From sawdust boy to prop cutter - a Sunderland man's memories

Sometimes, fate can play an extraordinary hand in life.

Thursday, 4th August 2016, 10:00 am
The story which prompted so many memories for Thomas King.

Sunderland man Thomas King, 69, knows all about that.

The former prop yard worker kindly shared some quite wonderful memories which came his way quite by chance.

East Quay shipyard worker Thomas King

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Chris Cordner reports.

Picture the scene.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Thomas King was reading the Sunderland Echo when he saw the story of a ship made on Wearside called the Llantrisant.

It was built in 1952 by Bartrams, of South Dock.

East Quay shipyard worker Thomas King

It struck such a chord as Thomas had worked at a nearby yard which made props for the pit industry.

But more than that, and quite by chance, he had a whole scrapbook of cuttings of the Sunderland shipyards.

The precious book had been given to his family by a neighbour Joe Gallagher who had passed away. It was Joe’s way of saying thanks to a family who had helped him in life.

Thomas’s son Paul had kindly walked Joe’s dog as a favour for housebound Joe.

In his later days, Joe was unable to do anything more than sit by the window of his home.

As a thank you for the help he had received, Joe handed over the scrapbook he had collected over the decades of shipyard memories.

It was filled with cuttings from the Sunderland Echo. Tales of a time gone by.

Years later, and only a few weeks ago, Thomas was reading the Echo to be stunned at what he was reading.

The whole reminder of the ship got Thomas’s heart racing.

“When I saw it, I ran straight upstairs and got that scrapbook out,” said Thomas, a father of four daughters and two sons, a grandfather of ten, and he’s married to Delysia, 74.

“I never did remember the names of any of the ships when I worked there, but I remembered that one because the ship’s name had a double L at the start. I thought it was unusual.”

That scrapbook had its own cutting which was all about the day the Llantrissant was due to be launched, but wasn’t.

The cutting - from Thursday, September 26, 1957 - told how the 10,700-ton motor-ship had been due to be launched from Bartrams yard.

But the launch had to be delayed because the tugboatmen of the River Wear had put an embargo on doing any overtime.

The vessel did have its naming ceremony but she remained on stocks after the ceremony had been performed.

Students from Houghton Junior School had travelled to the dockside to watch the launch but they were disappointed.

However, big-hearted officials did help them to see the Llantrissant on her stocks and also gave an explanation of the launching procedure.

Today, Thomas re-lived the early days down the yards and how it all started.

“I left school on the Friday and I started work the next Monday. I was only 15,” said Thomas who had grown up not far from the sea, in Cumberland Terrace not far from Hendon Board School.

“They took me on as a sawdust boy in the prop yard. The sawdust used to be put into bags and we took them away to a man who was waiting with a horse and cart.”

Thomas loved the life of working at the waterside - gathering sawdust as he watched the great ships of Wearside being built nearby.

Promotion soon came and he was given bench work where he cut the props himself.

By the time he was 17, Thomas became a Royal Northumberland Fusilier and stayed in the Army for three years from 1954 to 1957.

On his release, he went back to the docks, hoping the prop yard might still be going strong. “The yard was still going but work was very slack,” he said.

All he had was memories.

Thomas moved on and first went into the building trade.

Then came a return to the shipyards but this time, he became a driver of overhead cranes.

Eventually, a real return to the shipyard did happen, but more of that tomorrow.