The First Concrete Barge to Be Built in Britain

The first ferro-concrete barge to be built in Britain was launched from the Hamworthy Shipyard, Poole of Hill, Richards & Co on 24 August 1918. A Culture Volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project describes the background to the launch and the actual event.

The Ministry of Munitions had decided in late 1917 that concrete ships could help overcome the shortage of steel and would only need an unskilled workforce. 154 barges and tugs were ordered in February 1918 but the requirement for them ended with the declaration of peace and it is believed that only 54 barges and 12 tugs were actually built. A concrete barge cost around £27 500 compared to nearly £18 000 for a steel barge and it was found that a more skilled workforce was required than had been anticipated. The scheme lost nearly £3million and it was concluded that the project was carried out on too large a scale for an experiment although it was accepted that war-time necessitated the effort.

Construction of ‘Admiralty Auxiliary Shipyard Extension No 62’ at Hamworthy began in December 1917 on marsh and farmland by Poole Harbour. It took around 10 months to construct the 16 slipways and associated works and eventually covered 250 acres. A timber mill was needed to provide the wood used in the building of the moulds for the ships. The original plan was to cover the slipways to stop wind and frost damaging the concrete as it ‘cured’ but the cessation of war meant that this was not needed. The shipyard gave the Hamworthy branch line a new life having been singled in 1905. The second line was reinstated in 1916 to enable materials to be brought in and Lake Halt was built for the shipyard workers.

The first barge to be launched was PD 25 (known as Cretacre). It took about six months to build to a design of the Marine and General Concrete Construction Company. The barge had a double skin and its dimensions were 190ft long, 33ft beam and 15ft 6in deep.

The launch ceremony was a major event for Poole and the shipyard was decorated with flags and streamers. Several thousand people gathered to watch the opening ceremony carried out by the Mayoress of Poole (Mrs Dolby) at 12 o’clock on the Saturday. As the barge went down the slipway a paddle steamer waited in Poole Harbour. The Premier, of Cosens of Weymouth, had been hired to act as a tug because the concrete barge was unpowered. The Premier towed the barge to the Claypits Pier which was adjacent to the shipyard.

An employee sports event was held in the afternoon with prizes awarded by Mrs Ward, wife of the Commander of the Poole Naval Base. Sports included egg and spoon races, wheelbarrow races, and tilting at the water bucket. The Tug of War for men was won by the ‘barge carpenters labourers’ and in the ladies competition the lady typists beat the lady accountants. The Poole Town Band provided the musical entertainment. Among those who attended the launch was a group of men from the Cornelia Hospital in Poole. They were known as the ‘boys in blue’ because they wore blue uniforms to indicate they had been wounded in the war.

On January 16 1919 a ferro-concrete oil-tanker, designed to carry a 1000 tons of oil, was launched from the shipyard. HRH Prince Nicholas, Crown Prince of Romania performed the launch ceremony of OC 601 at 9.30 am with the traditional bottle of wine.

F4d_0016 - The Crown Prince about to launch OC 601

The platform was decorated with British and Romanian flags; Romania had declared war on Austria, an ally of Germany, in 1916. The barge had Romanian flags at the stern and a Union Jack on the mast. Even though the event was more low-key than the launch of PD 25, around a thousand workers watched the event.

F4d_0017 - The launch of OC 601

The Romanian military attache and directors from Hill, Richards were among the launch party, as well as Mr E.O. Williams, who had invented the system used in the construction. Interestingly, the concrete barge has in the photograph the name ‘Prince Nicholas’ on the bow. The Prince then went to visit the German submarine U 107 which was at Poole Quay.

F4d_0022 The launch of PD25 with the Premier in the background

The Table gives the known details about the barges that were built by the Hill, Richards & Co shipyard in Hamworthy, Poole. The newspaper report of the launch of PD 25 noted that eight barges and three steam tugs were on the timber construction frames.

Name (1) Type PD No (2) Launch Use and final fate
Cretacre Barge PD25 24/8/18 Army stores transport – scrapped 1948
Cretabode Barge PD26 1918 Army stores transport – deregistered 1952
Cretalp Barge 1918 Army stores transport – depot ship 1924
Creteol Oil barge 16/1/19 Civilian use -Sold to France 1937
Cretoleum Oil barge 1919 Civilian use -Sold to France 1937
Cretarch Barge PD42 1919 Civilian use – Scrapped and sunk 1922
Creterill Barge PD29 1919 Civilian use – Sold to Norway 1922
Cretearmour Barge PD28 1919 Civilian use – Sold to Brazil 1926
Cretangle Barge PD30 1919 Civilian use – Broken up at Shoreham 1957


  • Sometimes the spelling is different eg Creteangle instead of Cretangle, Cretol instead of Creteol.
  • Port discharge number = Government Hull number

Gardiners Shipbuilding and Engineering Co purchased the shipyard in July 1919. The company had great plans and had an initial contract to build six 7 200 ton steel steamers. By November 1920, the company was facing compulsory liquidation for unpaid debts from several companies and the company folded.

2 thoughts on “The First Concrete Barge to Be Built in Britain

  1. Pingback: Royal Navy in the First World War Part 1 Paddle Steamers | Poole, the First World War and its Legacy

  2. Just to be pedantic, Crete ships had a naming convention such that the last ‘e’ in the prefix Crete was dropped when the suffix started with a noun. So in the table, Cretearmour is an incorrect spelling for example. OC601, Cretol, was never registered as ‘Prince Nicholas’ which would seem to be a ‘ceremonial name’ for the day in honour of the esteemed Prince.’


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s