South Shields Local History Group

Under Construction

Wall Gallery

1 Photograph, SS Armanistan, 1937

SS Armanistan was a cargo ship built and engined by John Readhead & Sons Ltd., South Shields, for Messrs. Strick Line (1923) Ltd. Strick was one of Readheads’ most valued customers, with a total of 46 ships built in just 44 years, the last being Nigaristan in 1970.  Strick Line ships generally had names ending in ‘istan’ which were place names in Persia and the surrounding Arab countries. As such, stevedores, who loaded and unloaded ships, knew Strick’s vessels as the “Stan Boats”.

Armanistan had a short career, being torpedoed and sunk by U-25 on 3 February 1940, 110 miles west of Lisbon, while on a voyage from Antwerp to Busreh, carrying rails, sugar and general cargo.

TWCMS : 2022.207

2 Readhead’s Plaque, about 1909

John Readhead & Sons became a limited company in 1909. The partners were the four sons of the founder: Robert, John, James, and William Bell Readhead.

TWCMS : 2022.33

3 Plan, Calais-Douvres, 1878

The paddle steamer Calais-Douvres was a remarkable vessel built by Andrew Leslie & Co. at Hebburn in 1878. She was remarkable because she had two whole hulls, with two paddle wheels, each 24 ft. in diameter, located between the hulls. The twin hulls were alike at each end so that the vessel could steam either way, avoiding the need to turn around in port.

Calais-Douvres was operated by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Co. Her novel design was intended to “prevent sea-sickness, while securing the complete comfort of the passengers”. A newspaper advert from May 1878 speaks of the opulence aboard the twin-hulled paddle steamer: “Magnificent upper deck accommodation with luxurious arm chairs, splendid saloon above deck, handsome ladies’ cabins with stewardesses, lavatories, and every convenience”. Her luxurious appointment was good enough for Royalty, as that same month the Prince and Princess of Wales travelled aboard her.

TWCMS : F10295

4 Name plate, 1977

This is the name plate from the bulk carrier Trinculo, which was built for the Bowring Steamship Co. at Swan Hunter’s Hebburn Shipbuilding Dock (ex-Palmers Hebburn). Trinculo was launched on 6 October 1977 and completed by February 1978. She remained in service until being broken up in Bangladesh in 2010.

Loan: The Harbour Lights

5 South Shields waterfront below Lawe Top and entrance to River Tyne, Bernard Benedict Hemy (1845-1913), watercolour

This watercolour shows, in the distance at right, the site of one of the earliest shipbuilding areas on the Tyne. The location below the Lawe Top at South Shields, close to the river mouth, was used by wooden shipbuilder Robert Wallis in the eighteenth century, by pioneer iron shipbuilder Thomas Marshall, and also by Readhead and Softley. This was John Readhead’s first shipyard site, before relocating to the West Docks.

In the foreground, fishermen are repairing their nets while behind them two fishing luggers are tied to a buoy. BK102 is from Berwick upon Tweed and KY81 is from Fife. The KY stands for Kirkcaldy, but the boat could be from any of the ports along the Fife coast. To the left is a Tyne foyboat, easily identified by its chequered paint scheme. Behind the foyboat the stern of the Royal Naval Reserve training ship Castor can be seen. Castor became a RNR training ship at North Shields in April 1862.

TWCMS : S1262

6 Plating half model, late 1960s, Tabaristan and Nigaristan

This is a plating half model of the general cargo ships MV Tabaristan and MV Nigaristan, which were built at Readhead’s yard in 1969 and 1970. As Readheads had been taken over by Swan Hunter Shipbuilders Ltd. on 1 January 1968, Tabaristan was the first ship completed at Readheads under the new regime. Strick ran a tramp fleet that traded through the Mediterranean and into the Persian Gulf and had a long standing relationship with Readheads. Tabaristan was the 45th ship built for Strick. Nigaristan was the 46th and, as it would happen, the last. Both ships were broken up in 1986.

TWCMS : 2009.2645

7 Charles Palmer, 1884, Leslie Matthew Ward (1851-1922), print

Founder of Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Co. Ltd. and Member of Parliament for North Durham, Charles Mark Palmer was drawn in 1884 by the popular society caricaturist Leslie Ward. Ward, who used the pseudonym ‘Spy’, drew 1,325 caricatures for the magazine Vanity Fair between 1873 and 1911, of which this is one (appearing in print on 18 October 1884).

TWCMS : 2016.683.1

8 The Rivet Cooker, 2021, Robert Olley, oil on board

“I was fascinated by the trade of riveting and riveters. Crews were made up of five men: the rivet “cooker” who was often the youngest of the squad, a catcher, a holder and two riveters, one left handed and the other right handed; the latter was usually the senior and paid more than the left hander.

“The rivets were cooked on a moveable forge until they were white hot then plucked from the coals and thrown to the catcher, sometimes metres away, who caught it in a leather or wooden bucket. He would give it to the holder who would place it in the specified hole in the ship’s plate and hold it in place while the two riveters on the outside of the hull plates proceeded to hammer the rivet into a domed shape over the hole. On cooling the rivet contracted, tightening the joint.

“The whole process taking less than five minutes. The Titanic had 3,000,000 rivets holding her together. Later, when pneumatic riveting guns superseded hand riveting, Clydeside riveter “Big” Tom Horn is said to have had the record of 6,075 rivets in eight hours. The din from the many riveting crews was deafening in a time when health and safety was almost non-existent.”

Robert Olley

Loan: Robert Olley

9 Sign from Tyne Dock Engineering, early 20th century

This sign was rescued in 1993 when TDE moved out of its original home at the Market Dock, having acquired a larger site at the former Middle Docks.

TWCMS : 2007.95

10 Night Shift, Tyne Dock Engineering, Richard Hobson (1945-2004), monotype print

Ship repair yards worked night and day. Docking and undocking was determined by the tides, meaning that ships might enter or leave the docks in the middle of the night. Ship owners wanted their ships back in service as soon as possible, so work would often go on round the clock to finish jobs in good time.

Loan: Pat Hobson

11 The Lydgate, 1896, Lai Fong (fl. 1890-1910), oil on canvas

Lydgate was a four-masted steel barque built at Jarrow in 1893 by Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Co. Ltd. She was one of the last large sailing vessels to be built on the Tyne. In this fine painting Lydgate is flying the house flag of her owners, J. Joyce & Co. of Liverpool.

In February 1920 Lydgate left Norfolk, Virginia bound for Aalborg, Denmark with a cargo of coal. She never arrived, having been sunk by an uncleared First World War sea mine.

Lai Fong was a Chinese artist based in Calcutta, who painted the big windjammers that would call at the Indian port en route to or from the China coast. He was known for his scrupulously accurate depictions, particularly of these four-masted barques.

TWCMS : G4283

12 HMS Hercules, 1911, H. Erlington Gibb (fl. 1916-1927), oil on canvas

HMS Hercules was a Colossus-class battleship built at Jarrow by Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Co. Ltd. (laid down 30 July 1909, launched 10 May 1910 and commissioned 31 July 1911). The battleship was attached to the First Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet on the outbreak of the First World War, and in June 1916 became the Flagship of the Fourth Battle Squadron. HMS Hercules was present at the Battle of Jutland, when she was struck by fragments of shell, and on two occasions narrowly escaped being torpedoed by enemy destroyers, which fired at about 7,000 yards range. In 1917 this vessel formed part of the Covering Force for the First Scandinavian Convoy. On 3 December 1918 she proceeded to Wilhelmshaven with the Inter-Allied Armistice Commission, and was placed in reserve in 1919.

