The 50-year labour of love which finally became reality for a Sunderland man

A Sunderland historian has produced a book which looks at the history of late-1800s and early-1900s Wearside ships.

Thursday, 6th June 2019, 11:56 am
Updated Friday, 7th June 2019, 5:00 pm
Historian Keith Gregson.

And for Keith Gregson, it’s a book which has been almost 50 years in the making.

Keith’s new work – called From Shetland To Keel Square – is described as ‘a microcosm of maritime life in an English port’.

It looks at everything from shipmasters to builders, and owners and brokers.

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A sailing ship berthed in Sunderland.

Keith’s painstaking work shows how the maritime world had an ‘ever-present proximity of death and danger’.

in this occupation. In terms of vessels it monitors the massive

It puts the spotlight on how steam replaced sail and on the 43 ships built on Wearside between 1841 and 1929.

The 155-page book will be available online in mid- June with illustrations.

Shipbuilding in Sunderland in a bygone era.

It costs £10 and all of the proceeds will go towards improving the maintenance of the unique sporting archive at Ashbrooke Sports Club, in Sunderland where Keith is the archivist.

Highlights of his latest book include a look at some of the Sunderland ships which were lost such as the Elstow and the Coniscliffe.

Details of their losses and the subsequent examinations of the ships’ masters are looked at in detail in the online


In another part of the book, Keith follows a journey around the world for the 1877-built Kentish Tar.

And he looks at the fate of the Narrung which became stranded and needed considerable effort to try and save it.

Master mariners with links to the Shetland Isles are featured in a book which also looks at the ups and downs for a specific group of working crofters, knitters and fishermen.

But it is not just shipping which comes under Keith’s scrutiny. He also looks at how people earned a living through fishing, the economic and social problems of crofting and the fascinating role of tea in the island economy.

Keith said: “History often records the deeds of the good, the great and the high and mighty specifically by name

leaving the rest of social history to anonymous miners, weavers, seamen etc.

“If this work has gone a little way to amending this approach then all well and good.”

The book also contains an appendix which provides food for thought about the origins of the word ‘mackem’.

Keith added: “Research for this book goes back to the early 1970s so the result can be aptly called ‘a lifetime’s


It goes online in mid-June at a cost of £10.

History shows that in the early 1800s in Sunderland there were 600 ships being built in 31 yards.

And just over 20 years later, in 1840, there were 76 shipbuilding yards strewn across the river.

Between the period of 1846 and 1854, a third of all the ships which were built in the UK were from Wearside.