THE content of trade in and out of the Tyne has changed almost beyond recognition over the years.
One import you will not see now is that of pit props – although they once represented a massively lucrative commerce.
In 1952, a question about them in the House of Commons resulted in the information that in the first nine months of the year, pit props to the value of £24m – an astonishing figure at that time– had come into the country.
Rewind even further back, to the First World War, and a similar Parliamentary inquiry about imports through the Bristol Channel revealed props coming in from a number of European countries, France being the biggest exporter.
Norway wasn’t far behind, and it was from there that many of the pit props that came into the Tyne originated – part of that cycle of Baltic trade we enjoyed, of coal out, timber in.
So why are we talking about pit props?
Well, it’s been interesting to discover how often they were the cargo being carried by ships that, for one reason or another, got into difficulties on this coast.
A survey of North East shipwrecks in the 19th century, and even into the 20th century, will often reveal pit props among the cargoes.
And one such vessel could be the answer to the mystery posed by that painting, by James Cleet, of a brig aground at Marsden Bay.
Is this her? This picture is from reader Jim Robertson and is of a ship, the Kitty, which went aground at Marsden in 1917.
If you remember the painting, there was a lot of timber strewn around the beach in front of the Grotto, which could have been pit props. And what was the Kitty’s cargo? yes, you’ve guessed.
I’ve not been able to find out a great deal about what happened to her. She was built in 1900 as a schooner, the Henry Brooke. but changed her name to Kitty when she was sold in 1916.
When she ran aground at Marsden, she was in passage from Fredrikshald, in Norway, to the Tyne, with props. One man was killed.