TWCMS : 2016.204

13 Two Friends, 1885, T Shorey, oil on canvas

Two Friends was a wooden clinker built Tyne paddle tug, built by Maxwell & Co. of South Shields in 1877. In 1880 she was sold to John Marshall Smart of South Shields and renamed Sarah Smart. When the artist painted Two Friends in 1885, she had not been known by that name for five years, and was in fact no longer in the country, having departed these shores for a new owner in Greece in 1881.

The painting was passed down through generations of the Legg family, who were steam tug proprietors from South Shields in the period of 1850 to 1918. Perhaps the artist – T. Shorey – was Anthony Shorey (1842-1910) who married Ellen Legg, daughter of waterman Thomas Legg who was subsequently involved in the tug business. It would appear that Anthony Shorey was master of the schooner Chevy Chase in 1881, and his two sons were both sailmakers.

Loan: Peter Langridge

14 Shipyard Workers,
late 1950s Sheila Graber (b. 1940), pencil drawing

Renowned animator, artist and educator Sheila Graber drew these studies of men at work in Readheads yard, South Shields, in about 1957, while she was a student in her first year at art college. Sheila’s dad, Captain George Graber, was Pilot Master on the Tyne, which is how Sheila got permission to be in the yard and observe the men at work.

The men here may be shipwrights. They are using an A Frame to set a transverse – a girder that is set ‘thwartships’ (i.e. side to side) in the hull. This may be part of a ship’s double bottom tank. The workers would have been doing this on the slipway.

Recent acquisition

15 In Service of Britain, early 1950s, Arthur James Wetherall Burgess (1879-1957), oil on canvas

Marine artist Arthur Burgess was born in New South Wales, Australia, studying art in Sydney and St. Ives, Cornwall. In 1918 he was Australia’s official naval artist.

This magnificent painting was commissioned by G.H.R. Towers, Chairman and Managing Director of John Readhead & Sons Ltd., and was originally hung in the firm’s boardroom. It commemorates the South Shields yard’s output during World War Two, when a total of 35 vessels were constructed, including 31 cargo ships and four special buildings for the Admiralty. The vessels are depicted as if gathered for convoy, off the mouth of the River Tyne.

Shipbuilding was absolutely vital to the war effort of our island nation, as many ships – and lives – were being lost through submarine warfare. One such unlucky ship was the Empire Clough, launched at Readheads in April 1942, delivered in May 1942 and sunk by U-boat in June 1942.

Loan: South Tyneside Council

16 Photograph, HMS Manchester, 1938

HMS Manchester was a Town-class light cruiser built by R. & W. Hawthorn, Leslie &Co. Ltd. in Hebburn. She was launched on 12 April 1937 and commissioned in August 1938.

Manchester was initially deployed to the East Indies Station, then with the outbreak of war in September 1939 she was assigned to patrol and escort duties in the Indian Ocean, Norwegian Sea, Mediterranean Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

Manchester was badly damaged by an aerial torpedo while escorting a convoy to Malta in July 1941 then in August 1942, while on another mission to resupply the besieged island of Malta, she was torpedoed by two Italian motor torpedo boats and was scuttled (sunk deliberately) by her own crew using explosive charges.

The builders’ model of HMS Manchester can be seen on display in the Story of the Tyne gallery at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum.

TWCMS : 2022.203

17 Palmers’ Jarrow, 1893, Robert John Scott Bertram (1871-1953), print

This image was published in the Northumberland County History in 1893. It shows Palmers’ blast furnace wharf at the western end of the Jarrow Works, where ore from mines in Spain, North Africa and North Yorkshire was offloaded, to be converted into pig-iron and steel.

TWCMS : 2016.685

18 Leo Connolly, Peter Mayne (b. 1952), oil on paper

Leo Connolly (born in Jarrow, 1929) was a carpenter at Hawthorn Leslies in Hebburn for 28 years. But he was also a talented singer of Irish ballads.

His introduction to public singing was at the age of about four, when he stood on a pub table, wearing green velvet trousers and a green bow tie, and sang “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” to a packed room. The location for this, one of Leo’s earliest memories, may have been the bar of the Commercial pub, which was mainly frequented by workers from the nearby Mercantile Dry Dock, and where Leo’s mam was the landlady.

Loan: Peter Mayne

19 Furniture designs, 1924

Furniture designs for the first class smoke room and writing room aboard the P&O passenger liners Ranpura and her sister ship Ranchi, built by R. & W. Hawthorn, Leslie & Co. Ltd., Hebburn, 1925.

Ranpura and Ranchi were built for the London to Bombay mail service and for cruising. They had accommodation for 312 first class and 275 second class passengers, and were also designed to transport refrigerated cargo.

In World War Two, both ships were requisitioned by the Admiralty as armed merchant cruisers.

TWCMS : 2016.2003, 2016.2005, 2016.2006

20 Middle Docks, Lewis W. Thomson, 1974, ink, pencil and charcoal on paper

This is a view along part of the West Quay at Middle Docks, looking up river towards Tyne Dock. At bottom left is the entrance to No. 2 Dock with the entrance to No. 1 Dock above. The pointed sections are the dock gates. The large vessel in the foreground may be one the many offshore supply and anchor handling ships that used to come to Middle Docks for repair. The artist seems to have depicted work being done around its stern rollers, used when the ship was doing anchor handling for oil rigs. Tyne Dock is visible at top left, showing some of the cranes used for loading and unloading cargo ships. Along from these is Jarrow Slake. At top right are the staithes at Whitehill Point, on the north side of the river, now long gone. This area is next to what is now the DFDS Car Ferry Terminal.

TWCMS : 2022.251

21 Poem, 1917

On the morning of New Year’s Eve 1916 the Pilot Cutter Protector (built in 1907 by J.P. Rennoldson & Sons, South Shields) hit a mine at the mouth of the Tyne. The vessel disappeared within a great cloud of smoke and sank instantly, with the loss of all 19 on board, plunging the towns of South Shields and Tynemouth into grief. The youngest lost was 16 year old cabin boy Bertram Thompson Rumney, and the eldest was 1st Class Pilot Robert Phillips.

TWCMS : 2008.1231

22 South Shields, After L.S. Lowry (1887-1976), 1962, print

This print is after a 1962 painting by Laurence Stephen Lowry, the Lancashire artist famous for his urban landscapes peopled with “matchstick men”. In the last 15 years of his life, Lowry was a frequent visitor to the North East, often staying at Seaburn. Lowry said, “I’m particularly fond of watching large ships coming into harbour, or being brought down a river by tugs. I love the Tyne for that reason. It’s a wonderful river”.

This work, painted by Lowry in 1962, is a composite view across the Tyne, suggesting just how busy the river was at this time. Lowry would spend a great deal of time watching the river from vantage points such as Mill Dam and the River Drive bridge, where he would go at night as well as by day.

TWCMS : 2011.1991

23 Duke of Wellington, Jarrow, 1978, Brian Leithead (b. 1944), watercolour

In this watercolour by Brian Leithead, the subject is the interior of the Duke of Wellington pub in Jarrow, busy with customers on pay day. This was a popular watering hole with employees at the Mercantile Dry Dock Co. Ltd. The artist has included himself in the drawing, 2nd from left, just getting a pint. Brian started out working in accounts at the Mercantile Dry Dock, and was later the Assistant Group Accountant for Tyne Shiprepair Ltd.

TWCMS : 2022.220

24 Dry Dock, A&P Tyne, Hebburn, Peter Mayne (b. 1952), oil on canvas

Hebburn artist Peter Mayne worked in the shipbuilding industry in the mid-1970s, before pursuing a career in art and graphic design. The subject of this painting is the dry dock at A&P Tyne in Hebburn, the largest commercial dry dock on England’s east coast.

