Awful fate of vessel salvaged from disaster by Shields shipworkers

BEFORE ... the truncated remains of the English Trader arriving in the Tyne.
BEFORE ... the truncated remains of the English Trader arriving in the Tyne.
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THERE must have been a sense of despondency among the workforce of Middle Docks in Shields when word trickled back to them of the fate of the English Trader.

Just a few years earlier, they had worked round the clock to bring her back from disaster, but now war had claimed her.

AFTER ... the English Trader after her rebuilding at Middle Docks.

AFTER ... the English Trader after her rebuilding at Middle Docks.

The vessel was the English Trader, seen here in remarkable ‘before and after’ pictures which have come to me from John Bage.

Readers will know John as an historian of the Tyne’s yards and docks, especially those at this end of the river, such as Readhead’s.

But recently he had a brochure come to him which Middle Docks produced just before the Second World War which tells the fascinating story, in words and pictures, of how it took a battered ship - effectively half a vessel - and got it back to sea again.

The English Trader had been built in 1934 by Furness’s at Haverton Hill, originally as the Arches, for the Arctees Shipping Co.

After 10 days of being stranded, she was cut in two at her bow section, which was subsequently scrapped. What was left was towed stern-first ... to Middle Docks here on the Tyne, where she was rebuilt in just 100 days.

She boasted a new Arcform hull design which was intended to improve oil consumption.

In January 1937, however, while entering Dartmouth harbour, she ran aground close to the castle.

She was badly holed, and attempts by tugs, and even a Royal Navy destroyer, to refloat her, were unsuccessful.

After 10 days of being stranded, she was eventually cut in two at her bow section, which was subsequently scrapped.

What was left was towed stern-first to Dartmouth, then Southampton, then eventually to Middle Docks here on the Tyne where she was rebuilt in just 100 days.

Sadly, it was to be a relatively short-lived survival.

Two years into the war, in October 1941, she was in the Thames, where she loaded a mixed cargo for Kenya - agricultural equipment, whisky, even Andrews Liver Salts.

On October 24, she joined convoy EC90 of 20 or so freighters etc, with destroyer escort, headed up the east coast.

She struggled to keep up, however, and eventually fell behind.

Soon after, the convoy came under attack from a flight of Dorniers; despite the miles between them, English Trader also came close to being bombed, HMS Vesper breaking off to assist her.

The ailing ship, however, eventually ran aground on Hammond Knoll on the Norfolk coast.

In mounting gales, three of the crew were swept to their deaths and in the subsequent rescue attempts by three lifeboats, from Cromer, Great Yarmouth and Gorleston, a lifeboat man also lost his life.

Eventually, once the weather had quietened, the English Trader’s remaining 44 crew were got off by the Cromer boat, after which the ship herself went under.

You can read more, and see other pictures of her, on John’s website HERE under website news.