History

History

1957 - 1960
The BSAC· was itself only 3 years old when 43 branch was accepted for membership. BSAC was started by Oscar Gugen, Peter Small and others, mainly London based, who with second hand frogman gear, got themselves under the sea. They were enthralled with what they saw, and decided to start a club to share experiences, technical information, and to spread the word to others.

The “Diving Manual”, primitive by today’s standards, was soon produced, to lay down a training programme, describe techniques, equipment, etc. This became the cornerstone of club activities, 43 Branch, with the help of Harrogate branch, who trained our first D.O., soon had a pool training session in Thornaby baths 8-9pm on a Tuesday night, with “dry” sessions in the Jolly Farmers or Oddfellows Arms nearby. Committee meetings and group lectures were held in places as varied as Stockton Town Hall, Elmwood Community Centre, and the Lit, and Phil Hall.

Diving gear was hard to come by and included Ex-R.N. dry suits, knives, compasses, and fins, Ex-Aircraft tanks 120 ats, and early Siebe Gorman twin hose regulators. It was a D.I.Y era, and many weird items of gear were made from Calor Gas regulators, gas mask tubes, parachute harnesses etc, and most divers survived. Basic equipment was available, in varying shapes - some masks sprouting twin snorkels with ping pong balls. The few tanks we had were filled by British Oxygen Company, or we decanted from large cylinders supplied by them. It was fortunate that snorkel training was lengthy, because gear was so limited, there was always a long queue for tank training, and even longer one on outdoor dives for a few minutes in the “wet club dry suit”. The magic of being underwater made it all worth waiting for!


1960 - 1961
The sixties were years of expansion and exploration. The new wet suit, liberated divers from the disadvantages of the Navy dry suits, squeezes and buoyancy problems became a thing of the past. Quality diving gear was now available. A diver in the sixties could kit out and have a holiday in the south of France for nor much more than a hundred pounds. Hans and Lotte Hass - black and white TV, in the living rooms, inspired us to even greater heights, not that we needed, more incentives· even so the Red Sea was still a dream, the Earth would have to shrink a bit more yet.

At home 43 now had an effective training programme with 3rd and 2ndclass divers exploring every flooded quarry, bottomless pit and many shore sites on the East Coast. St Abbs and Beadnell were regular dive sites and few of the more adventures had dived at Oban, Port Patrick and other sites on the west of Scotland. In those days it was take your own air supplies there were no air compressors I had a Bedford Dormobile and it was not unusual to take six large air cylinders from BOC with decanting gear etc, for a weekend at Beadnell. Decanting to get the most air from big cylinders required some skill. We were in those days welcomed by fishermen who would take us out, in their boats , to free lobster pots, or nets which was a free boat dive for us and often a benefit to the Fishermen. But this honeymoon wasn’t to last.


1962
Was a very good year, after years of meeting in pubs and clubs we got our own clubhouse? Captain Tom Hands, the THPA Harbourmaster and a 43 member got us what we called the Blockhouse a two storey concrete building, which was really the warrant officer’s mess (top storey) and Jail (bottom storey) in the army fortifications, at the end of the Southgare, for a nominal rent of five pounds per year. We soon restored the vandalised property - new floor, door and windows and a big pot bellied iron stove, that with the right sort of stoking, could be made to glow red. The walls were decorated with rolls of wallpaper rescued from many a loft, creating a bizarre pattern. It was to be our clubhouse for four years and though now demolished, is recalled with some affection, for the good times - barbecues; overnight stays and the big pot bellied stove.

1962 was notable for two more significant events, first we got our own compressor, a 10cu.ft Reavell/Coventry Climax, 120 bar presented to us by Mr Cartwright· of (Moore and Cartwright Builders) whose son was a club member. He had bought it as part of an ex WD job lot, suspecting it to be LP compressor. Fortunately, for us it was HP and was gratefully received by 43 and operated for many years· Secondly, we acquired our first boat, a 21ft double -ended cobble from a widow of Staithes fisherman George Hanson, who had tragically died in a mishap in Staithes harbour. It cost us a £100. We spent the winter renovating it, fitting it with a diving ladder and launched it in 1962, calling it in honour of the previous owner “George Hanson”.


1963 - 1965
We celebrated our fifth an anniversary with a dinner and dance at the Kirklevington Country Club; tickets were priced at 13 shillings and 6 pence. 43 Branch had reached maturity, we had our own clubhouse, 21ft cobble with a rail slipway into the sea, our own compressor, and some 5 years of exploring and diving. Many of the sites we dive today· - wrecks like the Harvest, Guildford, Dimitris, and the Faiplay, the Yewglen, and the Mistley at Beadnell, were all visited by 43. Most of the diving was shore diving, although cobble owners would sometimes take parties of 8 or 10 divers out at 5 shillings per head, or maybe 4 of us for free if they wanted pots or nets freeing. St Abbs and Beadnell were among our favourite dive sites. Among our more notable events was the raising of the “Bahia Blanca”, a 100ft MTB in Hartlepool Dock. Two river swims were made from Lower Dinsdale to Yarm in 1961 and Yarm to Stockton in 1963. I made a raft out of tractor inner tubes, and we had a coke brazier floating along beside us cooking chestnuts and roast potatoes. We surprised some golfers at Eaglescliffe Golf Course when this strange entourage asked, “is this the way to the South Gare”?· It was cold in our 4mm wet suits, and by the time we reached Boathouse Lane we could hardly walk. We worked at times, sometimes exciting - for the police looking for bodies, safes and dumped cars (yes even then). Gregg’s fish merchants also called on our expertise to free trawlers that had got caught up in their own trawls - usually £25 donation to club funds. Perhaps our favourite task was to clear the water inlets at Yarm hide and skin works. This was an annual event, in spite of the horrid smell, and the goo that was poured into the river. It raised another £25 for the club funds. Divers were tougher then - or perhaps a bit thicker!

