‘Godfather’ Joe saw end of an era in shipyards

BUYING TIME ... Joe Grant, left, during the period when Tyne shiprepair was trying to sell itself abroad.
BUYING TIME ... Joe Grant, left, during the period when Tyne shiprepair was trying to sell itself abroad.
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THE day the axe fell on the lion’s share of the Tyne’s shiprepair yards will live on in infamy.

Old-established names disappeared, some in one go, others with a kind of toppling domino effect.

It was a sad day when they all closed. Wallsend Dry Docks was the last to go...

Former union convenor Joe Grant

But it wasn’t for want of trying to keep them afloat.

Here’s an interesting picture for you.

Many readers will know South Shields man Joe Grant as an indefatigable campaigner for improvements in the care and treatment of people with dementia.

But for many years he had an equally high profile as a union convenor in local yards which involved, in the 1970s – the period of North East Coast Shiprepairers - travelling abroad as the Tyne’s shiprepair facilities sought to ‘sell’ their expertise.

The photograph here was taken in Monte Carlo. Joe is on the left with, among others, representatives of Brigham and Cowan’s yard in Shields and the Mercantile Dry Dock at Jarrow.

At one point, he even found himself travelling to Athens, to meet legendary Greek shipowner Aristotle Onassis.

He laughs now when, sometimes, his Geordie accent wasn’t always understood!

It was interesting talking to Joe, who followed his father into the yards – his dad was actually killed in an accident at Middle Docks – before going to sea as an engineer. He also had a spell in the RAF.

In the end, no amount of hard sell could save the shiprepair industry on the river.

“It was a sad day when they all closed. Wallsend Dry Docks was the last to go...” says Joe, now 86, who was honoured with the title, The Godfather, in a poem penned for and about him by another prominent union man of the era, Jim Florence, and which begins: “In every walk of life you will find one, the big man, the manipulator....”