At the former home of Palmers Hebburn Co., which was later operated as Swan Hunter’s Hebburn Shipbuilding Dock, then as Tyne Tees Dockyard, and Cammell Laird, today A&P Tyne continue to provide world-class ship repair in South Tyneside, including conversion and fabrication services for the marine and energy sectors.

Loan: Peter Mayne

25 MV Camellia, about 1950s, watercolour

MV Camellia was a bulk carrier built by John Readhead and Sons Ltd. in 1953. She was owned by Stag Line Ltd. of North Shields (all Stag Line ships were given horticultural names). The vertical red and white striped flag indicates that a second class pilot is on board.

When this painting was gifted to the museum in 2011, we were told that the artist was an ex-employee of Readheads who had had to retire for health reasons. He got a job at the petrol station near St. Peter’s Church in Harton Village and, as he had been very popular at work, people from the shipyard would drop in and tell him about the new ships being built. The artist would then paint a sketch using their descriptions, photographs and occasional brief visits to the yard.

Do you know the artist’s name? We’d love to know!

TWCMS : 2011.1978

26 Battlecruiser being Repaired in the Tyne
, about 1915, Arthur Heslop (1881-1955), oil on canvas

HMS Lion was repaired at Palmers in Jarrow, after being severely damaged at the Battle of Dogger Bank on 24 January 1915. It seems likely that the ship in this painting is Lion, but we cannot be certain since the very similar looking Palmers-built battlecruiser, HMS Queen Mary, also underwent repairs in the Tyne during the war.

During the First World War HMS Lion also saw action in the battles of Heligoland Bight (August 1914) and Jutland (May/June 1916). She was broken up at Jarrow in 1924.

TWCMS : 1993.11025

27 Hawthorn Leslies after Closure, Peter Mayne (b. 1952), oil on canvas

Hebburn artist Peter Mayne worked at Hawthorn Leslie’s yard in the mid-1970s as a welder, before pursuing a career in art and graphic design. The building with the clock tower was the joiners’ shop and sawmill.

The black and white photo reproduced here was taken from the clock tower early one morning in the late 1950s by apprentice electrician George Ball. The ship at far left is probably being fitted out at Hawthorn Leslies, but the ships to the right are undergoing repairs afloat at the neighbouring yard of Palmers Hebburn.

Loan: Peter Mayne

28 Brigham and Cowans New Dock Excavations, David Palmer, 1954, watercolour

Brigham & Cowan’s 715 ft. long “big dock”, or Dock No. 1 as it was officially christened, was inaugurated by Simon Wingfield Digby, Civil Lord of the Admiralty, on 14 September 1956.
When Brigham & Cowan’s yard was redeveloped for housing, No. 1 Dock was retained as a reminder of the site’s former industry, and is today home to artist Irene Brown’s fleet of seven stainless steel collier brigs (installed 2004).

TWCMS : J12950

29 Torpedo Boat Destroyer Waterhen, 1918, H. Erlington Gibb (fl. 1916-1927), oil on canvas

HMS Waterhen was a W-class destroyer built at Jarrow by Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Co. Ltd. (laid down 3 July 1917, launched 26 March 1918 and completed 17 July 1918). Waterhen was transferred to the Royal Australian Navy in 1933 and was sunk by dive bombers on 30 June 1941.

TWCMS : 2016.206

30 Photograph, 1930

The Danish-registered cable transport and laying barge Henry P. Ladingis believed to contain the last surviving active remnant of a Palmers-built vessel, built an incredible 92 years ago.

The story begins on 24 July 1930 with the launch from Palmers’ yard at Hebburn of Yard No. 1000, the motor tanker Peter Hurll. The sponsor – pictured holding a bouquet – was Miss Patricia Hurll. The vessel was named after her father, the London director of the owners, Standard Oil of New Jersey (later Exxon Corporation).

During the Second World War Peter Hurll mainly traded between the Lago refinery at Aruba in the Caribbean Sea, and New York. Wartime expansion made the Lago refinery the largest in the world and a major producer of petroleum products for the Allied war effort; together with the refinery at the neighbouring Caribbean island of Curaçao, they supplied over 80% of the aviation fuel needed by the RAF.

On one thrilling occasion during the war, Peter Hurll’s captain attempted to ram a German U-boat after it had surfaced nearby and begun firing machine guns at the tanker. The captain was sure that the U-boat could have easily sunk his ship, but it was apparently running low on torpedoes and did not want to use one on a southbound, ballast ship. “She could hardly have missed us at such close range”, he later recalled. The U-boat escaped, but so did Peter Hurll.

In 1948 Peter Hurll was transferred to the Danish arm of the Esso fleet and renamed Esso Kobenhavn. Then when she ran aground near Odense, Denmark, in 1963, it looked like scrapping and the end of the line for the old tanker. But, while the stern was indeed scrapped, the forward section was incorporated into the construction of a new cable laying vessel for Danish owners, christened Henry P. Lading.

She has been laying cables and pipelines now for almost 60 years, and in 2008 made a transatlantic crossing to Lake Ontario, Canada, to lay cables for the Wolfe Island Wind Project near the city of Kingston, Ontario.

TWCMS : 2016.2040

31 Photographs, 1938

The cargo ship SS Sutherland was built and engined by John Readhead & Sons Ltd., South Shields, for B.J. Sutherland & Co. Ltd. of Newcastle in 1938. She changed hands the following year, when purchased by Clydesdale Navigation Co. Ltd., and was renamed Blairclova. She survived the Second World War and in 1961 she was again renamed, as Ocean Venture, a year before being wrecked in a typhoon off Hong Kong and subsequently broken up.

TWCMS : 2022.208

32 Shipyard Workers, late 1950s Sheila Graber (b. 1940), pencil drawing

Renowned animator, artist and educator Sheila Graber drew these studies of men at work in Readheads yard, South Shields, in about 1957, while she was a student in her first year at art college. Sheila’s dad, Captain George Graber, was Pilot Master on the Tyne, which is how Sheila got permission to be in the yard and observe the men at work.

Most of the figures appear to be labourers, working with shovel and wheelbarrow. At top left are painters working in a suspended cradle, probably painting the hull of a vessel. Centre left are caulker/burners, working with pneumatic caulking hammers – a form of powerful chisel.

Recent acquisition

33 Street sign, about early 20th century

Readheads Landing was at Corstorphine Town, South Shields, off Commercial Road. In 2013 there was a campaign to save Readheads Landing, as the last publically accessible river landing in South Shields. The campaign was not successful.

TWCMS : 2019.1497

34 Hoisting the Skeg, 2021, Robert Olley (b. 1940), oil on board

“The skeg was fitted to the stern of the ship housing the rudder and propellers.

“I chose this subject to highlight the lack of safety precautions in the yards. Workers are perched precariously at great heights without safety harnesses. They toil wearing only cloth caps and old clothing that has seen better days, clothing that was once ‘Sunday Best’ or perhaps working men’s club attire.

“Hard hats, gloves and steel-toed boots seem to be non-existent.”

Robert Olley

Loan: Robert Olley

35 The paddle-tug Henry Wright, 1852, John Scott (1802-1885), oil on canvas

Henry Wright was a two-masted topsail schooner built in 1852 by Andrew Woodhouse and engined by J.P. Rennoldson, both of South Shields.

John Scott was born in South Shields in 1802 and spent his early life at sea, before becoming a pupil of John Wilson Carmichael.

TWCMS : G4227

36 Aerial photograph, late 20th century

Middle Docks and Readheads Docks, South Shields.

Loan: Brigham & Cowan Employees’ Welfare Club Ltd.

