Salvaged pit props helped fuel Pool fires

Hartlepool residents turn the beach into a salavage yard at Seaton Carew.
Hartlepool residents turn the beach into a salavage yard at Seaton Carew.

Scores of Hartlepool youngsters risked life and limb for mere pennies in 1912 - after a shipwreck turned the coastline into a salvage yard.

Indeed, one little girl - Madge Greig - broke her leg after wading into deep water and attempting to drag wood to the beach.

Hartlepool youngsters search for salavage following the wreck of SS Otra in 1912 off the coast of Seaton Carew.

Hartlepool youngsters search for salavage following the wreck of SS Otra in 1912 off the coast of Seaton Carew.

“There was a largely unofficial salvage operation after the SS Otra was wrecked off the North Sands on June 5, 1912,” said historian Stan Laundon.

“Hundreds of local residents replenished their firewood stocks from the cargo of pit props which washed ashore when the ship finally broke up.”

The three-masted, and fully-rigged, SS Otra - owned by a Norwegian firm and carrying pit props from Latvia - ran aground on rocks in dense fog.

“The lifeboat, Charles Ingleby, was speedily launched and towed out by a tug to the vessel,” reported a local newspaper at the time.

“Six of the crew had already sought safety aboard another tug, but the captain and six other men were, with some difficulty, taken off.

“There was already much water in the Otra and, according to the captain, she had been badly holed.”

Despite fears the ship was “too far gone” attempts were, however, made to try and free the vessel from the rocks - stuck yards from the promenade.

Indeed, just a few days later, five men were dropped aboard the ship - with the intention of making an attempt to refloat her.

But, on June 15, another lifeboat - the Horatio Brand - had to be called out to rescue the sailors as heavy waves pounded the decks.

“A strong wind arose and the sea became so rough that the men found themselves in great danger and fired rocket signals,” reported a newspaper.

“The lifeboat rescued them after considerable difficulty, and the attempt to refloat Otra was eventually abandoned.”

The vessel finally broke up during high tides and heavy swell in August 1912, with the cargo of timber washing ashore - prompting a large salvage operation.

“Boys have been paid a penny and three-half-pence a prop for recovering wood,” reported another paper.

“And, in their eagerness to secure this reward, they have waded far into the sea - with some narrow escapes from drowning being the result.”

The beach quickly resembled a timber yard; with the salvaged cargo being stacked as it was brought ashore.

“The pit props didn’t, however, stay on the sand for long, The wood was sold by auction on the spot, and then quickly carted away,” added the paper.

* More photos of the town can be found in Hartlepool History Tour, by Paul Chrystal, Stan Laundon and Simon Crossley. Published by Amberley at £6.99.