On the Waterfront: History of a celebrated hub

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WITH demolition of the former engine works at Hudson Dock North having been completed at the end of June, we look at the history of this celebrated facility, famous for producing ships’ engines and boilers.

In 1865, North Eastern Engineering and Shipbuilding Co Ltd drew up plans to build extensive marine engine works on the site, with contractors being invited to tender for construction in October of that year.

A 60-year lease was agreed with River Wear Commissioners (RWC). Construction began almost immediately, the contract being awarded to Cumbrian civil engineer, Walter Scott (1826-1910).

Although North Eastern Engineering and Shipbuilding had originally intended to build ships on Tyneside and carry out marine engine work at Sunderland, a shipbuilding slump led to shipbuilding plans being dropped.

The company changed its name to North Eastern Marine Engineering Co Ltd (NEM), with its South Dock plant opening for engine construction and repair around March, 1867.

A new boiler and superheater for SS Earl of Elgin was the first contract, with the first compound steam engine being ordered for SS Good Hope by James Laing’s shipyard and delivered in 1868.

In 1869, the boiler shed was rebuilt on the dockside opposite the main works; a new bay being added in 1903. Addition of a foundry in 1871 allowed the company to manufacture its own iron castings.

NEM’s output saw a considerable increase with the opening of its Wallsend works in 1882, while the Sunderland plant was enlarged to include engine shops, machine shops, boiler works, smiths’ shops, iron foundry, brass foundry with brass finishing department, coppersmiths’ shop and offices.

An electric plant, driven by three-phase alternating motors, was installed in 1903-4, the current being supplied by Sunderland Corporation Electricity Undertaking. The works were also lit by electricity.

In 1938, the company was restyled North Eastern Marine Engineering Co (1938) Ltd on becoming part of the West Hartlepool Richardsons, Westgarth Group, which also included George Clark (1938) Ltd of Southwick.

The “North Eastern Reheated” type of steam engine was introduced in 1937 and continued in production until 1954. In 1956, the Stephenson Clarke collier, Arundel, received the works’ last steam engine. Output was switched to Clark-Sulzer diesel engines.

South Dock engine works closed in 1962 after almost a century of marine engine building and repair. In 1964, a new subsidiary, George Clark and NEM Ltd, was formed to incorporate the trading activities of NEM at Wallsend and George Clark on the Wear.

After closure, the premises found various uses, including use as an offshore supply depot for Dogger Bank oil and gas exploration and until recently, by successive ship repair and marine engineering enterprises.