37 Plating half model, 1879-1881, Gleadowe, Rothesay, Renfrew and Glenmavis

This is a plating half model for four iron-hulled screw steamships built to the same hull design by Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Co. Ltd. of Jarrow. This model was used each time to establish what iron was needed and how the plating would fit together.

The first of the four, Gleadowe, was built in 1879 for Hunting, Pattison and Co. of Newcastle as a general cargo ship. She traded mostly in European waters with cargoes of grain, fruit and general stores. The ownership and trading patterns of the other vessels suggest that coal was another cargo commonly carried by these ships.

Rothesay (built 1880) was wrecked near Galle, Sri Lanka, while on a voyage from Cardiff to Batavia, Java in 1890. Glenmavis (built 1881) was wrecked near Janaholmen, Southern Finland in Novermber 1908. Renfrew and Gleadowe were both torpedoed and sunk during the First World War, in 1915 and 1917 respectively.

TWCMS : 1998.937

38 Propeller gauge, SS John Bowes, 1852

Launched at Palmer’s shipyard at Jarrow in 1852, the design of the collier John Bowes was pioneering. With an iron hull, steam powered and the ability to take water on board as ballast, John Bowes revolutionised the coal trade, being faster and more profitable to operate than the traditional sailing colliers. This gauge was used to fit the propeller shaft and screw of the trailblazing collier.TWCMS : E7184

39 Blacksmith’s Tool Rack, 1978, Peter Burns (b. 1944), acrylic on canvas

In 1978 shipyard plater and talented artist Peter Burns was commissioned by British Shipbuilders to undertake an 18-month tour of the yards on the Tyne, Wear and Tees, sketching and painting the North East’s shipbuilding industry and the men who worked in it – an industry which was soon to disappear.

The subject of this painting is the tool rack in the blacksmith’s shop at Brigham & Cowan’s repair yard in South Shields. Retired Middle Docks blacksmith’s striker and hammer driver John Embleton helped us to identify the tools in this painting, which include swages, haligobs, flat tongs, cutters and a pot mould.

Peter Burns rates this painting as “one of the very best” of the 200 or so artworks he produced in his 18-month secondment.

Loan: Working Class Movement Library

40 Swallowtail pennant, 1955

This flag was presented to Alderman and Mrs. C.J.R. Laybourn as Mayor and Mayoress of South Shields, when they visited Readhead’s shipyard on 18 February 1955. The visit was one of a number organised to “see people at work”; the previous day the Laybourn’s had visited Westoe Colliery, where Mrs. Laybourn had personally hewn a piece of coal from the coal face. On their visit to Readheads, the Mayor and Mayoress met three men in the frames and beam shed, with a combined 177 years’ service between them, and watched fascinated as a ship’s frame was brought from a furnace and turned. Two of the firm’s female employees were also introduced to the VIP visitors, ship cleaners Mrs. Isabel Blake, aged 57, and 47 year old Mrs. Evelyn White.

Charles John Robinson Laybourn was first elected to represent the Rekendyke ward in November 1934, becoming an Alderman in May 1952 and serving as Mayor of South Shields in 1954-55. Sadly, he died suddenly on 11 May 1955, shortly before his term of office as mayor was due to end.

TWCMS : N2112

41 Hebburn Shipyard Workers,  Peter Mayne (b. 1952), oil on canvas

Hebburn artist Peter Mayne served his time as a sheet metalworker, before retraining to be a welder at Hawthorn Leslies in about 1973/4. In about 1976/77 Peter decided he wanted to pursue a career in art, so he attended art college at Hartlepool, went on to do a degree in fine art at Sheffield, and has since worked as an artist and graphic designer.

Loan: Peter Mayne

42 Pennant, mid-20th century

Robsons Boat Builders of Templetown, South Shields, was established in 1830. In its early days the firm was engaged mainly on repairs to the collier brigs which sailed between the Tyne and the Thames. Then towards the end of the nineteenth century Robsons started to build small rowing boats, to carry crews from ship to shore. In the inter-war years, the firm was almost exclusively engaged in the building and repairing of ships’ lifeboats. Following the Second World War the variety and size of boats increased and the installation of engines became common practice. Other work undertaken included the manufacture of ships’ hold ladders and rope ladders. In the 1960s, as demand fell for wooden ships’ lifeboats, the firm branched out into the construction of fishing vessels.

In 1991 Robsons restored the famous lifeboat Tyne, displayed at Pier Parade beside the Wouldhave Memorial. Then later that year, a lack of new orders sounded the death knell for Robsons, and one of the oldest riverside firms in South Shields was closed with the loss of 20 jobs.

Loan: Rebecca Brown

43 Empty Stockyard, Hawthorn Leslie, Hebburn, 1978, Peter Burns (b. 1944), acrylic on canvas

In 1978 shipyard plater and talented artist Peter Burns was commissioned by British Shipbuilders to undertake an 18-month tour of the yards on the Tyne, Wear and Tees, sketching and painting the North East’s shipbuilding industry and the men who worked in it – an industry which was soon to disappear.

In 1980 this painting was featured in a major exhibition of Peter’s work at Newcastle Polytechnic Art Gallery.

TWCMS : 1993.4404

44 Plaque, early 20th century

Thomas Brigham and Malcolm Cowan founded an engineering works on River Street, Corstorphine Town, South Shields, in about 1874. They later moved to premises adjoining Middle Docks in East Holborn, before becoming a limited company in 1900 and relocating to Wapping Street, where the firm remained until 1982.

Loan: The Harbour Lights

45 The Ferrylanding, Peter Burns (b. 1944), acrylic on canvas

“This panorama view of the ferrylanding at Wallsend, looking towards Hawthorn Leslies, was painted during lockdown. It reminds me of the time I lived in Wallsend and was working at Leslies as a plater. Working on opposite sides of the river was common practice for shipyard workers at that time. I have always liked this view but never got round to going ahead with it, until now, some 40 years later!

“St. Andrew’s Church is a prominent landmark in the centre of the painting, and to the right are the rows of terraced houses built for the shipyard workers.

“The Mid Tyne Ferry Co. Ltd. ran three ferries between Walker, Wallsend and Hebburn. In 1971 the film Get Carter was shot on Tyneside and the Wallsend ferrylanding featured in a shootout scene. Get Carter has become a cult gangster flick, and one of my favourite movies.”

Peter Burns

Loan: Peter Burns

46 Photograph, NEMT volunteer Alan Smith

Alan Smith served his time as a wood cutting machinist at Readheads in the 1950s. In the 1970s Alan transferred to Swans on the other side of the river, and remained there until its closure in the ‘90s, finishing up as Shop Foreman in the Joinery Department.

In his retirement, Alan got involved with the North East Maritime Trust. Based at a historic boatshed and workshops on Wapping Street off River Drive in South Shields, the Trust is made up of a dedicated band of volunteers whose aim is to keep our marine craft heritage skills and history alive.

Loan: North East Maritime Trust

47 Readheads plaque, mid 20th century

The merchant cargo ship depicted on this beautifully carved wooden plaque is of a type prevalent from the 1890s onwards. The presence and accentuation of the radio aerial may point to a date of around the First World War period.The plaque was rescued by foreman plumber Joseph Harding Jnr, when Readheads shipyard closed in 1977.

Joseph Jnr’s paternal grandparents had relocated to Jarrow from Dalston near Carlisle in the 1870s, at a time when the Cumbrian cotton mills were ailing,but shipbuilding was thriving on Tyneside. Then with Britain gearing up for war in June 1939, Joseph Jnr’s father, Joseph Snr, was employed by Palmers Hebburn Co., working on the Fresno Star at Newcastle Quay, when he fell into the ship’s hold, suffering multiple and fatal injuries. At the inquest, evidence pointed to a slip on a piece of orange peel as the probable cause of Joseph Snr’s fall to his death.

