Skip to main content

A Woman in the Shipyard

All the men used to cheer as if they’d never seen a woman before


NEM Offices, George Clark Ltd. Wallsend

NEM Offices, George Clark Ltd. Wallsend

There were a lot of offices [at North Eastern Marine Shipyard in Wallsend]. There was the correspondence where I worked, a little room where the telephonist was and all the ladies used to type.  The boardroom for the directors was upstairs and there was the Comptometers room.

Then you came down the staircase and the commissionaire used to stand, all dressed up, there was the accounts and there was Sir Thomas Hunter, Sir Gordon Hunter and Sir Harry Hunter. You had to knock on the door, go in with the post and say: “Good morning, sir”, then you had to go back in at night-time. It was a massive office. Then there was the estimators and then the purchasing department, where I went because I didn’t like shorthand and typing, and then the drawing office. Then there were stairs up to the tracers’ which was full of girls but you didn’t really go there very much. It was a very, very big place, just like a big house.

Everybody got to know everybody else. We used to have fun with the office boys. We used to go into the shipyards selling poppies and I think it was Queen Alexandra roses then. All the boys used to cheer as if they’d never seen a woman before! The time office was down below, we used to like to go there to chat with the men.

In the purchasing department where we kept all the paper and pencils in a cupboard in the corner, there were desks right round and I used to sit here. The girls used to have to climb up and put one leg on the table and one leg on the shelf and the young men, would come over making on they had to comb their hair. Nothing serious, just fun and only if the chap who was in charge, Mr Stephenson, wasn’t there.

I remember all the men and one of them had a book, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. I had it in my drawer and two of us girls used to take turns opening the drawer and having a read. They weren’t old men, probably be in their twenties and thirties. They didn’t work hard when I think of it now. I didn’t either because if you went out of the office and you had paper in your hand you could pop and see the typists, who had their little private office in the manager’s office, to say hello and go down in the “timer”. The office boys, they had to work in the office for so long before they could be apprentices.

After I had been in the correspondence office and I knew I didn’t like shorthand, but I liked the typing, I moved to the purchasing department, it was like invoices, the accounts were paid, and we did filing. It was very interesting. They had a big press, it was on its own and you used to have to turn it round, put something underneath, it used to do all sorts of things. I remember once we found a mouse in the cupboard with all the paper. Everybody was hysterical. Sometimes girls left some food in their desk. The supervisor for the girls was Miss Clark, she used to take the Guides where she lived but I think we were a bit frightened of her.

(I started work) at 9 o’clock. You had to clock in when you went in in the morning. When you went into the big building there was a great big clock and you had a number to clock in. Sometimes I was late in the morning because by the time the bus got to the bottom of our street it was full up and I had to run down to Station Road to catch the next bus. That was the worst thing, the   transport, there wasn’t enough. In the morning when the bus came to where I lived it was chock-a-block. It filled up at the boundary, that was Newcastle, but we were just two streets away from Newcastle.

It was a long walk from The Winning where I had to get off the bus. You passed Victor Products and walked down to Point Pleasant, across the railway line and then to where they had a club for table tennis and things like that. Then you had to walk down further past the gatehouse where the men would be standing, past the house where the directors used to go for their lunch and sometimes they would have directors from other companies. There was about another four companies. One of the girls would go for about 8 o’clock in the morning and type, from her headphones, the synopsis from the other companies. There was different colour paper for each company, Hartlepool was yellow, Sunderland was pink, there was blue paper, pink paper, yellow paper for the different firms.

When I went home, I had to walk up to the Winning and get the bus to the last houses in Wallsend, near to Walkerville.  I used to get off the bus, run home, have a quick bite and then get the bus to come back down again. Sometimes I might have stopped at lunchtime. They had a massive rest room outside the correspondence office with settees and toilets and things like that, just like a restaurant. You could go in there. I don’t think you were allowed to eat at your desk. Some of the boys used to play table tennis but I wasn’t that way inclined, I liked dancing. We had a club at night.

I can remember one year in the winter we had a lot of snow and I walked to work but some people didn’t even get there. The transport was poor. Nobody had cars, they had bikes but no cars. Of course, you had to wait, sometimes the gates would be shut waiting for the train, the bottom way so you were wanting to get to work and you couldn’t get past. There were a lot of people from the coast because it was better getting the train than the bus. I couldn’t get the train though. A girl I walked with lived not far from the shipyard so she didn’t need to get the bus, she could walk.

I started there when I was just fourteen and a half and left when I was twenty, just before my twenty first birthday. They had dances at The Plaza (burned down now) and The Empress. We all got dressed up. Sometimes I was sent to Newcastle for boxes of cigars and cigarettes for the directors. One day I went to Newcastle and I went to Amos Atkinson’s shoe shop for some silver kid dance shoes and when I was in there, somebody burst in and shouted: “The Queen’s had a son”. I always remember that.

You had to be smart though, you had to be well mannered, you just couldn’t do what you wanted to do.

The Green was a beautiful place. That’s where I went for private shorthand and typing classes. I loved the typing, but I couldn’t get away with the shorthand, I wasn’t clever enough.

My father had three brothers. One was a captain and two worked at Swans. He had two sisters; one was a chemist at the Co-op but you didn’t have to qualify then. The other one went to New Zealand. I used to have to go to church every Sunday. My father was very strict, but he wasn’t as strict with me as he was with my sister because she was a bit headstrong.

The weekly pay was sixteen (shillings) and two pence.  I used to give it all to my mother, but she probably gave me some of it back.

Betty Humble was interviewed for the Shipyard Memories Project, 16th December 2019

If you've enjoyed this memory and would like to share a story of your own why not go to our Contact Page to find out more.