Tees Bay Pilots

Tees Bay Pilots provide pilotage services in the Ports of Tees & Hartlepool.

History of Tees Bay Pilots

Tees Bay Pilots

A History.

The first port on the River Tees was established at Yarm in the 12th century about 25 miles from the mouth of the river. Its importance as a port was further improved. However it took vessels as long to navigate to Yarm as it did to sail to the Thames. Yarm was the first bridged crossing point over Tees and on the busy trade route between York and Durham.

Yarm remained the main port of the area until the 15th century when the more conveniently situated town of Stockton began to develop. Stockton is 12 miles downstream of Yarm and in 1771 the first low bridge, 116 years later to be rebuilt as the current Victoria Bridge, was built and this ended Yarm’s existence as a port.

By the beginning of the 19th century Stockton was firmly established as a major port. However the meandering river caused delays to vessels and something had to be done to improve things. In 1808, the Tees Navigation Company was formed with powers to improve the navigation between Stockton and the sea.

Their first priority was to create the Mandale Cut, a 220 yard cut at the neck of a looped bend in the river, which shortened the distance from the sea to Stockton by 2.3 miles. This was completed by 1810 and a further cut in 1831 shortened this distance a further 0.75 miles.

In 1822 the first backbone of exports from the River Tees started; coal from the South Durham coal mines. Stockton’s importance as a port was further improved by the Darlington and Stockton railway in 1825. Famed as the birthplace of the railway, the original track embankment and ticket office, where the first fare paying passenger bought a ticket is still standing today. In 1828 a group of Darlington Quakers, headed by Joseph Pease, surveyed a site nearer the mouth of the river. This site was at the hamlet of Middlesbrough. With a population of only 25 in 1801 Middlesbrough was only a farm, surrounded by fields and below it, to the sea, vast mud flats that formed the large estuary of the river. Joseph Pease wrote in his diary as he stood in this wilderness

“Imagination here bad ample scope in
fancying the coming day when the
bare fields u were then traversing
would be covered with a multitude and
the coming and going of great ships
would denote the busy seaport. “

The Quakers formed the Owners of the Middlesbrough Estate (OME) and bought 520 acres of land at Middlesbrough and built d the new coal terminal, Port Darlington. At the same time, an Act was passed to extend the railway to Middlesbrough and coal terminal, Port Darlington.

In 1842 Middlesbrough Dock was built an enclosed dock of some 9 acres.

In 1850, Bolkow and Vaughne discovered iron ore in the Cleveland hills. This happened at a very opportune moment because coal export from the Tees was declining. Many blast furnaces were built on the banks of the Tees, with various wharfs to deal with this rapid expansion in trade. The nearest to the mouth of the river was a half mile jetty to Redcar Wharf. Other jetties included Eston Jetty, Cargo Fleet Wharf, Gjers Wharf and Newport Wharf. By 1914 Teesside was one of the world’s leading centres of heavy industries. Middlesbrough
rapidly overtook Stockton in importance of sea trade and although there are few statistics available for trade in the river during the 19th century, in 1886 the river handled 2,050.00 tons of cargo, of which 90% was handled at Middlesbrough. The world owed much to the industry on Teesside at this time. Ship building was very much on the increase to accommodate expansion in overseas trade and Teesside produced the iron plates, bars and angles needed for the task. In addition Teesside played a major pan in the world wide expansion of the railways by exporting rail track all over the world.

In less than 20 years, from 1850, Teesside ad become the world’s leading centre for the production of iron. In the mid 19th century, with increased trade and competition from the Hartlepools, the Tees Navigation Company was unable to develop the river to keep pace with required expansion. They found they were
unable to finance the work required to deepen the river below Middlesbrough, still a vast mud flat with some training walls and reclamation going on. In 1852 an Act was passed to allow the Tees Conservancy Commission, (TCC) to take over the duties of the Tees Navigation Company. The TCC was to remain until 1967. This new organisation, with access to grants and funds, created the river route from the mouth to Middlesbrough as it does today. The most southerly of the channels running through the mud flats was chosen and training walls
were built. Slag, from the many iron works. was used in the construction of these walls and the South Gare breakwater. The result of this development meant that the river scoured out to a depth of 25 feet at the bar, in the early years it had been only 2.5 feet! The building of South Gare was at first deemed to be too expensive, but a great storm in 1861, causing the wrecking of between 50 and 60 vessels within sight of Hartlepool and Tees Bay, altered that view. The breakwater was commenced in 1863 and the North Gare breakwater was commenced on 1891.

