What happened to our great town of Hebburn?

DEMOLITION ... of the iconic ship yard Hawthorn Lesle at Hebburn
DEMOLITION ... of the iconic ship yard Hawthorn Lesle at Hebburn

AFTER recent events I’ve been musing over what happened to our great town, Hebburn.

In August 1979, I started my apprenticeship in Swan Hunter shipyards. I used to walk down Ellison street with hundreds of others. We passed the legendary Hawthorn Leslies yard and its huge staff canteen toward Hebburn ferry landing. People were piling out of cars and buses,I used to puff my chest out proud that I was a small part of it.

Now I live on the site where the giant sheds of Hawthorn Leslies stood, hundreds of houses built on the old canteen, the ferry landing no more. The old yard entrance is there, a relic left to fester.

What of the shipyard supply firms of our town, Pyro and Bitumastic, both gone with hundreds of jobs, now the site of new housing.

Never mind, we’ve still got our magnificent technical college which educated generations of academics and heavy industry apprentices since 1956 ...

Well, no, the building was left without investment until, we were told, it became too expensive to maintain.

So the obvious thing to do for the good folk of Hebburn,was to shut the site down, and give the funds to South Tyneside College, South Shields.

Another 100 houses to be built on the Hebburn campus.

Its just as well, then, that the DHSS bought the old Reyrolle building. Hundreds of people have been employed in that building for decades. That should keep us ticking over – I mean all those people spending their lunch money in our magnificent shopping centre, you know it makes sense.

Err no,we were told the building was dropping to bits with concrete cancer and asbestos, better knock it down ASAP, and we could always build some new houses on the site, right.

Well, look on the bright side. We have Hebburn Magistrates, a busy little building employing dozens of people while also servicing the nearby police station.

What’s that you say, both buildings are getting flattened to make way for new housing.

Oh, and our police will come out of Area Command, South Shields.

Also gone, Baker Perkins,the Bushing testing centre,and of course Reyrolles. The baths and community centre are getting flattened. We lost our infirmary years ago,we are now losing the Jarrow walk-in centre to South Shields.

We don’t even get a mention from our MP. On all his correspondence he is MP for Jarrow.

So who did murder Hebburn, the most industrialised town in the world, the town that built some of the most famous and glorious ships in the world,the town that employed thousands from all over the North East,the town that had the greatest number of catholics and protestants living in harmony together in Britain, the town that has welcomed people from all over the world and took them into our community?

The question is too complex to answer,but make no mistake, the beginning of the demise of our town started in the year I started my apprenticeship 1979. Can anybody else think of what disaster started in that very same year?

Martin Laffey,