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Peterhead North Harbour and Graving Dock
Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, UK
Peterhead North Harbour and Graving Dock
associated engineer
Thomas Telford
David Stevenson
Thomas Stevenson
date  1816 - 1822, 1853 - 1855
era  Georgian  |  category  Harbour  |  reference  NK136461
ICE reference number  HEW 127
photo  Roland Paxton
Peterhead North Harbour is part of an extensive harbour complex that includes the large Harbour of Refuge and three small inner harbours — North, South and Port Henry. Its dry dock was originally built for whaling ships and is still in general use. The modern harbour has only the third ship lift of its type in Scotland.
The Harbour of Refuge encloses Peterhead Bay, while the smaller harbours to the north east were constructed in the sheltered water lying between Peterhead town and the offshore islands of Greenhill and Inch Keith. Creation of the North Harbour stemmed from a proposal to give access to the South Harbour (NK137459) from the north, and also from John Rennie's (1761-1821) proposals to enclose the area sheltered by Greenhill Island.
From 1816-22, the first part of this harbour was built to plans proposed by Thomas Telford (1757-1834), with detailed design by John Gibb (1776-1850). These consisted of a north breakwater, a graving (dry) dock on Greenhill Island and quays along the southern and western perimeters of the harbour, providing an enclosed area of 4.45ha. Originally the harbour had a northern opening to the North Sea.
It was Robert Stevenson (1772-1850) who suggested in 1826 that a short canal should be cut between the North and South Harbours. This was constructed in 1850 to a design by his son David Stevenson (1815-86).
Some time between 1816 and 1850 Birnie's Pier was built between Port Henry Harbour (NK136463) and North Harbour, and Scott's Pier was built perpendicular to the southern quays of North Harbour. In 1905-08, Birnie's Pier was modified and North Harbour deepened.
A graving dock (NK136461) was constructed at the south west corner of North Harbour, west of Scott's Pier, in 1853-55 (pictured above). It was designed by Thomas Stevenson (1818-87), another of Robert Stevenson's sons, to accommodate Greenland-bound whaling ships. It cost £6,000. Telford's original graving dock was filled in to make a slipway.
The new dock was constructed in granite with conventional stepped sides. It was 45.1m long, 10.4m wide and had entrance gates with 4-4.8m depth of water over the sill. Stevenson wanted to use steam-driven pumps to empty the dock but had to accept two 360mm diameter atmospheric pumps, each worked by six horses, instead — they could empty the dock in less than eight hours.
The graving dock was extended to about 58.5m long in 1953-54. Probably at about the same time, the dock's masonry was covered with concrete and new welded steel box gates installed. It is still in regular use and can accommodate vessels up to 57.9m long and 10.6m wide with a maximum draft of 4.5m.
Peterhead has been used for a series of different sea-based industries over the years. By 1820 Peterhead and Hull were the two foremost whaling ports in Britain. Whale oil was used in lamps, and the whales brought into Peterhead were caught in the Arctic seas around Greenland. The town's whaling trade peaked in 1857 but declined in the 1860s, and had stopped altogether by 1892.
However, by 1890 herring fishing was at its height and this continued until the early 20th century. After that the town's fleet turned its efforts to catching white fish. By 1987 Peterhead was the largest white fish port in Europe, though trade has since declined as a result of diminishing fish quotas. In the 1970s the town began to be used as a supply base for the North Sea oil industry.
In 1975, when the northern entrance to the sea was closed, the overall depth of water in North Harbour was 3.7m at low water ordinary spring tide.
In 2001, a Syncrolift boat lift with 2,685 tonne lifting capacity was completed to the east of Scott's Pier. It can raise or lower a vessel in less than an hour for inspection, repair or maintenance, and deposit it at the required level for an outside berth or for the adjacent covered repair hall, which is 47m long and 25.2m high. The vessel is held by a docking cradle, shaped to conform to its hull, which rests on a platform operated by synchronised electric-powered mechanical hoists. Its maximum power requirement was reduced from 256kVA to 168kVA in 2002 by installing a power factor correction system.
Supervising engineer (1816-22): John Gibb
Graving Dock contractor (1853-55): James Simpson
Graving Dock gates (1853-55): Sir William Arrol & Co
Boat lift (2001): Syncrolift Inc (Miami, USA)
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH SHIBDCE1

Peterhead North Harbour and Graving Dock