Reclamation, both north and south of the river in the lower reaches, continued over many years. By 1892 some 2400 acres of foreshore had been reclaimed and by 1952 3400 acres. In fact most of the industries on the banks of the river today are built on reclaimed land. Ship building at Smith Dock was one such area to be reclaimed from the sea. In 1905 the site for Smiths Dock could only be surveyed at low water. The area chosen was reclaimed and within five years two dry docks and a slipway were built and ship building and ship repair work commenced. Although ship building had been going on in the river since 1833, with 1953 being the peak year. Smiths Dock was to be the last yard to carry out the practise on the river. This ended in 1987, although the ship repair yard was to re-open soon after and the slipways converted to conventional and heavy lift jetties for the offshore industry. Haverton Hill, further up river, built the largest vessels to sail from the Tees. These were 167,000 dwt oil bulk ore carriers, built in the early 1970’s. This expertise in ship building has not been totally lost. In recent years the offshore industry has been served well with modules of all shapes and sizes being built on the river Tees and at Hartlepool. Middlesbrough Dock remained under the control of the railways and it wasn’t until the second world war that a road was linked to the dock. This road passed over 18 railway tracks. Prior to this all cargo to and from the I dock had to be handled by rail. As a result of this, trade to and from Middlesbrough Dock was restricted and development elsewhere became necessary.

From the middle of the 19th Century trade on the river was generated predominantly by the heavy industry in the area. Imports were basically raw materials and of this iron ore formed the major pan. However, just before and to a much greater extent, after the war, the petrochemical industry developed. The TCC at the end of the war analysed the future requirements of the industries on the Tees. This involved deepening the river. the developments in the petrochemical industry, and a need for new deep water docks and oil jetties. As a result of this study two oil jetties were built 3.5 miles from the mouth of the river. This was followed by 5 deep water berths and the formation of Tees Dock. Unlike Middlesbrough Dock, Tees Dock was tidal and dredged to a depth of 32 feet. The oil berths, completed in 1955, were used by ICI who were developing the new ICI Wilton site. In addition Shell Mex and BP used the berths for their new distribution centre. The development of Tees Dock was the last major act of the TCC because 1967 saw the formation of the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority. This unified Port Authority set out to centralise port operations down stream in order to make economies in the maintenance of the river. The greatest casualty of this was Stockton and in 1967 sea trade to Stockton ceased. ICI, developing the 2000 acre Wilton site on the south bank, also bought a 250 acre site on the north hank. On this site, in conjunction with the Phillips Oil Corp- oration of Oklahoma. a refinery was built. This had a capacity to process 5M tons of crude oil per year. A second refinery was also constructed by Shell on the south bank between Tees Dock and Redcar Wharf. This refinery was to close 25 years later. These refineries, completed in the mid .sixties, were able to accept vessels of up to 80.000 tons. The river was there- fore dredged further and a 15 foot turning circle dredged out by the entrance to Tees Dock. The most recent back- bone product of the Tees was commenced in 1973. The discovery of crude oil in the Norwegian sector of the north sea, their Ekofisk Field and the subsequent decision to pipe this some 200 miles to Teesside, led to the construction of the stabilizing and gas extraction plant on the reclaimed land at Seal Sands. This development at the mouth of the river included four jetties for gas ships and four for tankers up to 150,000dwt.

