ships. The war also exacerbated the world shortage of steel and shipbuilders were seeking to use other materials — reinforced concrete seemed ideal.
The British government instigated a £4m construction programme for 154 concrete vessels totalling 203,200 tonnes — saving around 71,000 tonnes of steel. Existing shipyards were modified and eight new ones opened, among them John ver Mehr's yard on the south bank of the River Adur at Shoreham Beach in 1917 — with Maunsell as chief engineer. The same year pioneering concrete engineer Louis Gustave Mouchel helped inaugurate the Ferro-Concrete Ship Construction Co. for building concrete vessels at Barrow-in-Furness. The first British sea-going concrete ship was the Armistice, built at Barrow in 1919.
When war ended on 11th November 1918 just one barge had been completed, the Creteacre at a yard in Poole. Construction continued awhile though only vessels nearing completion were finished. In all, 18 yards launched vessels. The last to be completed was the Cretewheel at Shoreham in late summer 1920, bringing the total to 66 — 12 tugs and 54 barges. Six steam tugs and six barges were built at the ver Mehr yard, to standardised designs.
The tugs were each of 271 tonnes, 38.1m long with an 8.4m beam and a moulded depth of 4.3m (draught 4.1m). The hull, deckhouse and forecastle, with its turtleback deck, were concrete while the rudder post, boiler top casings and skylights were steel. The bridge, chartroom and part of the deck were timber. Each tug was powered by triple expansion steam engines.
The Shoreham-built barges were the smallest of all the concrete barges at 51.8m long, with a 10.1m beam and a hold depth of 4.9m in each of the three cargo holds.
The tugs were built on slipways and the barges in dry docks that were flooded on completion. Aggregate for the concrete was site-won shingle, Portland cement was delivered by barge from Beeding 5km away and sand was taken from pits around Storrington. The concrete mix used was 23% shingle and 38.5% each of cement and sand, with an added waterproofing compound. Materials were transported around the site on a purpose-built narrow gauge railway.
Maunsell used precast concrete frames and slabs to form the vessel’s skeleton. Steel reinforcement was then fixed and shaped timber formwork erected for the outer lines of the hull, while the interior was formed with braced shuttering. Poured concrete was vibrated with pneumatic hammers to expel air bubbles before setting. After the formwork was struck, the vessel’s exterior was rubbed with cement mortar to seal the pores before a bitumen coating was applied, followed by paint.
The tugs were all completed in 1920, and in 1922 all but the Cretegaff were sold to Stelph & Leighton, managers of the Crete Shipping Co. Cretewheel was stranded at Newbiggin-by-Sea on 14th October 1920, bound for Amble. Creteyard, Cretemast and Creteblock were scrapped in 1924, 1930 and 1934 respectively — in 1947 the Creteblock ran aground at Whitby while being towed out to sea for sinking and had to be blown up.
The Cretegaff was sold to S.A. Portus and converted into a grain barge for the River Mersey in 1936, then resold to the Oil & Cake Co., Drogheda, County Louth in 1937 and renamed the Lady Boyne. In 1986 she was towed to Carlingford Lough and refurbished, becoming the marina clubhouse and reverting to her original name. She is now a permanent part of the marina seawall.
The Creteboom was sold to the South Stockton Shipbreaking Co., Thornaby-on-Tees, in 1935. She was resold to the Ballina Harbour Commissioners, County Mayo, in 1937 but began leaking. She is still moored in the River Moy.
The barges were completed in 1919 and Stelph & Leighton bought four of them in 1922. Cretestile (pictured above) was wrecked near Gorlestone, Norfolk, carrying coal from Tyneside on 15th December 1919. Cretestreet sank in King George Dock, Hull, on 10th February 1920, was raised and sunk again as part of a seawall in 1925 and is now part of the jetty near Hull Container Terminal. The Creteshore was converted to cable barge in 1923, but disappears from the shipping register by 1928. Creteshade and Cretestream were sold to Holland in 1927. Cretesurf was sold to T.H. Skogland & Son A/S, Norway, in 1924 and renamed Skogland II. She was converted to sail in 1925 but deleted from the shipping register in 1930.
Concrete shipbuilding met the needs of the times, but it was expensive and was not undertaken again until World War II (1939-45). The average cost of constructing a concrete barge in 1920 was £27,000 — the steel equivalent would have cost £17,000.
Research: ECPK
"Concrete Ships and Barges" in Ferro-Concrete, Vol.X, No.4, October 1918
"The Story of Shoreham" by Henry Cheal
Hove Combridges, Southern Publishing Co. Ltd, Brighton, 1921
"Obituary: Guy Anson Maunsell"
in ICE Proceedings, Vol.22, Issue 3, pp.347-348, London, July 1962
"Maunsell: The Firm and its Founder" by Nigel Watson and Frank Turner
AECOM Technology Corporation, 2005
"The 'Creteships': Concrete Shipbuilding at Shoreham 1918-20" by N. Kelly
in Sussex Industrial History, Issue 35, pp.20-27, Brighton, 2005

Shoreham-by-Sea 'Creteships'