Joseph Jnr was just 13 at the time of his father’s fatal accident. Soon after the tragic incident he was taken out of school and given work at Palmers. His son David reflects, “To place someone of that age to work in a shipyard might sound like cruelty to us now, but my father told me it was done as a kindness to the family. He was an only child and now sole earner for his mother, although she did receive some compensation for the death of her husband”.

When Joseph Jnr married his sweetheart Olive, they set up home just three or four hundred yards from Readheads shipyard, and that is where he worked until the yard closed in 1977. By that time he was a shop steward and foreman plumber. Joseph Jnr transferred to Swan Hunter’s Wallsend yard, remaining there until it closed in 1993. Looking back on his career, he was proud to be able to say he had built mighty supertankers and aircraft carriers.

Loan: David Harding

48 At the Mouth of the Tyne, T.G. William Broderick watercolour

This is thought to represent the Broderick, built at South Shields in 1786, and used for some time as a whaler. Such ships were very versatile and Broderick worked as a collier, Baltic trader and Admiralty transport, finally being lost with her crew of 12 local men on a timber trading passage from Canada to Shields in 1863.

The artist has painted two views of the same ship. To the left she is shown on the port tack, with studding sails set. To the right she has got the North Shields High and Low Lights lined up, and is in the process of tacking to go on to the starboard tack and enter the river. Her sails are aback as she makes her tack. She is very high in the water and therefore in ballast, and is probably entering the Tyne to load coal.

TWCMS : K20741

49 Great Emperor (Past) and Great Emperor (Present), 1909, William Thomas Nichols Boyce (1857-1911), watercolour

In this watercolour by the South Shields marine and landscape painter W.T.N. Boyce, the Tyne tug Great Emperor, then newly built for John Dry Steam Tugs Ltd., is towing a Danish full-rigged steel ship out of the Tyne. The artist has also included a second tug of the same name, built in 1866 by Readhead, Softley & Co., which was owned by the Dry family from 1869-1902. It would therefore appear that this must have been a commission by a member of the Dry family.

The “present” Great Emperor of this painting was built at South Shields by J.T. Eltringham & Co., having been launched in November of 1908 and completed by January 1909. She was bigger and more powerful than any previous Tyne tug, and with bunker space for 70 tons of coal, she could tow for three weeks without having to put into port to refuel.

In the first year of her operation, Great Emperor towed the Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson-built Penarth floating dock safely all the way to Cardiff. Then in 1910 Great Emperor towed the Norwegian four-masted barque Pegasses down the coast to the Channel. The barque had loaded coal and coke at Tyne Dock, and was bound for South America. This shows that Great Emperor might have towed a large steel sailing ship, such as the one shown in the painting, down to the Channel. Big sailing ships were best suited to long ocean voyages, so it would often make commercial sense to have them towed for short coastal trips.

Loan: James Alder Fine Art

50 West Entrance to Shields, mid-19th century, After John Wilson Carmichael (1799-1868), print

J.W. Carmichael was born at Newcastle, the son of a shipwright, and after some years at sea as a boy, he was apprenticed to his father’s trade with the Newcastle shipbuilders Richard Farrington and Bros. Here he soon began to display a talent for drawing, and was occasionally allowed to work in the drawing office. On concluding his apprenticeship he was at first undecided whether to become a professional artist, but he took the plunge, establishing a studio at Newcastle, and would go on to become one of the best liked and respected landscape and marine artists of Northumbria.

In this etching, on the right, we see a ship is on the stocks at the shipyard known as the West Docks, which was owned by the Young family. Generations of Youngs were builders and owners of wooden sailing ships between 1824 and 1871. Cuthbert, Thomas and James Young were the most prominent members of the family. The West Docks later became Readhead’s shipyard.

TWCMS : H19651

51 Photograph, about 1899

The High Docks at South Shields were run by the Edwards family from 1821, then in 1899 H.S. Edwards & Sons (of South Shields) and Edwards Brothers (of North Shields) amalgamated with Smith’s Dock Co. (of North Shields) under the new name of Smith’s Dock Co. Ltd.

In 1924 the High Docks passed into the tenancy of John Readhead & Sons Ltd., and into their ownership in 1938. This acquisition was important for Readheads as the location of the High Docks had separated Readheads’ shipbuilding department from the firm’s ship repair department. A plan was drawn up between Readheads and South Shields Corporation to fill in the old High Docks using material from a nearby ballast hill, creating 14,500 square yards of new land and 227 ft. of river frontage, while also enabling Readheads to become one complete interconnected unit at West Docks, for the first time.

TWCMS : 2022.204

52 Blueprint, 1902

The Holland was a steam screw merchant and passenger tender, built by J.T. Eltringham and Co., South Shields, for the Holland America Line of Rotterdam. In the First World War the Boulogne-registered tender was requisitioned by the French Navy as an auxiliary patrol vessel, then in June 1940 she was seized by German occupation forces and used to transport troops and forced labour. In August 1944 Holland was scuttled (sunk deliberately) but she was raised and repaired the following year, and continued in service until 1961.

Look out for the builders’ model of Holland, which is displayed on the ground floor in the Treasures Gallery.

Recent acquisition

53 SS Nethermoor of South Shields, 1897, Luigi P. Renault (1845-1910), oil on canvas

SS Nethermoor was one of the earliest ships owned by the well-known South Shields shipowner Walter Runciman. Runciman bought his first ship in 1885 and founded the South Shields Steam Shipping Co. Ltd. in 1889. By the beginning of the First World War, the Runciman group had amassed 40 vessels.

Nethermoor had been built as the SS Hopetoun in 1887, by Palmers of Jarrow, for William Wright of South Shields, but was sold to Runciman in 1889 and renamed in 1896 when he rebranded his company as the Moor Line.

Luigi P. Renault was an Italian ship portraitist and the official marine artist for King Victor Emmanuel II. He painted ships from all around the world when they docked at Livorno, Italy.

TWCMS : 2009.2640.

54 Roll of honour, 1919

Members of the staff of the Hebburn Shipyard of R. & W. Hawthorn, Leslie & Co. Ltd. who served in the First World War.

For info about each of the men listed, see the laminated booklet below, courtesy of Peter Hoy.

Loan: TS Kelly, Hebburn Sea Cadets

55 The Marshall, John Scott (1802-1885), about 1846, oil on canvas

Marshall was a barquentine rigged iron screw steam ship of 214 tons and was one of the early iron steam ships built at the Lawe yard of the innovative South Shields shipbuilder and engineer Thomas Dunn Marshall (1804-1864).

Marshall was built in 1846 for the Hamburg company ‘Elbe-Humber Dampschiffahrt Gesellschaft’, and seems to have been one of five ships built for the same company in 1845/6. As one would expect given her date, she looks very much like a sailing ship, with a steam engine grafted on to her. She has the decorative painted gunports that were popular around this time and you can also see the outfall of cooling water from the engine.

Although she is apparently entering the Tyne she is flying the Blue Peter flag from her foremast meaning “I am about to proceed to sea”. Many of John Scott’s ship portraits include the Blue Peter. The ensign flying from the gaff of the mizzen mast is of Hamburg.

Loan: Hull Museums (TWCMS : 2009.2254)

56 Laying the Deck, 2021, Robert Olley (b. 1940), oil on board

“Viewing from left to right, this painting illustrates the laying of timber decking. Lengths of timber are lowered by crane onto the steel deck which is being coated with a fixative. The pre-drilled deck boards are placed onto threaded bolts of the steel deck, and washers and nuts applied to hold the decking in place.  Wooden dowels are then glued in place, before being trimmed off by a shipwright using an ‘adze’. The gaps between the decking are then sealed by ‘caulkers’ hammering ‘oakum’ into the gaps between the deck boards. Finally, hot pitch is poured into the joints, allowed to dry, the deck is then soaked with water expanding the timbers, sealing the deck completely.