In 1978 one of the jetties was upgraded to take tankers of 250,000dwt. The main sea reach channel was deepened and lengthened and has a dredged depth of 15.5metres and a 1700ft turning circle, near the entrance to Phillips Dock, was dredged out. In addition to ICI and Phillips Petroleum, storage tank farms play an important part in the river trade. In 1965 Saddlers, an established company dealing in oils and chemicals on the Tees, started a company called Tees Storage and developed a tank farm at Seal Sands with two jetties. In the late eighties a third jetty was constituted. Tar Residuals, which also had a tar and bitumen berth at Clarence Wharf, also developed a tank farm at Seal Sands with another two berths. In addition Monsanto, later to become BASF, built a small refinery at Seal Sands, again with two berths. Nationalisation and rationalisation of the steel industry in the 1960’s saw both a downturn and upgrading of steel production on Teesside. In the early seventies Redcar Ore Terminal became the main jetty for raw product imports. This jetty was upgraded to accept vessels of up to 200,000 tons. A massive expansion plan, on reclaimed land, centralised all steel making to a furnace behind the ore terminal. This raw steel was sent in a half circle to the finishing plants and hence to the Steel Export Terminal in Tees Dock. This expansion at Redcar of course meant that other jetties further upriver closed and the blast furnaces were dismantled. Jetties such as Cargo Fleet, South Bank became derelict.

The discovery of potash at the Boulby Potash mine south of Teesside, prompted the development of the Potash Terminal on the east side of the Docks. This development came into operation in 1974 but did not live up the expected volume of seagoing traffic. As time went on, any cargo suitable for conveyor belt loading, was handled at the berth. In 1981 the port had come full circle in its variety of exports when the terminal began handling coal for the National Coal Board. The Potash Terminal was about half the length of the quay on the west side of Tees Dock. which became known as number 1 quay. The remainder of the quay from Potash became number 2 quay and two further berths were available for the diverse cargoes handled in Tees Dock. In addition at the bottom end of the dock two Ro-Ro berths were built. Tees Dock handled liner trade from various pans of the world and to this day includes Ro-Ro trade, on a weekly basis, from Poland and Sweden and on a daily basis from Zeebrugge. Nissan cars were also imported and exported from the dock. This trade, soon to be lost to the Tyne forms a large proportion of the cargo handled within the dock. Just down the river from Tees Dock, Bell Line developed their container terminal. In recent years this trade has increased and their jetty has been doubled in size to enable two vessels at a time to be worked. It can he seen from the above history that the main port operations has moved progressively to the mouth of the river.

The main pilotage district of the Tees now stretches from the Fairway Buoy to Billingham Oil jetty some 10 miles in distance. Stockton’s fate, as a port, was scaled in a similar way to that of Yarm some 220 years earlier, when the Newport Bridge was welded shut to seagoing traffic. Just above the Newport bridge the Tees barrage is being built. This will enhance the water home leisure pursuits of Stockton and the priority for river use will advance greatly towards the leisure industry. Below Newport bridge the commercial sector of the river continues with trade throughout the world. Crude oil, chemicals, gas, iron ore, coal, cars. steel products, fertilisers, general and hulk cargoes and containers to name but a few of the imports and exports from the river. In 1991 the status of the port altered from a trust port to the private sector when Teesside Holdings Ltd. became the new owners. The port cannot continue its path much nearer to the mouth of the river as it is now. The future, therefore, perhaps remains in the areas previously used by iron works and other industries that have long gone and left a vacant site. One question must remain of the vision of Joseph Pease 166 years ago, could he possibly have imagined the size of ships and depths of water that his busy seaport would eventually see?


In 1487, Henry VII gave permission for dues to be collected from ships and to use the proceeds to improve navigation. Then in 1600, James I extended the influence of Trinity House of Newcastle- Upon-Tyne to cover the coastline between Holy Island and Whitby. They were also empowered, amongst other things, to charge duties on cargoes, charge for lighthouse dues and appoint pilots. As the number of pilots at a port became too large to be administered from Newcastle, a ruler of pilots was appointed for that port. In 1811 Trinity house appointed the first ruler of pilots to administer the pilots of Hartlepool and the Tees. The main trade, up until the opening of Middlesbrough Dock in 1842 had been to the ports of the Stockton and Yarm. In 1665, 12 ships called at Stockton, 10 years later the number increased to 84. By the early 1700’s ships of 300 to 400 tons were unable to use the port of Yarm because of the poor navigation state of the river. A bridge built at Stockton in 1771, having arches of 21 feet in width, also limited the size of vessels that could reach Yarm.

