By Richard Lewis
Ferro-Concrete Barge Building in Hull – Tarran Industries
In September 1943, the Ministry of War Transport placed an order for 40 Stem-head Open Barges to be built by Tarran Industries of Hull.
The founder and Managing Director of Tarran Industries was Robert Tarran who had had been born in Kingston upon Hull in 1892 and, after serving in World War I, started his company in 1919. By 1937, he was employed more than 3,000 men and his company eventually employed 10,000 people.
The ‘First of a Line of Concrete Barges’ to be built by Tarran Industries was launched on 13th May 1944, an event reported in the Hull Daily Mail on 15th May 1944.
‘Human ingenuity has devised several queer craft to meet varied contingencies during the present war, but the construction of concrete barges, built almost on a mass production scale, if not new conception, is at any rate sufficiently outstanding to warrant close interest.
A concrete barge of considerable dimensions was launched at Hull port on Saturday and onlookers were delighted with the graceful manner she slid down the slipway and took to the water.
She was the first vessel to be launched from this shipyard for many years, and certainly the first concrete vessel. During the last war cruisers and destroyers were built at this once famous yard, but soon after the last war the yard fell into disuse. Once again it is busy constructing modern type barges for dock and inland waterway work’.
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reported the launch on the same date with a little more detail:
‘Constructed of concrete, and partly factory built, a barge with a capacity of 150 tons was launched by the Lady Mayoress (Mrs. Fryer) yesterday. Mr. G. Tarran (chairman and managing director of Tarran Industries Limited) said a barge of that construction could be built almost with the ease and speed that a factory built house could be erected. The rate of output could quickly increase from one, two or more per week, almost to one per day in certain circumstances.
The Lord Mayor (Alderman F. R. Fryer) said that he had never seen a better launch. While concrete-built ships were not new, he believed that was the first time one had been launched into the Humber’.
The barges are being constructed by Tarran Industries, Ltd., who have already earned no little repute by their speedy methods in general building.
Hull Daily Mail on 27th July 1944 reported that on the previous day, his Excellency, the Ambassador of Mexico, Dr Alfonso Rosenzweig Diaz on a visit to look at the construction of concrete housing, had witnessed the launching of a concrete barge by Mrs Hopper, wife of Hull’s Mexican Consul.
The same newspaper reported that on 2nd September 1944, the fifteenth ‘Admiralty Barge’ built by Tarran Industries was launched, this time by ‘Miss Humber’ of the Hull Daily Mail:
“Miss Humber” (Mrs Michael Walsh), accompanied by Lt. Michael Walsh, wished the barge good service as she broke the traditional champagne bottle, and later was presented with a bouquet by Mr Robert G. Tarran.
The workmen who built the craft joined in the celebration when they each received a pint of beer in accordance with the custom instituted at every concrete barge launch. Also present were Mr Denis Tarran. Miss Doreen B. Mason, Mr J. Mather manager in charge), and Mr Baslington (manager)’.
The first Ferro-Concrete Barge (FCB) , F.B. 221 was completed in June 1944 and the last F.B. 255, in April 1945, a period of 42 weeks, very close to the estimated output of one per week. The orders for F.B. 256 through to F.B. 260 were cancelled by the Ministry of War Transport. Tarran Industries carried on after the war constructing pre-fabricated units – ‘prefabs’. In 1948, the company name changed to Myton Ltd which in turn was largely acquired by Taylor Woodrow.
What Happened to Hull’s Concrete Barges?
Initially, the FCBs built by Tarran Industries were managed by Hull River Craft & Lighter Owner Association, consistent with them having being built in Hull.
The FCBs built in Hull were launched late in World War II and probably were seen as ‘war surplus’ very early in their lives. In the opinion of the author, the photo that appears of FCBs at Victoria Dock shows FCBs laid up and for sale in 1947. The Danish company (that are believed to have bought them) were a lighterage company in Copenhagen harbour and even in 1980, 16 of them were still floating.
Ferro-concrete Barges, Victoria Dock, Hull 1947
It is the hope of the author that this paper helps to capture for posterity, the history of the concrete vessels built at Hull by a famous Hull company.
Despite extensive research in various Hull and National Archives archives, very little evidence exists as to exactly what happened to the 35 FCBs built in Hull, indeed, part of the purpose of this article is to untap memories, recollections and ideally documentary evidence that corroborates the result of the author’s research.
What has been most useful has been using Social Media Groups such as ‘Barges, Small River Tugs and Workboats on Humber’, ‘Grimsby Fish Docks Past & Present’ and ‘West Marsh Heritage’. Also, the work of a Norwegian concrete ship researcher, Erlend Bonderud, identified that 17 FCBs had been bought by Det Forenede Bugserselskab A/S of Denmark between 1947 and 1948. The author is 99% certain that these came from Hull based on evidence of FCBs laid up at Victoria Dock in Spring 1947.
Of the 17 FCBs that went to Copenhagen, two are clubhouses, three are houseboats (one seen under construction below in 2013), six are charted wrecks or known to be sunk, one is a breakwater, three were demolished in 1981 and the fate of the remaining two is currently unknown.
Regarding the other 18 that did not go overseas:
One was definitely used at Seaton Sluice at the harbour entrance in 1961, now buried.
One was definitely located at Tyne Dock and used as infill in the 1980s.
Two are definitely lying in the bank of the Ouse, north of Selby, now obscured, possibly previously used by Cochrane Shipbuilders.
Four were definitely sunk at Newhay, Cliffe to mend the breach in the Ouse during the 1947 floods:
For the full story and more photographs, please visit: https://www.cliffevillage.com/sunken-boats
One or more were in use at Grimsby Docks but their fate is unknown.
One or more were probably used to block the breach at Gainsborough in 1947.
One or more may have been used to strengthen the river bank at Flixborough.
The sole visible survivor is at Winthorpe Lake, Nottinghamshire:
Winthorpe Lake – Concrete Barge, all photo’s copyright Richard Croft
Research continues, the objective? To try to track down the fate of all 35 concrete barges built in Hull and locate the missing eight. Anyone with any information please email Richard – email@example.com
This article is © Richard G Lewis and is an edited excerpt from two manuscripts, researched and written by the author on the subject of British ferro-concrete ships.
For further information and contact:
Richard Croft for permission to use his photographs of the Hull FCB at Winthorpe Lake.
Jon Wallinger at https://www.cliffevillage.com/sunken-boats for permission to use the images from the 1947 floods at Cliffe.
Hull Daily Mail 15th May 1944 Image © Reach PLC. Image created courtesy of British Library Board.
Ferro-concrete Barges, Victoria Dock, Hull 1947 from the HDM Archive and used with permission.
Thanks very much to Richard for the article and if you have any information regarding Ferro-concrete Barges and ‘the Crete Fleet’, please get in touch with Richard at www.thecretefleet.com