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25th anniversary of closure of Sunderland’s last shipyard

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NOISY and smoky, Sunderland’s shipyards were once the most successful in the world, producing, at their peak, a quarter of all the ships in the entire world.

Today – 25 years this week after the last one closed – the stretch of the Wear once home to the city’s shipbuilding industry has given way to a university campus and a very different way of life.

It was in December 1988 that then prime minister Margaret Thatcher brought an end to the long fight to preserve the industry with a short announcement that North East Shipbuilders, a company formed by all the yards on the river, some dating back as far as 1346, was to close.

Since then, the Wear has undergone a huge transformation, with the modern St Peter’s campus of Sunderland University standing where the North Sands shipyard once was, to be found with the National Glass Museum alongside.

The last yard to close was Pallion – on December 7, 1988 – bringing an end to the once-thriving industry for good.

Professor Bernie Callaghan, dean of the faculty of business and law at the university, said: “I was born in this city.

“I remember the shipyards, I remember the ships lined up as they were built, and I also remember the time when it was closed. It was a very emotional time.

“There were a lot of questions asked when we were deciding to build the university on the site of the shipyards as, effectively, it signalled the end of shipbuilding. What the university tried to do in constructing the building was to wholly reflect the deep heritage of a place that was once the biggest shipbuilding town in the world.

“I think the heritage of shipbuilding is so deeply ingrained in this city that we should always remember it.”

Mr Callaghan added that the design of the university buildings has incorporated elements of Sunderland’s nautical past to ensure that part of its history is not completely erased.

The business school, built in 1994, was designed to mirror the shape of a ship’s bow, and inside, the windows resemble those of a cruise liner.

The National Glass Centre was built on the site of the former JL Thompson and Sons shipyards, which launched 740 ships onto the Wear.

 

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