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Port of Tyne Shipyard Memories

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This project began in 2019 when we were awarded a grant from the Port of Tyne Community Fund to collect twelve shipyard memories.  We approached people in our local network to find families who had worked in the yards and were extremely lucky to find a wide range of individuals who were happy to share their stories.  All of the stories were digitally recorded then transcribed and archived by the Remembering the Past team. We are incredibly proud of this project because we managed to finish it in spite of the Covid19 pandemic, which interrupted the work at a critical time.

Two things, in particular, emerged as the stories were collected.  Firstly, there was a huge response from ex-shipyard workers to tell their stories and we shall continue to add more of them to the collection.  The other thing that impressed us was the range of skills that those interviewed had gained and what valuable insights they shared with us about the way the yards operated.  Yet again, the project was a joy to work on, especially as it was a first for several new volunteers.  We hope that you enjoy reading and listening to the memories that emerged from our contributors.

Cranes on the Tyne

Cranes on the Tyne

Derek Amess

18 years at Clelands

My name is Derek Amess and I was born on the 29th March 1940, a war baby.  I attended Percy Main School and then I went on to Ralph Gardner’s School.  I left there in 1954/5 and I got a job where I was an armature winder electric fitter, that is rewinding electric motors and assembling them and testing them.  Then I moved on from there and I went to sea.

Swan Hunter’s Shipyard, 2006

Bill Cockroft

Last Man at Swan Hunter’s

I started on the 10th November 1969 at Wallsend Shipyard and I spent the rest of my working life there, that was 36 years in the shipyard. It was Swan Hunter’s until December 1995 and then it was taken over by the Dutch company in January 1996. I was there until 2006.

Photograph of Dorothy Cole

Dorothy Cole, 1955

Dorothy Cole

My Family in the Shipyards

My father worked most of his working life at Swan Hunters, he did a few temporary stints at Palmer’s shipyard in Hebburn but, apart from six years national service during the war, the remainder of his working life was spent at Swan Hunters.

Photograph of Ted Davey

Ted Davey

Ted Davey

A Fitter on the Tyne

I was in the shipyards from the age of 15, that was 1955, until 1986. I served my time at Smiths Docks as a fitter and turner. Part of my apprenticeship was in the main yards, but the final years were in the Haddock Shop, or Shields Engineering as anybody else might know that. I asked for the transfer. Following my five years apprenticeship, I left to work on a fishing boat but then I came back to Smiths.

Photo of Smith's Dock in 1988

Smith’s Dock, North Shields, 1988

Alan Ford

Tyne Docks

I started Smiths at 15 to serve my time and once I came to 21 you were more or less expected to move on, which is what I did.  My wife and I went down to London, to Leadenhall Street, for an interview and they just said yes, you’ll be able to start with Royal Mail Lines and that was it.

NEM Offices, George Clark Ltd. Wallsend

NEM Offices, George Clark Ltd. Wallsend

Betty Humble

A Woman in the Shipyard

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.

Photograph of Allan McKever

Allan McKever

Allan McKever

A Journeyman

My name is Allan McKever, I am 66 years of age and I worked at the Swan Hunter ship repair yard in North Shields. I started my apprentice training in 1968 and I served my time right through to the end when I was a journeyman in 1975. The first year I was involved in attending an apprentice training school. This gave you a wide experience of all the trades, not just the trades you were involved in. That was a year of pre on-the-job training before we moved to our yards that we had been employed by. We had a training officer who designated training in certain tasks within your own trade.

Photograph of Jeff McKever

Jeff McKever

Jeff McKever

Memories of Smith’s Docks

I am Jeff McKever, I am 66 years of age and I worked in Smith’s Yard Dry Dock in North Shields. I worked there from 1968 when I left school until 1972 or 1973. The first year included a year at the pre-apprentice training school in Wallsend so I wasn’t at Smith’s Docks for the full five years of my apprenticeship.

Photograph of John McKever

John McKever

John McKever

My Smith’s Apprenticeship

I started work in 1964, I left school and went straight into Smith’s Docks.  I didn’t really want to, I wanted to be a motor mechanic.  I had a job to go to at a garage, but my Dad said to me, “No come into the yards, better prospects”.   He got me the interview and I started at 15.  I had a week’s holiday from school and then went straight into the yards.