“Oakum was the name given to recycled old rope. In Victorian times old obsolete rope was collected from the many shipbuilding yards and docks and sent to prisons where the rope was unpicked by prisoners and recycled into balls of oakum then sold back to the shipbuilders! This is where the saying “Money for old rope” originated.”

Robert Olley

Loan: Robert Olley

57 Plating half model, about 1966, Sea Freightliner I and Sea Freightliner II

Readheads built Britain’s first cellular container ships, Sea Freightliner I and Sea Freightliner II in 1968 for the service between Harwich and Zeebrugge, designed to carry 218 20-ft containers. Modern container ships are now vastly bigger, and can carry anywhere between 10,000 and 21,000 containers!

Retired naval architect Dennis Maccoy, who was apprenticed as a draughtsman at Readheads when the Sea Freightliner contracts were won, was involved in making detailed and meticulous calculations to work out the weight of the hulls of these revolutionary new vessels. He recalls that he had to “rely only on measurement and simple arithmetic, which was time consuming when using only a manually powered calculating machine – the calculation took us just over two weeks – a computer spreadsheet package would have been very useful!”

TWCMS : 1998.962

58 Readheads Dinnertime, 2017, Graham Hodgson (b. 1967), oil on board

Al Newham commissioned this painting of shipyard workers exiting Readheads’ West Gate, painted by South Shields-born artist Graham Hodgson, whose own father had also worked at the famous West Docks yard.

Al explains: “I worked briefly on the bulk carrier Himmerland as an apprentice electrician while she was being fitted out in 1967. This painting shows a typical scene at ‘dinner time’ when there would be a dash across the road to the canteen for those who didn’t live nearby.

“All sub-contractors were made to wait outside the canteen by a formidable boiler-suited employee until all the Readhead & Sons lads were in. Conditions at that time were not so good as today: hard hats, ear defenders, suitable footwear and face masks were not regulation requirements.

“There was strict demarcation between the trades in the shipyard. As a sub-contractor, and in my ignorance, I went on board with a joiner’s brace hand tool. I must say I was told, in no uncertain terms, not to bring it on board again!”

Loan: Al Newham

59 Pilot Cutter Protector, 1910, W. Purvis, watercolour

On 31December 1916, in the midst of the Great War, a tragedy struck North and South Shields, plunging both towns into a world of grief. That morning 19 men and boys boarded the pilot cutter Protector (built in 1907 by J.P. Rennoldson & Sons, South Shields) but not one soul would return.

At around 6am the pilots and other crew members got down to business as usual, preparing for their day ahead. The cutter headed out toward several steamers which were lying near the harbour mouth, waiting for daylight to come.

Protector sailed from the Tyne and about a quarter of a mile south of South Shields pier she approached the SS Mile End. The two vessels were almost side by side when, all of a sudden, all on board the Mile End felt a violent shock as the Protector disappeared within a great cloud of smoke.

It is said that the cause of the explosion was a floating mine laid by UC-31 and her commander Otto von Schrader, although there was also speculation that she might have been torpedoed. The attack on the cutter was a failed attempt at destroying HMS Resolution, which had in fact left port the previous morning.

TWCMS : J2528

60 The Revenge Leaving Jarrow, ex.1898, print

HMS Revenge was one of two Royal Sovereign-class pre-dreadnought battleships built at Palmers Jarrow works in the 1890s, then among the largest fighting ships afloat.

In total, Palmers built 110 ships for the Royal Navy, beginning with the Terror in 1856. Naval vessels were also built for other governments, including Japan, Greece and Australia.

TWCMS : 2001.3685

61 Palmers Blast Furnaces by Night, 1889, R. Wallis, oil on canvas

Palmers iron and steel works had five blast furnaces, each about 80 feet high, generally worked three at a time. The product was either delivered in a molten state to the steel works for the manufacture of steel, or cast into “pigs” for delivery to the firm’s engine works and foundries, as well as being supplied to many customers across the nation and abroad.

The iron and steel works was an incredibly dangerous environment in which to work, where there were many catastrophic injuries and fatalities. On 23 February 1887, 19 year old steel works’ employee Patrick Finnerty died when he overbalanced himself and fell head first into a tub of molten slag. In August 1914 a blastfurnace explosion killed four. These are just two examples of many tragic accidents at the works.

TWCMS : 2017.21

62 Dalkeith at Middle Docks, South Shields, 1976, Lewis W. Thomson, watercolour

The subject here is the conversion of the bulk carrier Dalkeith into a drill ship at Middle Docks, South Shields, in 1976. The artist has painted a view of Dalkeith in No.4 Dock, looking towards the dock gate. A mobile crane is lifting a unit onto the drill deck. Shipwright George Crooks, who worked on the Dalkeith, recalled that “A team of American steel erectors came on site to erect the drilling rig on top of the drill deck. I think it was approx. 120 ft. high. It was a pleasure to watch these guys in action, if not a bit ‘hair raising’ at times!” George also commented, “You can’t notice it in the picture, but another major part of this conversion was the fabricating and fitting of ‘sponsons’ along the port and starboard sides of the ship. These made the ship approx 22 ft. (6.7 metres) wider. When the ship was undocked there was only a couple of inches each side at the dock entrance. It was literally like trying to pull a cork out of a bottle”.

TWCMS : 2022.252

63 Shipyard Workers, late 1950s, Sheila Graber (b. 1940), pencil drawings

Renowned animator, artist and educator Sheila Graber produced these sketches in Readheads yard, South Shields, in about 1957, while she was a student in her first year at art college. Sheila’s dad, Captain George Graber, was Pilot Master on the Tyne, which is how Sheila got permission to be in the yard and observe the men at work.

One of Sheila’s sketchbook pages shows frames being erected on a building berth. Dr. Paul Stott of Newcastle University commented, “This looks essentially to be pre-Second World War technology in terms of shipbuilding strategy. Considering this is the late 1950s, it shows that we had already lost the race with Japan, who were by this time erecting ships in large blocks – extending and perfecting techniques that started in the emergency shipyards of the United States in World War Two”.

Another page shows workers walking down onto an empty slipway after a ship had been launched – presumably going to prepare the keel blocks for the next ship. The slipway to the left has frames erected onto it.

A cantilever crane is one of the things sketched by Sheila on the third page. Many would call this a “hammerhead” crane, and the location may in fact have been at the Walker Naval Yard on the north side of the Tyne.

Recent acquisition

64 Photograph, 1900

HMS Viper was built by R. & W. Hawthorn, Leslie & Co. Ltd. at their Hebburn Shipbuilding Yard in 1900. She was the first destroyer to use steam turbine propulsion (developed by the Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Co. Ltd. of Newcastle) and by attaining a speed of 37 knots she proved herself the fastest vessel of her period.

TWCMS : 2022.202

65 Unidentified First World War-era warship, H. Erlington Gibb (fl. 1916-1927), oil on canvas

During the First World War Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Co. Ltd. launched 23 vessels for the Royal Navy. This is presumably one of them, but we haven’t been able to identify her – can you help?

TWCMS : 2016.207

66 Engine plate, 1880

This engine plate was recovered from a wreck in the Baltic Sea. The vessel was probably the iron screw cargo ship Dissington, built at John Readhead’s Lawe Yard in 1880.

Dissington had a rather short career, being wrecked on 12 October 1883 while on a voyage from Vyborg to Brest with a cargo of timber.