In 1965 we moved into our present Clubhouse. It was 2 semi- detached cottages that were previously occupied by the South Gare Coastguards and families. The cottages had been condemned as unfit for human habitation. Through Capt Hands good offices we now had 2 bathrooms and toilets, 8 other rooms, 2 coalhouses, and gas lighting. After we moved in I can remember the Chairman (Alan Croft) and I standing in the living room of the first cottage (what is now the trophy lounge) and thinking if we knocked that wall down we could join up with the other living room and make a smashing lounge, But that’s another story. By the way our annual rent was £5 per year.


Mid 60's
The mid 60’s were years when diving was reaching some sort of maturity, there was lot’s of new gear available, such as single hose regulators, lifejackets, masks with side windows and patent clearing devices, nylon lined wet suits and even under water scooters. Cylinders were increasing in both size and pressures with 72cu ft cylinders at 165 bar being considered as more than adequate for most divers at the time.

Club membership was on the increase too, 43 Branch, after a few years of 40 - 50 members, was soaring to membership levels of 70 plus. The Barnet brothers - Stan, Jim, Frank and Eddy joined us in the mid - 60’s. They bought their own boat, a 10ft· Avon Redshank Inflatable with a 5hp Seagull outboard.· This was used to chug out to many of the dive sites we visit today in our RIBs, and I suppose that was the forerunner of the private RIB groups that we currently have.

Oban, St. Abbs, Beadnell and the Farne Islands were the usual venues for Club holidays, but more distant were visited, such as Findochty, Devon, Cornwall, Spain, and the South of France were being visited by the more enterprising Teesside divers.

Changes to our new Clubhouse were taking place too, the wall dividing the upstairs front bedrooms was removed, and the area was turned into a bar. It was quite roomy and we had some good knees-ups.· Lighting was a bit of a problem, as we did not have mains electricity supply. I built a 24v system using a Jap petrol engine driving a bus dynamo, with a couple of 12v truck batteries. We had some 24v-bus fluorescent and umpteen 24v-truck lamps. We tried a 7kw petrol generating set from Thornaby War Surplus. The light was brilliant, but the noise was terrible and it was quite thirsty too, so we returned it post haste and dreamed of the day when we might get mains supply.

1967 was our tenth anniversary and a dinner dance was held at the Normanby Hotel. A potted history of our first ten years appeared in the Evening Gazette under the heading· “The Aqua Club That Rose from the Depths”. It described our early struggles during the formative period, to become by 1967 an experienced Diving Club, which was financially and socially sound.

Our club boat the “George Hanson” came to grief in 1965 - it broke its back. It had given valiant service in taking us to local dive sites, and provided us with search and recovery experience when it sank a couple of times in Victoria Dock.· We tried keeping the “George Hanson“ in several places, Head Wrightsons Wharf at Thornaby, Paddy’s Hole, Guy’s Hole (near Paddy’s Hole), and Victoria Dock at Hartlepool. We could never be certain that it would be afloat when we wanted to go diving.

Our own slipway seemed to be the answer to our problem, and so we built our own railway slipway with ex Eston Ironstone Mine rails and sleepers. We had a parking platform, which can still be seen at the South Gare with a winch that would haul the club boat sitting on a trolley up the rails to safety.· We thought that that keel on this quite old cobble would stand up to the pressures of launching and recovery, but unfortunately it didn’t and so we were back to relying on local fishermen for our trips offshore. There were only a couple of small inflatables - really 10ft yacht tenders with 3hp Seagull engines, privately owned, that would give the privileged few a trip the “Harvest”, or on a calm day after a long chug out a trip to the Farnes.

Boats were discussed at just about every committee meeting. And many schemes were proposed such as buying a war surplus MTB or trawler that could be obtained cheaply at war surplus auctions.· Fortunately sanity prevailed and remained with mainly shore diving until 1970 when we acquired a brand new 17ft dory with trailer and an electric start, electric gear change 50hp outboard engine, together with a second hand Ford Transit for towing. With this equipment we were geared up for some serious offshore diving.

During 1965 we tried to buy the wreck rights of the “Harvest” and the “Guildford”, and other nearby wrecks. We were refused by the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority on the grounds that as an amateur club we would be unable to remove the wrecks if they became a shipping hazard, or were in the way of future dredging schemes. The wrecks are situated in the THPAs area of operations and so at a time when other branches were buying wrecks to work for experience and profit, 43 Branch were denied. Perhaps during the not too distant future the “Ocean“ might be our very own wreck.