Remains of the Ryton Wherries :: Shared Description

In 2009, an archaeological survey was conducted in advance of a proposal by the Tyne Rowing Club who wanted to build a new flight of steps down to the waters edge. The Historic Environment Record noted the survival of a spread of old boat timbers, representing the remains of a possible five vessels at this point of the river. Three of the boats were of a type of river barge known as a wherry, a common sight on the river until the 1960s. Those at Ryton were grounded at this point between the 1940s and the 1960s by the Port of Tyne Authority when they were no longer in service, to remove them from the navigation channels, further downstream.

A full archaeological survey of the site was made in the spring and summer of 2009 by Alan Williams and Patrick Taylor. Of the five substantial hulls noted on the HER, two proved to be pontoons, probably originally floating ferry landings, and three were wherries. All were made of oak timber planking, a durable material largely responsible for the continued survival of the vessels. The construction technique for the hulls is of overlapping planking sealed with caulking (rags of hemp soaked in tar), known as clinker construction. Each plank overlaps the one below it, and a fixing nail is driven through the overlap, and bent over (clenched) a metal washer called a rove. Scatters of clench nails and roves were recorded among the timbers at Ryton. This is a very ancient technique; vessels sailed down the Tyne by the Roman navy would have been clinker-built, as indeed was the Sutton Hoo ship and all Viking long-boats. Cullercoat cobbles continue the tradition, but after the time of Henry VIII, most other craft are made of end-butted planks, sealed with pitch, a technique known as carvel planking which is much easier to repair than clinker planking.

The Tyne Wherries were developed to carry out the two functions of barge-traffic and lighterage. In the early days they were propelled, like the Keels before them, by the power of the flowing tide, by the use of long sweeps (oars) or punting poles and through the use of simple sailing rigs (square sail or later, sprit sail and jib). Strings of wherries could readily be towed by paddle-tugs, thus enabling them to take best advantage of wind and tide for passages. In the later nineteenth century many became self-propelled, using small vertical boilers and engines placed aft to drive a screw propeller, and eventually a few adopted motor power.

The last wherry of its type, still afloat in the 1970s, was 'Elswick No. 2'; launched in 1939, 55 feet long and 23 feet in the beam, built of massive closely-spaced 5 inch x 6 inch frames onto which are nailed the overlapping 1 inch thick oak planks. It is now conserved in the Tyne and Wear Museums' store at Beamish Open Air Museum.

Tyne and Wear Specialist Conservation Team Annual Report 2009.
'Elswick No. 2' wherry on Sitelines: LinkExternal link
Taylor, Patrick, and Williams, Alan (2010). The Newburn wherries: remnants of the River Tyne's industrial past. Archaeologia Aeliana 5th Series, Vol.39: 40125
'No Wherries' on Heddon on the Wall Local History website LinkExternal link
by Andrew Curtis
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9 images use this description:

NZ1665 : Boatsheds, Tyne United Rowing Club by Andrew Curtis
NZ1665 : Remains of the Ryton Wherries, west of Newburn Bridge by Andrew Curtis
NZ1665 : Remains of the Ryton Wherries, west of Newburn Bridge by Andrew Curtis
NZ1665 : Remains of the Ryton Wherries, west of Newburn Bridge by Andrew Curtis
NZ1665 : Remains of the Ryton Wherries, west of Newburn Bridge by Andrew Curtis
NZ1665 : Rudder in debris field of Ryton Wherries, west of Newburn Bridge by Andrew Curtis
NZ1665 : Remains of the Ryton Wherries, west of Newburn Bridge by Andrew Curtis
NZ1665 : Remains of the Ryton Wherries, west of Newburn Bridge by Andrew Curtis
NZ1665 : Remains of the Ryton Wherries, west of Newburn Bridge by Andrew Curtis


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Created: Fri, 22 Feb 2013, Updated: Mon, 25 Feb 2013

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