Lecture series to celebrate Sunderland's shipbuilding heritage to mark Tall Ships Races

A host of lectures are to be given to recognise the historical significance of the River Wear and the ships its yards helped build as the Tall Ships Races approach.

Wednesday, 9th May 2018, 10:21 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th May 2018, 10:26 am
The launch of the Alessandra at Austin and Pickersgill in Southwick in April 1967. The 24,000 ton bulk carrier was named by sisters Virginia and Alessandra Mavroleon, daughters of Nicholas Mavroleon, managing director of Mavroleon Brothers, agents for the shipowners, General Freighters Ltd.

As excitement builds on Wearside with the arrival of the tall ships on Wednesday, July 11, for a four-day festival and the opening of a new Northern Spire bridge this summer, a series of lectures are planned to reflect the city's place in shipbuilding's past.

The University of Sunderland is hosting its popular Community Lectures Series 2018, and this summer’s six free talks will welcome authoritative guest speakers on the theme of the river ships

Beginning this month and running until August 22, the talks cover topics such as whaling from the Port of Sunderland and the demise of shipbuilding, to shipwrecks and climate change.

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Organised by the Workers’ Educational Association, Wearside University of the Third Age, Sunderland Heritage Forum and the University of Sunderland, the Community Lectures are held at 2.30pm, in the Sir Tom Cowie Lecture Theatre, Prospect Building, St Peter’s Campus.

The lectures are open to everyone and there is no need to book.

Stuart Miller, chairman of Sunderland Heritage Forum, and the former director of continuing education at the University of Sunderland, said: “The Community Lectures have been running for many years now and aim at a wide regional audience.

"Last year we themed around the 300th anniversary of the Sunderland Harbour but this year we have identified a series of key aspects of Sunderland as a shipbuilding and seafaring town to take part in the Tall Ships programme of events.

“Shipbuilding and seafaring may no longer be aspects of the economy and lifestyle of Sunderland but our pride in their place in our past is still great and the six presentations will, no doubt, strike a nostalgic note for many.”

Community Lectures 2018 include:

Wednesday, May 23

Whaling from the Port of Sunderland 1780-1820, Tony Barrow

All the major ports of North East England were involved in Arctic whaling at one time

or another during the 18th & 19th Centuries and Sunderland was no exception.

The first whaler to sail from Sunderland was the appropriately named Hazard.

Before his retirement in 2007 Tony Barrow was head of history and archaeology at Newcastle College, associate lecturer of the Open University and visiting Lecturer of the University of Sunderland.

He is widely published on a variety of aspects of the maritime history of the region.

Wednesday, June 6

Whatever happened to our shipbuilding industry? Paul Stott

The names of Laing, Bartram, Doxford, Austin and Pickersgill, Palmers and many others still resound in the North East: legacy of an illustrious past that continues to define our region.

The 20th century was marked by a continuous decline with the industry now just a memory. How did that happen? Was it our fault? Could the decline have been avoided?

Paul Stott was a shipbuilder and Fellow of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects.

He worked initially as a production and project manager in the shipyards of Birkenhead and Sunderland.

He then spent 22 years as a consultant working for Governments, companies and institutional clients in around 40 countries, since 2010 he has lectured at Newcastle University.

Wednesday, June 27

Shipwrecks and Life Saving, Kathleen Gill

From 1850 to 1865 20,000 ships were lost around the British coast with a huge loss of life.

The talk will look at some of the most notable shipwrecks on the North East coast, the development of life saving apparatus and focus on the role of Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade, founded in 1877.

Most of Kathleen’s working life was with Sunderland City Council, mainly with Social Services.

She has been a volunteer with Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade for over 10 years and for many of these headed their museum in the Roker Watch House.

Since retiring she has set up a genealogy research service, Northumbria Roots, to indulge her love of family history.

Wednesday, July 18

Life and Death at Sea in the 19th Century, George Patterson

The Tall Ships today symbolise romance and adventure but the reality for the Sunderland seafarers of the 19th Century was very different.

Overloaded, undermanned and badly maintained “coffin ships” made seafaring the most dangerous of occupations.

The audience will look at that way of life and at Samuel Plimsoll’s campaign for reform

George taught local history in Sunderland for 30 years as a tutor for the Extra Mural Department of Durham University and was principal of Van Mildert College from 2000-2004.

Wednesday, August 8

What can Nelson tell us about climate change? Dennis Wheeler

Many thousands of Royal Navy logbooks have survived, some from as early as the late 17th century.

This presentation includes a discussion of the history and content of logbooks and demonstrates how they can provide an insight into our understanding of climate change.

Dennis was a lecturer at the University of Sunderland from 1979 until his retirement in 2013.

He has led a number of funded international research projects in climate change, authored three books and published over 100 scientific papers.

In 1993 he was a TV weather forecaster for Tyne-Tees television.

Wednesday, August 22

“A ship of brilliant qualities”, Jack Curtis

The clipper ship Torrens was one of the most famous clippers and recognized by Joseph Conrad, who served on her, and many others as also one of the finest ships ever built.

This talk will review the story of the Torrens in the context of the world of clippers.

Jack is a former engineer turned writer, poet and local speaker, and member of Living History North East and Sunderland Maritime Heritage Trust.

He has recently written a book on John Murray, the resident harbour engineer of Sunderland who designed and built the South Dock.