Wearside Echoes: Model ship is creating Royal waves

Cyril Connolly of Hastings Hill with his model of the British Princess, the ship launched by Princess Elizabeth in 1946
Cyril Connolly of Hastings Hill with his model of the British Princess, the ship launched by Princess Elizabeth in 1946
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A MODEL ship with Royal connections is to take centre stage in Wearside’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Cyril Connolly crafted the replica of the Laing’s-built British Princess more than 50 years ago, after finding inspiration in Echo photographs of its launch.

And the retired fitter is now to see his handiwork on public display for the first time – as part of a Royal exhibition at the Central Library in Fawcett Street.

“The ship was launched by Princess Elizabeth during her first visit to Sunderland in 1946, so it therefore makes a fitting Jubilee tribute,” said local historian Pam Tate.

“Cyril has very kindly presented Sunderland Maritime Heritage with the model and we are planning to give it a permanent home at our Church Street base.”

Cyril, 86, was born into a seafaring Fulwell family. His father, Thomas, served in the merchant navy and Cyril was to follow in his footsteps.

“I passed the exams to attend Monkwearmouth Central School and, after that, I served my time as a fitter at George Clarks,” said Cyril, who lives in Hastings Hill.

“It was a protected occupation, so I didn’t get called up for war service. Once I had finished my apprenticeship, I did my National Service in the merchant navy.”

Cyril worked as an engineer during his six years at sea, serving on a sister ship of the British Princess – the Swan Hunter-built tanker British Rose.

“We used to transport oil, petrol, paraffin and diesel around the world. I enjoyed my time on the Princess Rose,” he said.

Once Cyril returned to dry land, he signed up as a fitter at the David Brown gear box factory and started making model ships in his spare time.

“I don’t know what started me off. Although I came from a seafaring background, I think it was seeing the models at Sunderland Museum which sparked my interest,” he said.

“I was making gear boxes during the day and models at night and on weekends. It became my hobby.”

Cyril’s first ship was a 6ft racing yacht made out of planks of wood, with an 8ft wooden mast.

“I didn’t have a pattern, I just drew up the plans myself. I didn’t even have a photo to work from,” said Cyril.

“I used to sail it at Marine Park in South Shields, but can’t remember how long it took to make. It must have been a fair few weeks, but I enjoyed it so much that I just kept on going.”

Cyril estimates he has made about 50 models over the past 50-plus years – with the replica of the British Princess being one of his earliest creations.

“I can’t quite remember when I made it, but I know I worked from photographs of the launch out of the Echo. I carved some of it out of solid wood,” he said.

“I was a member of Roker Model Boat Club at the time, and used to sail her on the pond at Roker Park.”

Cyril’s modelling days are now over, however, following a stroke two years ago. Since then, he has given away dozens of his models – including the British Princess.

“I’ve only got a handful left, including two colliers, a fishing boat and a tug, but I’m pleased to think that the British Princess is going to a good home,” he said.

l Anyone willing to donate shipping memorabilia, including ship models, to Sunderland Martime Heritage can contact Pam Tate on 567 2438.

Twitter: @WearsideEchoes