Cafe launch celebrates Sunderland’s female shipyard workers

Shipyard workers in July 1941
Shipyard workers in July 1941
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A Sunderland author who’s penned a novel about female shipyard workers will help to launch a new bookshop cafe.

Debut author Nancy Revell this week released The Shipyard Girls, based on the Wearisde women who did their bit for the war effort by working in Sunderland’s shipyards.

Women scrapers and painters at a Sunderland shipyard in July 1941

Women scrapers and painters at a Sunderland shipyard in July 1941

Nancy, who lives in Roker, will be signing copies of the book, the first in a series of three, tomorrow in Waterstones, the Bridges, to coincide with the launch of the shop’s new cafe.

The Shipyard Girls transports readers back to 1940 and recounts how women became welders, riveters and electricians in the shipyards while the men were away at war.

It’s a subject close to Nancy’s heart as she comes from a long line of Wearside shipbuilders and though the book is fictional, it’s inspired by true events and bombings

More than 700 women were employed in the yards at the height of the conflict, including 130 at Doxfords. Almost a thousand more found work in marine engineering shops.

Author Nancy Revell

Author Nancy Revell

US shipyard executives were so impressed by their efforts after a visit to Sunderland that they launched a recruitment drive featuring characters such as Wendy the Welder and Rosie the Riveter.

Nancy, a former Sunderland High School pupil, said: “I’m hopeful that the book will bring about some great, positive press for Sunderland – both locally and nationally. The book is fiction but all the historical and geographical details have been meticulously researched.

“All the bombings and air raids in the book were all based on real events. I have also made reference in all three books (book two and three to be published in March and September next year) of the Liberty Ships which were first built at Thompson’s shipyard.

“Doxfords was responsible for producing half-a-million tons of shipping during the war – 75 ships – while JL Thompson developed the prototype of the American Liberty Ship.”

The new cafe at Waterstones will host the book launch

The new cafe at Waterstones will host the book launch

Yard workers, both male and female, won Royal and political praise for helping to keep Britain supplied with food and fuel through their shipbuilding skills. But, as Wearside’s servicemen started to return home in the summer of 1945, so women were expected to vacate their shipyard jobs “without grumbling”.

Nancy will be signing copies of her book between noon and 1pm on Saturday, September 24, in the first of many events to be held at the cafe.

The cafe launch event will also feature an appearance by children’s favourite The Tiger Who Came to Tea who will be greeting customers at 11.30am, 1pm and 2.45pm.

The new cafe will serve a bespoke blend of triple-certified coffee from Matthew Algie. Photographic prints celebrating Sunderland’s history from renowned local photograph restorer Jan Radwanski will be displayed on the cafe walls and reproductions will be available for sale.

Bookshop manager Richard Bramich said: “We’re thrilled with our new cafe and our customers are too. The marriage of books and good coffee works so well and our cafe will offer the perfect environment for customers to relax and spend time in.

“In the future we look forward to our new cafe space holding a variety of book events and providing a welcoming home for reading groups.”

•The Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell, published by Arrow Books, is priced £5.99. It’s also available as an eBook.