The original engine and boiler shop at Readhead’s Lawe shipyard was managed by Robert Readhead, the eldest son of the founder. Although shipbuilding operations were transferred from the Lawe to the West Docks in 1881, engine building continued at the Lawe until 1895/96.

Loan: John Bage

67 MV Wiltshire, 1968, Dennis Brown, oil on board

The liquefied gas carrier Wiltshire was built at Hawthorn Leslie (Shipbuilders) Ltd., Hebburn in 1968. She was allocated yard no. 766, the very last Hawthorn Leslie yard number issued before the takeover by Swan Hunter. This painting was commissioned by Robin Gray, who was the Shipbuilding Director at Hawthorn Leslie’s. The artist, Dennis Brown, was a naval architect at the Hebburn Shipbuilding Yard.

Wiltshire was built for Bibby Bros. & Co. Ltd. of Liverpool (Bibby Line). She was Hawthorn Leslie’s fourth purpose-built liquefied gas carrier. The first, the Agnita of 1931, was in fact the world’s first purpose-built gas carrier. The next to be built at Hebburn was the Clerk Maxwell in 1966, followed by the Mariano Escobedo in 1967, Wiltshire in 1968 and Emiliano Zapata in 1970. The next two Hebburn-built gas carriers were twice the size of the Wiltshire, the sisterships Faraday (1970) and Lincolnshire (1972). In 1976 the Gandara was the last gas carrier to be built in Hebburn.

TWCMS : 2022.259

68 Memorial plaque, zeppelin raid fatalities, 1915

On the night of 15 June 1915 a zeppelin raid resulted in the deaths of 12 men at Palmer’s yard at Jarrow, after bombs rained down from the German airships, hitting the fitting and coppersmiths’ workshops.

This memorial was erected by Palmers’ Board of Directors and was originally sited in the Boiler Shop of the firm’s Jarrow Works.

The total number of people to lose their lives along the banks of the river that night was 16. A 17th death was later linked to the raid, Isabella Laughlin, a widow of 60, of Richard Street, Jarrow who, having been awoken by the bombing and witnessed the terrifying spectacle of the zeppelins overhead, died there and then of shock.

TWCMS : 2016.203

69 Plaque, 1935

Sir James Halder Readhead was chairman and managing director of John Readhead & Sons Ltd. from 1930 until his sudden and premature passing at the age of 61 in 1940.

Rodney Towers, son of the last Chairman and Managing Director of Readheads, remembers his father, G.H.R. Towers, telling him about Sir James Halder Readhead’s empathy and generosity at the height of the depression years of the 1930s.

Rodney recalls, “Sir James Halder Readhead would intentionally ride the trams in the town and when he recognised one of his laid off workers, he would give that person half a crown and a personal message of encouragement”. Rodney added, “Those were days when half a crown would really buy quite a lot, and whilst Sir James had the problems of having no ships to build and trying to keep the family business alive through ship repairing, he wanted to show people that he also had a heart and understood the financial difficulties of so many”.

When the head of the South Shields shipyard passed away in 1940, his funeral at Harton Cemetery was the largest seen in South Shields for many years, when a procession of 1,000 Readheads workmen walked at the head of the funeral cortege, and eight workmen acted as underbearers.

TWCMS : 2013.207

70 Plaque, about 1930

Both Sir James Readhead and then Sir James Halder Readhead were governors of the Ingham Infirmary, South Shields, an institution established in 1873 specifically to treat and take care of “the sick and lame poor”. When, in 1899, the Infirmary sought funds to expand its facility by the construction of a £9,000 new wing, James Readhead persuaded the Readhead family to collectively donate an astonishing £4,000. In honour of this generosity, the new wing was called the John Readhead Wing, in memory of the founder of Readhead’s shipyard who had passed away in 1894. This plaque is a record of Sir James Readhead’s 33 years of continuous association with the Infirmary, as Vice President, Trustee and President. Rodney Towers, son of the last Chairman and Managing Director of Readheads, has reflected, “It is an inspiring example of the way persons who successfully created wealth also played their part in giving back to society”.

TWCMS : 2013.202

71 Plaque, about early 20th century

Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Co. Ltd. was established at Jarrow by Charles Mark Palmer in 1851. The Latin motto translates as “Let the Success be Equal to the Labour”.

TWCMS : 2001.3703

72 Certificate, about 1962

Readheads’ most loyal customer was the Hain Steamship Co. of St. Ives, Cornwall, for which a remarkable 87 ships were built, Trewidden being the first in 1878 and Trebartha the last in 1962. This is believed to be a world record! Hain ships were christened with names beginning ‘Tre’ which means ‘settlement’ or ‘homestead’ in the Cornish language.

TWCMS : 2022.209

73 Name plate, 1877

This name plate came from HMS Tweed, a Royal Navy Medina-class torpedo gunboat built in 1877 at Palmers shipyard in Jarrow. Naval contracts were a major feature of Palmers work, beginning with the Terror in 1856. In total, 110 ships were built by Palmers for the Royal Navy.

TWCMS : H18057

74 Mercantile Dry Dock, 1979, Brian Leithead (b. 1944), watercolour

The Mercantile Dry Dock was established at Jarrow in the 1880s. In this watercolour, painted in 1979, a storm is brewing in the skies above nos. 1 and 2 docks. The artist, Brian Leithead, started out working in accounts at the Mercantile Dry Dock, and was later the Assistant Group Accountant for Tyne Shiprepair Ltd.

TWCMS : 2022.212

75 Name plate, 1968

This is the name plate from Sea Freightliner II, which was launched at Readhead’s yard in South Shields on 15 March 1968 and completed by June that year. Sea Freightliner I and Sea Freightliner II were the first cellular container ships built in Britain. Revolutionary for their time, they were designed to carry 218 20-ft containers. Modern container ships are now vastly bigger, and can carry anywhere between 10,000 and 21,000 containers! Look out for the half model of Sea Freightliner I and II, also on show in this exhibition.

Loan: The Harbour Lights

76 Photographs, HMS P31, 1916

John Readhead & Sons Ltd. built 27 vessels during the First World War, including three ‘P’ class patrol boats (P31 in 1916, and P47 and P48 in 1917). The P boats were designed to relieve destroyers of patrol and escort work, and submarine hunting. 44 were built at 18 shipyards across the country, but a large proportion (19) were built in North East shipyards.

They were designed for speed, to run down and ram German U-boats. P31 and her sisters P47 and P48 were the fastest ships ever built at Readheads, capable of speeds in excess of 22 knots.

Look out for the builders’ model of HMS P48 which is also displayed in this exhibition.

TWCMS : 2022.206

77 Forming a Rib
, 2021, Robert Olley (b. 1940), oil on board

“Here the skilled metal workers are shaping a rib, one of hundreds required for a new vessel. Facing the intense heat the gang manoeuvre the white hot rib out from the furnace onto the steel floor that is perforated with thousands of holes. Iron pins are placed into a pre-designed pattern to form the required shape. The cooling rib is forced onto the pins by a hydraulic ram. The noise would have been deafening, and there is no evidence of safety equipment! The pins are repositioned as the rib reaches the required profile. The newly formed rib is left to cool while the workers take a well-earned tea break. Job done!”

Robert Olley

Loan: Robert Olley

78 Ships Built by Palmers During the War, 1914-1919, H. Erlington Gibb (fl. 1916-1927), oil on canvas

During the First World War Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Co. Ltd. launched 23 vessels for the Royal Navy and docked and repaired 347 ships. The launchings included the hulls of two submarines, which were afterwards fitted out by Armstrong Whitworth on the Tyne.

