Fond memories of working days at Wearside shipyard

The launch of a ship from North Sands yard of Doxford and Sunderland Ltd, in 1971.
The launch of a ship from North Sands yard of Doxford and Sunderland Ltd, in 1971.

A former Wearside shipyard worker spent nearly two decades making navigation lamps and recalled them all in a trip down Memory Lane.

Alan Winter has fond memories of his time in the yards and still remembers many a fine detail.

Flashback to the days of the Sunderland shipyards.

Flashback to the days of the Sunderland shipyards.

Today, he shares them – including how banter and plenty of laughs were often the order of the day.

They were fascinating times as a young apprentice at William Doxford and Sons Shipyard and Engine Works in Sunderland.

It was just after the Second World War and Alan Winter was beginning on the path to a career in the yards.

He soon picked up on a life of laughs, cameraderie and hard work.

Apprentices where always subjected to these little set ups and I was sent to different departments for a cap full of nail holes, sky hooks and stripy paint

Alan Winter

Alan was the first to respond to our Echoes and Marriott Hotel appeal for maritime memories of the city in its shipbuilding days.

By getting in touch, Alan is now in with a chance of winning a luncheon for himself and four guests at the hotel overlooking the promenade.

Alan is now aged 89 and living in Doncaster but still remembers the good old days in the Wearside shipyards.

He told how it was assumed he would follow his dad, granddad, uncles and cousins into the yard where his name had been put down for an apprenticeship in the tinsmiths shop.

Sunderland's river scene in 1972.

Sunderland's river scene in 1972.

His first job was working as a 15-year-old tea boy.

It involved pouring hot water into the men’s little mustard tins, which were filled with condensed milk and tea leaves. But it soon became clear that there were pranksters around.

“Boys will be boys and we kicked anything on the ground in front of us and I did just that with a blue sugar bag but someone had put an iron block inside it,” recalled Alan.

He also remembered some of the ‘tasks’ he was asked to do.

“Apprentices where always subjected to these little set ups and I was sent to different departments for a cap full of nail holes, sky hooks and stripy paint,” said Alan.

“I even went home on the bus one day with a label saying ‘lost’ on my back.”

But he was not the only one to be the subject of a laugh or two.

It seemed to happen at all level of workers.

“I remember some boilermakers finishing a snack just after the buzzer had blown knowing they were being watched by a young manager just out of college, and egging him on to show his authority.

“The buzzer’s blew, he told them.

“Well if it is then none of us painted it, they replied.”

Alan said pranks were a plenty and one man had a fish head dropped inside his overcoat pocket for his wife to find.

But this fellow was not going to put up with it without getting his own back.

He responded by tying a kipper around the silencer of the joker’s car.

And then there were the deep mid winters.

Vehicles would often not start at the end of bitterly cold winter days so one man had put an old army overcoat under his bonnet only to forget that it was there come the end of his shift, Alan recalled.

“I was privileged to spend 19 years making navigation lamps out of copper, brass and mild steel by hand,” said Alan.

He said he did it “with very few tools until sadly that skill was taken away from me by a firm in Birmingham that was just stamping them out.”

“But I learned a lot when I was working in the yards and I often recall those happy days,” he added.

Sunderland Marriott Multi Property General Manager Eamonn Thompson said the hotel, which was known as The Seaburn back in those days, had also played its part in serving the shipbuilding industry.

“It was a privilege to read about Alan’s young days at Doxfords so we hope that many more Echo readers will also get out their laptops or put pen to paper,” he said.

The Echo will be publishing your letters over the coming days in the lead up to the arrival of the tall ships.

So don’t delay take a wander down your own memory lane today by emailing your contribution together with your telephone number and any pictures to Nigel@Media-Consult.co.uk.

Letters marked Maritime Memories and including your telephone number, may also be posted to Liz Codling at The Marriott, Queens Parade, Sunderland SR6 8DB but only send copies of pictures or those which don’t have to be returned.