One of the most difficult manoeuvres was to pilot a vessel through the arches. This could only be attempted on the flood tide and on small ships with hinged masts. On approach to the bridge and with as much speed that could be safely handled the sails were dropped and the masts lowered. Loss of steerage meant danger of collision with either the bridge or other vessels moored alongside the banks. The opening of Middlesbrough Deck led to a shift in trade from Stockton to the new port of Middlesbrough. Middlesbrough Dock was reached by a dredged channel over a quarter of a mile in length and with a depth of 19 feet at the highest tide. A set of gates at it’s entrance maintained the inner depth of 25 feet at all states of the tide. In 1897, 5247 ships were handled in Middlesbrough, whilst 966 ships were handled at Stockton. The increase in trade to Middlesbrough led to Trinity House appointing the first Pilot Ruler, James Harris, in 1854. He introduced various rules that all pilots had to adhere to, infringements being dealt with by Trinity House, Newcastle. They could either endorse. suspend or even cancel a pilot’s branch or licence, depending on the severity of the case.

Over the next few years the authority of Trinity House was gradually eroded until, in 1982. the authority to provide and administer pilots passed to the Tees Pilotage Commission (TPC) a locally appointed committee. Many of Tees Pilots lived at Hartlepool and Seaton Carew and many had branches for both Tees and Hartlepool. Hartlepool, at this time, was the only port in the country where pilots held a branch for two ports. When the TPC took over the authority for pilots, those holding branches for both ports had to decide whether to retain their Trinity House branch for Hartlepool or apply for a licence for the Tees. The Commissioners laid down their area of authority and also the policy for recruitment and training of future pilots. An apprentice was, at this time, indentured to a pilot who owned his own cobble. During his apprenticeship he had to serve at sea for six months on a sailing ship and six months on a steam ship. He then returned to the Tees to assist until a vacancy occurred for a pilot. An applicant who was successful at examination was granted a restricted licence and then, after a period piloting smaller vessels, he could apply for examination for a full licence. As the size of ships using the port increased, the Commission introduced a number of grades of licence. The Pilotage Act of 1913 introduced changes, one of them being that future pilots would be indentured to the TPC rather than individual pilots. In 1922 the TPC was superseded by the Tees Pilotage Authority (TPA). This was controlled by a board of directors made up of pilots and prominent persons with interests on the river.

Amongst the changes made were that apprentice pilots would, for the first time, be paid. A first year lad would receive 10 shillings per week. The licence tonnages were altered and 4 classes were introduced. In 1937 it was ruled that ex-apprentices applying for a 4th class licence had to hold a 2nd. Mates (FG) certificate. Apprentices joining after 1949 had to sign indentures. These continued until 1954. From 1961 the TPA decided that all future applicants should hold a Master’s (FG) certificate. The apprenticeship system was therefore terminated. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the approaches to the port were improved to enable larger and deeper drafted vessels to use the river. The approach channel was deepened and extended to 2.5 miles past the South Gare Lighthouse. The fairway buoy was moved outward to mark the beginning of the new dredged channel. As much larger ships would now be visiting the Tees. it was decided to send a group of senior pilots to Rotterdam to gain experience in handling VLCCs. These techniques were then passed on to other pilots. The next major change to pilotage came with the 1988 Pilotage Act, which gave the CHA, the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority, the mandate to alter the way pilotage was run in the ports of Tees and Hartlepool. These changes meant that in a little over 100 years pilotage in the ports had come full circle and once again dual licences were gained. Existing pilots at Hartlepool and those under the age of 55 on the Tees trained for their dual licences. Most pilots gained full licences for both ports. At the same time the pilot boat at Hartlepool was disbanded and all boarding and landing is now done from the cutter out of the Tees.