Also during the conflict, 1,543 men from Palmers’ Jarrow and Hebburn yards served in the armed forces. Of these, 185 lost their lives. After the war, the company directors and shareholders erected a cenotaph in memory of the fallen. It is located next to the former Christ Church Rectory, beside Palmer Community Hospital.

TWCMS : 2016.1330

79 Oil Rig on the Tyne, about 2010, Tom Dack (b. 1933), watercolour

West Docks: From shipbuilding and ship repair, to fossil fuels, to renewable energy!

The former Readheads shipyard site was acquired by McNulty Offshore in August 1984 and redeveloped as a mixed repair and construction site for offshore structures and components. In 1996 the Norwegian firm Aker purchased a 70% share of the company, which became ‘Aker McNulty’ and the former Readheads drydocks, having been renamed as TDE West, were also acquired at the same time and filled in. McNulty’s went into administration in February 2012 and the site was bought by Port of Tyne. It is currently being developed as an operations and maintenance base for the Dogger Bank Wind Farm, which will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

TWCMS : 2011.1995

80 HMS Defence, pub. 1872, print

HMS Defence was the lead ship of the Royal Navy’s Defence-class screw powered armoured frigates, her wooden hull being clad with 4 ½ inch thick rolled armour plates. She was barque-rigged to enable the engines to be dispensed with when cruising in fine weather, and could make about 10.5 knots (12.1 mph) under sail. While under sail alone, the funnel was semi-retractable to reduce wind resistance, and the propeller could also be hoisted up into the stern of the ship to reduce drag.

TWCMS : 2022.201

81 The Anvil, Peter Burns (b. 1944), acrylic on canvas

The subject of this painting is the blacksmith’s shop at Brigham & Cowan’s repair yard in South Shields.

In 1978 shipyard plater and talented artist Peter Burns was commissioned by British Shipbuilders to undertake an 18-month tour of the yards on the Tyne, Wear and Tees, sketching and painting the North East’s shipbuilding industry and the men who worked in it – an industry which was soon to disappear.

Loan: Peter Burns

82 HMS Resolution, 1916, Erlington Gibb (fl. 1916-1927), oil on canvas

HMS Resolution was a Revenge-class battleship built at Jarrow by Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Co. Ltd. (laid down 29 November 1913, launched 14 January 1915 and commissioned 30 December 1916). From 1916 to 1919, she served in the 1st Battle Squadron (United Kingdom) of the Grand Fleet.

TWCMS : 2016.205

83 Launch Day, 2022, Robert Olley (b. 1940), oil on board

“An overcast sky and fine drizzle greet the chosen dignitaries who will witness the launching ceremony of a new ship. As they arrive the brass band fires up with a jaunty selection of sea shanties. The band master glares at us, looking for some appreciation of the band’s effort.

“Some of the cloth-capped shipyard workers in the foreground give us a furtive look, there seems to be an atmosphere of unrest! Maybe a strike is brewing, few pay much attention to the pending ceremony or the arrival of the distinguished guests.

“A lone photographer tries to line up a group shot of the VIPs. The woman to his left glares with more than a little envy at the shipyard owner’s wife, with an expensive fox stole draped over her shoulders, which also holds the attention of the little terrier. The bowler-hatted yard owner carries the champagne bottle draped with red, white and blue ribbons, which will be smashed against the hull of his latest ship, sending it down the slipway to be fitted out before beginning its life sailing the oceans of the world.

“His wife seems very reluctant to grasp the hand of the elderly veteran worker who, because of his long service and loyalty to the company, has been given the honour of presenting the bouquet of flowers. He stands in a pool of water, rain drops bouncing off his bald head, anticipating the lady’s gloved hand, while the bored chauffeur looks on, taking time out for a smoke.

“The Chief Inspector suspiciously looks at one of the other guests while the vicar stands on an oil drum, presumably to be nearer to his boss, pleading for better weather.

“At the rear of the group a lady receives a poke in the eye by the careless handling of an umbrella, while a young lady discovers a deposit on the sole of her expensive shoe. A gift from the little terrier?

“In the background the skeletal framework of cranes merge with the rows of terraced houses that almost become part of the shipyard, occupied by the employees and their families.”

Robert Olley

Loan: Robert Olley

84 Tankers at Middle Docks, South Shields, about 1945-1950, Thomas William Pattison (1894-1983), oil on canvas

The artist has dragged orange colour over thick paint to suggest the rough and rusty surface of the ship, and also used a palette knife to vigorously apply paint in places. The strong colours, thick paint, and slightly abstract shapes of the painting suggest that it was influenced by art developments of the 1940s. Thomas William Pattison studied at Newcastle University, and later taught art there.

TWCMS : C687

85 Brigham & Cowan, South Shields, Richard Hobson (1945-2004), monotype print

Brigham & Cowan’s yard viewed from River Drive, with the 715 ft. long “big dock”, or Dock No. 1 as it was officially termed, on the right, and Smith’s Dock Co. Ltd. visible across the river at North Shields. When Brigham & Cowan’s yard was redeveloped for housing, No. 1 Dock was retained as a reminder of the site’s former industry, and is today home to artist Irene Brown’s fleet of seven stainless steel collier brigs (installed 2004).

Loan: Pat Hobson

86 Screw Steamer Burmese, 1874, W.T. Baldwin, print

A port side view of SS Burmese, a screw powered brig-rigged cargo ship built for Thomas Sutton of North Shields by John Softley & Co. at his Pilot Street yard in South Shields. Burmese was launched on 20 December 1873 and completed in February 1874. With a change of ownership in 1879 came a name change to Kenmure Castle, then four years later the Shields-built vessel sank in the Bay of Biscay, on 2 February 1883, whilst on a voyage from London to Shanghai.

Kenmure Castle was 100 miles from land when she sank. One lifeboat was hurriedly launched before the stricken vessel and many unfortunate souls went to their watery graves. The survivors spent three days tossing in the open seas, with no food, before being rescued. A contemporary newspaper report states that the miserable occupants of the lifeboat had been “reduced to chewing Mr. Harrock’s flannel vest as their only ration till they were picked up”.

TWCMS : 2022.205

87 Palmer’s Works, Jarrow, about 1890, print

The Jarrow Works of Palmer’s Shipbuilding & Iron Company occupied a vast site, covering an area of about 100 acres, with a river frontage of nearly three quarters of a mile including pig-iron and ore wharves. In addition to the shipbuilding yard with eight berths, there was a graving dock and repairing slipway, engine and boiler works, blast furnaces, steel works and rolling mills. About eight miles of railway lines criss-crossed the Works and 12 locomotives transported material between the various departments.

Palmers was Jarrow’s biggest employer. When the yard closed in 1933, a staggering 70% of Jarrow’s workforce found themselves unemployed.

TWCMS : 2016.210

88 Pattern, First World War

This is an example of a wooden pattern, used to cast an anchor connecting shackle in a shipyard foundry. It is believed to be First World War in date, and was probably made at Palmer’s or Hawthorn Leslie’s yards. Patterns are a model for the object to be cast. A pattern makes an impression on the sand mould, liquid metal is poured into the mould, and the metal solidifies in the shape of the original pattern.

TWCMS : 2016.830

89 Map of British Shipyards, 1957

When this map was produced in 1957 there were just over 80 shipyards across the UK. Many have now been consigned to the history books.

TWCMS : 2022.55

The Rivet Catcher, Bob Olley, 2022

The Caulker, Bob Olley, 2022

The Riveter, Bob Olley, 2022

The Apprentice, Bob Olley, 2022

The Welder, Bob Olley, 2022


Tyne and Wear Museums with a special thanks to Adam Bell

Terry Ford
Tyne and Wear Museums with a special thanks to Adam Bell

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