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July 2015


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Click anywhere on the image below to see more pictures of Audela, the final vessel to be built at Berwick Shipyard under comstruction.
Audela

From Boom to Bust

After 1972 there was a decline in the yards fortunes that would lead to it's eventual closure.

The Berwick yard remained inactive from August 1972 until May 1973 when it was confirmed that shipbuilding was to start up once more with the promise of 100 jobs. The new owners, Intrepid Marine International, announced ambitious plans including a major investment programme aimed at modernising working conditions on the existing site as well as a second phase of development that, if successful, would see a second yard established at the Carr Rock, Spittal.

Lorenzo
Lorenzo nearing completion. © Bill Todd

The proposal to develop the existing site was not universally welcomed and the yard was soon to be involved in a bitter controversy that would culminate in a Public Enquiry. Intrepid Marine planned to construct a large shed that would allow shipbuilding to take place under cover. Opponents claimed that the scale of the new building was out of keeping with the character of the historic Quay Walls area and that this would ruin the view of the town from the south. A site at the Carr Rock on the south side of the river was suggested as more suitable alternative.

Although supported by the Borough Council the planning application was ‘called in’ by the then Environment Minister, Geoffrey Rippon, and a public enquiry was held in the Guildhall, Berwick in December 1973. Supporters of the proposed development organised a ‘Save our Shipyard’ petition that attracted over 5,000 signatures. In May the following year central government finally announced that the proposed shipyard development had been rejected. Despite this setback the yard’s owners confirmed that shipbuilding at Berwick would continue. 

In August1974, Intrepid Marine (which by this time had also acquired a yard at Whitby) confounded rumours that they were in difficulty when it was revealed that four fishing vessels were under construction. Fears for the yard’s future were, however, realised just a few months later when the company went into receivership. The yard was to gain a reprieve when Caley Fisheries and later Associated Fisheries (parent company of the former), stepped in to pay the workers wages in order that work could continue on the four vessels that they had ordered. 

With no new orders the launch of the last of these vessels, the 86’ trawler/seiner Lorenzo 1977 in February was regarded by many at the time to be the end of the line for the yard. Yet again, however, the yard refused to die. A new company, Berwick Tweed Shipyard Ltd., took over from Associated Fisheries and work was soon underway on the construction of a ferry, the Grenadines Star, for the West Indies. 

Grenadines Star
West Indies bound, the ferry Grenadines Star. The penultimate vessel to be built at Berwick.
Photo: D. Redfearn Collection.

Within a year optimism would be replaced by more uncertainty when in June 1978 the receiver was called in for the second time in four years. On this occasion there would be no reprieve. The final vessel to be built at Berwick Shipyard, Audela, left the Tweed in August 1979 drawing to a close a small but significant part of Berwick's maritime history. One hundred years earlier wooden-hulled sailing ships of up to 250 tons were built on the Tweed. Ironically, it was a 120' steel-hulled three-masted schooner that would be the last-ever large vessel to be constructed at Berwick Shipyard.

A small steel fishing boat for Holy Island, Flowing Tide II LH153, would later be built on the slipway at the Berwick shipyard site, by the partnership of Grant Renton and Stuart Lough, both former employees of the shipyard. In the early nineties, two more small steel vessels, Hazel Louise (INS70) and Boy James (PD174), were built on the yard site by Coastal Marine Boat Builders. Although boatbuilding on the Tweed would continue, Audela's departure in 1979, followed a few months later by the demolition of the yard's landmark giant crane, signalled the end of the era of shipbuilding at Berwick.

Audela, the last vessel to be built at Berwick Shipyard, under construction.
Audela, the last vessel to be built at Berwick Shipyard, under construction. Photo:© Bill Todd

What were the critical factors that contributed to the yard’s demise and could shipbuilding at Berwick have had a future? From speaking to former yard employees it is clear that there are different opinions. Ultimately these questions can never be answered and will always remain a matter of speculation. What is beyond dispute however is the quality of the workmanship at the yard and the justifiable pride taken by the workers in the construction of Berwick-built vessels.

To find out more about Berwick-built ships and the yard explore the drop-down menu at the top of the page.

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