Harking back to heyday of Tyne’s shipbuilding industry

Readhead's.
Readhead's.

The recent articles about Readhead’s shipyards, in South Shields, has generated a lot of interest among readers.

One of them, Norman McGlasham, who is 76-years-old, got in touch with his memories of the once thriving yard.

He writes: “As an avid reader of your nostalgia column on the past, including shipbuilding and ship repair yards of our great river Tyne, I am writing to say that I am a past worker (electrician) on many yards on the river, both for the yards themselves or on many occasions for contractors.

“These included Campbell Isherwoods, electrical contractors, of Silver Street, Newcastle, and Wares and Bartlett, of King Street, South Shields.

“Readhead’s Yard had their own electrical squad who looked after cranes, plant, ship-shore main and temporary lighting on board when ship’s generators would be shut down for maintenance or repair.

“Wares and Bartletts, who had a hardware store in King Street sold everything from teaspoons to tiled fireplaces. They also had an electrical contracting side which did all the shipping wiring of newly-built ships and maintenance of dry docked shops.

“A man who oversaw the work on the likes of the Sharistan and the Floristan, built in the mid 1960s for Strick Line, when I worked on them was, and still is a legend of the river Tyne and its shipbuilding history is Charlie Peterson.

“Charlie was a manager/head foreman for A. J. Wares and Co. Ltd.

“He knew every wire and cable clip formation and what order they should be in, and woe betide you if one was crossed.

“Most cable runs would be mounted on surface tray plate mounted on the deck heads by what Charlie called (jockles), small brackets welded to the deck heads, which you would fix up your tray plate of various sized, from three inches to two foot width, which be fixed mainly in the companion ways where, as Charlie would said, had to be as straight as tram lines or woe betide you again. (Oh dear!)

“Your batches of cable clips of all sizes were made up in a tiny wobby workshop in the corner of the yard by a chap called Tommy Temperley, who was a master clip maker who used small iron bars of different sizes to match the cable sizes of up to a dozen or so cables in one clip order.

“Charlie also had marker offs who would plan and mark off for the runs through the many passageways, alley ways, engine room and deck housing, his main man being a very articulate gentle man named John House,

“Charlie was renowned on the river for ‘doing’ a ship with around a dozen men and two or three apprentice ‘sparks,’ where in other yards on ships of that size there would be two or three times that amount of squad.

“Charlie Peterson is still with us, pushing 90 years. However, John House is now deceased, R.I.P, John.”

Thanks for such wonderful memories Norman.

Meanwhile, reader Kevin Blair emailed me to say: “Thought these two items (pictured) might be of interest.

“The first one is an advert from 1926 and the second is taken from a J. Readhead & Sons book I have.”

Watch out for more on Readhead’s and South Tyneside’s maritime past.

In the meantime, please get in touch with your recollections about the area’s once-proud industries and the people who used to work so hard to make them the success that they were.

As always, I’d love to hear from you regarding such times.