New pilots train for both ports simultaneously and are issued with combined Tees and Hartlepool licences. Following the 1988 Act, the pilots of Tees and Hartlepool formed a co- operative. The agreed proper number, including the duty pilot, was 40 although more were previously licensed. Through normal retirement the number was reduced to 40 and the pilots worked in 5 watches of eight. Previously, with the loss of Nissan, the number of pilots was reduced to 38. Recruitment is on going once again following an eleven year gap, when number steadily declined as pilots retired, and were not replaced. The future of the pilot service in Tees Bay will, hopefully, be as good as the past. We are very much in the world of shareholders and profits since the port has been privatised but, nevertheless, remain independent, maintaining the high standard that our profession demands.


The Pilotage Service prior to local Pilotage being regularised under the authority of the Hartlepools Pilotage Commission in 1864, pilotage was under the control of Newcastle Trinity House who appointed local Sub-Commissioners for the Ports which came under its jurisdiction. It was in 1606 that a charter of James I extended the jurisdiction of Trinity House Newcastle to include Hartlepool. It may be of interest that in 1816 there were 12 Hartlepool and 12 River Tees Pilots at Hartlepool. By 1851 Hartlepool had been developed as a coal exporting port and West Hartlepool had opened its first dock in 1847 and there were 67 Pilots at Hartlepool 12 of whom held River Tees Licences, with 5 Pilots living at Seaton Carew and 7 at Redcar. There were also 32 Pilots licensed for West Hartlepool that same year. On 25th September 1862 the local ship owners called for and held, a meeting at the local Town Hall to constitute a board to regulate Pilotage locally. As a result of this and further meetings, an Act of Parliament in 1864 gave birth to the Hartlepool Pilotage commissioners the forerunner to the Hartlepool Pilotage Authority which ceased to exist in 1988 when Pilotage came under the umbrella of the Tees & Hartlepool Port Authority. The new body met for its inaugural meeting on the 7th September 1864 and its jurisdiction extended from Black-Halls (Blackball) to the north, down to the south end of Seaton Carew. One of the members of the new board was M Horsley who was a local Pilot with a River Tees Licence and who also had shares in sailing ships. He later became Chairman of the Pilotage Commissioners and his son George, a later Chairman of the Pilotage Commissioners, built up a fleet of steamers, becoming timber importers and merchants in the Port. The number of Pilots by this time was 118, a number of whom also held licences for the River Tees. The Pilots in those days owned their own boats with which they went seeking often as far as Whitby, to meet the sailing and, later, steam colliers coming from the south. They would have one or two men in the boat with them, an assistant called a “Pilot Dog” and possibly an apprentice.

The Pilot boats or cobles were 26’to 28′ in length and had a deep forefoot which helped them to sail well to windward. Some of their names were Hector, Gladys, Florence, Ebenezer and Eva. The requirements to be licensed as a Pilot at that time were that you must be over 21 years of age, be able to read and write, to have served 6 years as an apprentice Pilot in a Coble and to have done 12 voyages to the Pool of London, where most of the coal went to from the north east ports in square rigged sailing vessels. It was at this time that the local North Eastern Railway’s tugs, John Bull and William Charles being names of two of then, were licensed to tow the Pilot cobles out to sea to enable Pilots to board ships in bad weather. By 1873 the number of Pilots was down to 90. In 1896 this number had further reduced to 66 with 22 apprentices and 23 Dogs. Mr “I’ H Tilly was Clerk Solicitor and had served the Commissioners since its earliest days and indeed the Tilly family were still solicitors to the Pilotage Authority until its recent transfer to the Port Authority. In 1913 a new Pilotage Act was passed by Parliament and this regulated Pilotage nationally until the 1987 Act attempted to match pilotage with today’s needs for shipping! Two years after the 1913 act a new system was introduced at Hartlepool using a cruising Pilot Cutter. This wooden hulled, paraffin engined, 60 feet long vessel was built at South Shields and given the name ‘T H Tilly’. Unfortunately she was destroyed by fire in 1920. Her replacement was the ‘Seaflower’, a fishing drifter. She was too big to board directly by herself so she towed a coble which transferred pilots to and from ships. She lasted until 1924. In 1919 the Pilots with both Hartlepool and River Tees licenses had to decide to go one or the other of the two ports with dual licenses being abolished.

