Memories of ‘meeting dad’ at local pit gates

Pictured in April 1957, our main image shows workers leaving Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Co. but the scene would have been familiar to anybody standing outside one of the many shipyards, pits, steelworks or heavy engineering plants here in the North East at that time.

By Peter French
Thursday, 30th May 2019, 9:58 am
Shipworkers on their way home in 1957.
Shipworkers on their way home in 1957.

Once the klaxon had gone, swarms of men, most of them wearing flat caps and many riding bicycles, would stream from the gates of the various works, which in those days provided employment to so many workers.

When we featured the photo on the Gazette’s Facebook page, it captured the imagination of thousands of readers while reviving memories for those who worked or had family working in the industries which were the backbone of Britain’s economy.

The Shieldsman.

Sadly, nearly all of these industries and jobs have been lost, but images of such times, like today’s old photo, provide a dramatic reminder of those days, Susan Blackburn took to social media to tell how she remembers: “meeting my dad from Swan Hunters after his shift, lovely memories” while Maureen White talks of “all the men in Swans teaming out at the end of the shift, preceded by the familiar sound of the buzzer”.

Eileen Jackson got in touch to say: “My dad worked there” with Bob Sawicki recalling “leaving Redheads and getting on dirty buses”.

James Beresford Simpson said simply: “Just an amazing picture!” a sentiment echoed by Sheila McDonald.

Meanwhile, our recent story about the former South Shields ferry, The Shieldsman, also caught readers’ imaginations.

We told how it is 10 years since South Tyneside waved goodbye to the iconic ferry.

The Shieldsman, part of the Shields Ferry’s fleet for 30 years, left the Tyne for the final time in 2009 for a new life on the South Coast of England.

A private buyer bought the vessel and had plans to turn her into a bar.

The story brought a wonderful response from a reader from the other side of the world.

Gordon Lambert, of Kiama Downs, New South Wales, in Australia, wrote: “Your story about the Shieldsman brought back some fond memories of my life on the Tyne as a teenager during the late fifties.

“A keen angler (and member of the South Shields and District Sea Angling Club) I crossed the river many times on one of the Shieldsman’s predecessors to dig worms at the Black Middens.

“Walking from the ferry landing at North Shields past the wooden Dolly, Fish Quay and Lloyd’s Hailing Station to collect rag worms and lug worms on the dead low tides, was hard work but always rewarding.

“On the way back having some dip bread and a big mug of sweet tea at the cafe behind the fish quay always hit the spot after my exertions.

“It was then back across on the ferry and off to the pier to fish for codling, scotch haddock, poodlers flounder or anything that was biting. While the river was heavily polluted in those days, like Tom Sawyer and the Mississippi, the Tyne was a great place for a young lad to grow up on.”

Another reader and regular contributor John Bage wrote: “A lot of us shipyard workers used the Mid-Tyne ferries back in the 1960s and 1970s. I found out that one of them is still in service up in Scotland; The Tyne Queen which has been Scotland renamed as the Jacobite Queen.”

Sticking to the river, and a photo of The Himmerland being launched at John Readhead and Sons in South Shields also brought back fond memories for many of you.

Joseph Gardner posted: “Remember it well. One of the biggest ships built at Readheads. Worked on her as a welder.”