On the Waterfront: “Chased away by an old watchman”

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With Neil Mearns

MY recent article on shipping laid up in the upper reaches of the Wear during the late 1950s (On the Waterfront, January 5) brought back memories for several readers.

Local boat owner, Mick Dodds, worked for Short Bros shipyard at Pallion at the time, and recalls the day he and a fellow apprentice caulker visited the steamers, Winkleigh and Lord Glanely, at Claxheugh.

He said: “We went up to Claxheugh and boarded the ships, but were eventually chased away by an old watchman.”

Mick says many of Shorts’ men remembered Lord Glanely very well, as the ship overshot the river after launching from William Pickersgill and Sons opposite.

The ship’s stern crashed into Shorts’ fitting-out quay with considerable force, causing workers to scatter for safety.

Mick said: “The drag chains must have snapped, because she hit Shorts’ quay right were the toilets were.

“They reckon it must have been hilarious to see workers running out with their trousers down. One of the jokes was that a shipwright reached to flush the toilet and grabbed the anchor chain!”

None of the launching party was aware of the mishap, and left the platform believing they had witnessed a successful launch.

Lord Glanely was the first merchant ship to be built at William Pickersgill’s’ West Yard, which occupied the site of Sir John Priestman’s defunct shipyard.

She was one of three launches within an hour on a short stretch of the River Wear that afternoon, the others being the 5,719 gross tons Hartismere from William Doxford and Sons and the 5,565 gross tons Nadia from Short Bros.

Hartismere’s entry into the water had also caused some concern when she almost became stuck on the launching ways.

Mick remembers other ships being laid up between Steel’s Crown Works and the concrete tug, Cretehawser. One was built during the war and had staggered masts (one to port, the other to starboard), apparently to thwart German U-boats.

He said: “One of the riggers – an ex-seaman – told me that a U-boat skipper would line up the masts or derrick posts stem to stern (or vice-versa) to determine the target’s heading, then set his angle on the bow (interception course), but the torpedoes would miss.”

Another reader, Tommy Green, writes that the laid-up steamer, Chulmleigh was his first ship, which he joined as a cabin boy in 1959.

“It was a right mess after being laid up for so long. We all worked hard to get it shipshape before sailing,” he said.

Later that year, he sailed on board the 8,067 gross tons Baron Pentland on her maiden voyage after completion by Austin and Pickersgill Ltd for Hogarth Shipping Co.