In 1922 the Hartlepool Pilotage order was made and the Hartlepool Pilotage Authority came into being, the Board at that time included T W Willis, the Chairman, who had been a ship owner until his last vessel was lost during World War One and was, incidentally, the uncle of Mr J Metcalfe’s wife, Mr Metcalfe being the last chairman before the Port Authority took control on the 1st October 1988. In 1924 a new steel built steam Pilot Cutter was ordered to replace the Seaflower for delivery the next year. As an interim measure another steam fishing drifter was hired named Premier. She served the pilots until the new Cutter named T H Tilly was delivered in 1925. The TH Tilly served until 1952 apart from war service when the Admiralty took her over and used her as a salvage vessel. A surplus RAF Seaplane tender was purchased in 1928 for use as a relief cutter, she lasted until 1947 when she was unfortunately wrecked close to the Pilots pier. With the loss of the Seaplane tender, named A G Murrel the boarding boat towed by the T H Tilly was given an engine and so was able to be used as a relief boat when the T H Tilly was being overhauled or repaired. Due to her increasing age and the cost of maintaining her, it was decided in the early 1950s to replace Tilly with a cruising/ boarding cutter. A 55 foot wooden hulled diesel engined boat was delivered to the Pilotage Authority in 1952. She was again named A G Murrell, Mr Murrell being Chairman of the Authority at that time. For use as a relief boat, a 3rd T H Tilly was delivered to the Authority in 1958. In 1971 an agreement was reached whereby the Tees Pilotage Authority undertook to look after the administration of the Hartlepool Pilotage Authority, this worked very satisfactorily under first Mr R Siding and then the present Secretary Mr David Hagger FCA. In 1975 the Authority took delivery of a new 16 knot GRP cutter which was given the name Crofter after the original inhabitants of Hartlepool who lived in a district named The Croft and were called Crofters.

Problems with outdated machinery, crewing and changing maritime conditions made the purchase of the new cutter necessary and at the time the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority underwrote the financing of the vessel. The Crofter has served the Port satisfactorily to date. New government legislation of 1987 transferred Pilotage to the control of local Harbour Authorities and the final meeting of the Hartlepool Pilotage Authority took place on the 27th September 1988. The Authority consisting of Mr J Metcalfe JP, Chairman and a member for 3l years, being the principal owner of Metcalfe Shipping Limited, Mr J P Hackney Chief Executive Tees & Hartlepool Port Authority, Mr N Britton MBE Docks Director, Tees & Hartlepool Port Authority, Mr W Niblock Manager Hartlepool Docks, Mr T G Renniea Director of the West Hartlepool Steam Navigation Co. Limited. Mr J E Mays a retired Director of Ropner Shipping Limited (One of the few British Shipowning Companies still in existence) and D Ansell, J T Buckham and B G Spaldin Hartlepool Pilots. DJ Jagger FCA being Secretary to the Authority. On vesting day 1.10.1983 5 pilots were licensed and became part of a new Port Authority subsidiary company. Shortly after vesting day 3 Pilots of the 5 began their training to become Tees Pilots and likewise a majority of the Tees Pilots began to train for Hartlepool, but because of their greater number, it had to be phased. In April 1989 the Hartlepool Pilots obtained their first Tees Licences and by early 1993 were all senior 1st Class Pilots, as all of the Tees Pilots are now 1st Class Hartlepool Pilots. In 1989 it was decided to use one cutter for the two Ports and so the Crofter was used as a stand by boat. Because she was on the small side for the two ports, she was disposed of later a new 16m Crofter was delivered to the Pilotage company, so keeping the Hartlepool connection in the name.

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