Wearside author Amanda Revell Walton is drawing on her shipbuilding roots to pen a new saga about women shipyard workers in the Second World War.
Generation after generation of the Revell family worked in the industry and, during the 1940s and 50s, there were Revells at every shipyard along the Wear.
“It was a standing joke that there was no use sending out for a ‘Revell’ – they had to send a board number as well. There were just so many,” said Amanda.
“But although dozens of my male relatives worked in the yards, no women did. I’m very much hoping to speak to a woman shipyard worker for my book.”
One of the earliest tales of Revell shipyard links dates to 1884, when Amanda’s great-grandfather William Thomas Revell started his career as a plater.
William, son of shipyard driller Charles Revell and his wife Charlotte, had been born in Bishopwearmouth in 1869, one of at least seven children.
His early childhood was spent in Jarrow but, by 1891, the family had moved back to Sunderland – first to Cornwall Street, then North Ravensworth Street.
“There were plenty of jobs on offer for boys in the 1880s, most being in the mines, shipyards, marine engineering works or other heavy industries,” said Amanda.
“But William had a family tradition to follow. His older brother, Alfred, was a already a shipyard plater; William became one and so did their brother Joshua. At that time there were 50-odd shipbuilders, and movement of labour was very free. Men were hired for the construction of just one ship at a time.”
As the years passed, William went on to marry his sweetheart Jane Crawford. The couple made their home at Tees Street, Hendon, and had seven children.
“He told his sons Jack, Robert, William and Richard of the Revells who had worked on the river, including up at Hylton, where the first of the Bartram’s yards once stood,” said Amanda.
“He also told them of the graves at Hylton cemetery, where members of the Revell family lay side-by-side with shipbuilding families such as the Bartrams, Kirtleys and Robsons.
“They must have listened, for they followed in his footsteps – both before, and after, his death from a fall at St James Laing’s shipyard in 1924.”
William’s oldest son, Jack, started work as a plater’s helper at South Dock in the early 20th century - working alongside at least eight or nine other Revells.
Tragically, just like his father, Jack lost his life in a shipyard accident in 1956. But, just as he had followed in William’s footsteps, so his son – Jack junior – continued the family tradition.
“He started as a plater at South Dock in 1933 and, in 1942, he was sent to help set up the Sunderland Shipbuilding Corporation Yard on the old Swan Hunter site,” said Amanda.
“After the war he returned to the South Dock, where he became a foreman plater
Later, in 1969, he was appointed as an apprentice training supervisor.”
Jack junior was interviewed about changes in the industry in the 1970s and, though he admitted to missing “large squads”, he didn’t mourn the “olden days”.
“Take a plater, for example. They didn’t even have gloves in those days,” he added. “You look at an old plater’s hands and you’ll see more scars than there’s tracks in Newcastle station.”
As the shipyards neared the end of their life, only two Revells – Jack and his cousin Bob – remained working there. Others, such as Jack’s nephew William, left the business. “They’ve got more sense,” Jack joked at the time.
But, while shipbuilding is now just a memory, Amanda is hoping to draw on her family history to write a least three novels.
“I’ve got everything planned out. Now I’d just like to speak to someone to get a real flavour of what it was like as a woman working in the yards” she said.
l Amanda can contacted on 07753 840296 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org