Today Geoff Henderson continues his look-back at South Shields shipbuilders, John Readhead & Sons Ltd.
Geoff writes: “I left school in the summer of 1949 after attending St John’s Higher Grade School, Beach Road, for two years.
“This was a commercial school for training in shorthand, typing, bookkeeping and other office work.
“It was a mixed school, but only the girls enjoyed the work, with most of them going into secretarial work.
“I suppose, like me, the lads only went there to please their mothers because they had failed their 11+, but passed the entrance exam.
“The school does not exist now, having been converted into private flats. St John’s Church, next door, is still there.
“On leaving school, I did what most other lads did (those who hadn’t a trade planned), and became a butcher boy.
“This entailed delivering customers’ orders of meat etc, cleaning the shop and other butchering jobs.
“I only worked at the butcher’s shop, which was in Aldwych Street (JB Emslie), for a few months when I got my ‘break’.
“I didn’t know about Readhead’s at this time, and it was only because of my parents that I got in there.
“They socialised, on a weekend, down town with friends, some of whom worked at Readheads.
“Anyway, I was told one of them had lined up an apprenticeship for me at the shipyard. All I had to do was choose from three trades: plater, painter or plumber.
“I didn’t know about any of them but chose plumbing, and I was pleased I made that choice.”
On being accepted by Readhead’s for an apprenticeship, Geoff was told to report to the shipyard general store at 7.30am on the following Monday.
“As I was only 15 years and a bit, I would be there until starting my trade at 16 years of age.
“In the store was the manager and two male assistants and about six of us lads, all awaiting our apprenticeship.
“At the time, my family was living in an upstairs flat in Selbourne Street, which is off the upper part of Broughton Road.
“My route to work each day was: down Broughton Road, cross over Westoe Road (by the Town Hall) to the Britannia pub on the opposite side, then down Claypath Lane, over a little bank at the bottom end of the lane by the Queen’s Head pub, cross over the road by the Lord Clyde pub at the bottom of Cuthbert Street then up the side of the old Slaughter House to the alleyway between the old colliery railway line and the bank behind the commercial properties of Commercial Road.
“I emerged from the cut at Holy Trinity Church and proceeded up Commercial Road past the houses of Windmill Hill and others.
“At the top of the hill I would turn left at the Neptune Hotel and about 200 yards down the road was the shipyard’s main gate (which the general store was next to).
“I walked this journey each day, there and back. It was roughly one mile and it took me about 15 minutes.
“The work in the store entailed serving tradesmen with their requirements ie rivets, nuts, bolts and similar wants for their work in the yard or on ship.
“It could be quite vigorous at times, humping bags of bolts, rivets, etc. Packing them away in storage bins was particularly hard.
“One of the jobs I liked was taking the men’s pay notes on into the yard. These notes were delivered to the store for distribution by the respective foremen.
“The store boy received the notes and went to each department shop; joiner shop, platers’ shed, plumbing shop etc and gave them to the respective foreman.
“It was a good way of getting to know the yard and types of work as you visited all the shops.
“We had about an hour’s break for lunch, where most of the young lads went aboard the ships under construction during their break.
“We played tiggy and chased each other on the staging planks and rigging (health and safety would have a blue fit if they saw us now!)
“Between the stocks, where there was room for a kick about, we would play against/with the riveters and labourers (we didn’t half take some stick!)
“I found a lot of the yards’ employees lived local ie Laygate, Tyne Dock and surrounding areas, which meant a lot of workers went home for dinner as they could go on foot.
“Having said this, a feature of the area around Readhead’s was the number of Corporation buses in the street outside at starting and finishing time to ferry workers who lived further afield.
“Remember this was the early 50s and not many working men could afford a car at this time. In fact, you could count on less than a dozen having one, even among the foremen and chargemen.”