The Yard The revival of shipbuilding in 1950 saw the industry return to the original Berwick site where a yard had first been established almost 200 years before. The Quay Walls Shipyard Site Shipbuilding on the Berwick Quay Walls site dates to the mid-eighteenth century. The founder of the first yard, Arthur Byram, lived just a short walk away at a house in 25 Palace Street. Following the yard's closure in 1878 part of the shipyard site was given over to herring curing. Further development took place in 1903 when an electrical generating plant was built by the Urban Electric Supply Company Ltd in the area adjacent to the slip. The plant became operational the following year. The buildings later served as a storage facility for the South of Scotland Electricity Board. They survived throughout the period when the the yard was in operation but were later demolished. When shipbuilding at Berwick was revived by William Weatherhead and Son in 1950, the Quay Walls site was a cobble-stoned grass-bordered car park with little to indicate its former use. Considerable work had to be undertaken before shipbuilding could get underway. A new concrete slipway was laid over the old one that had been constructed more than one hundred years before. Steel bogies drawn by a 50 h.p. winch were built to cradle vessels while they were being built. Buildings were prepared and adapted to accommodate plant and workers. A building previously used as a Customs shed for example, was converted into a mould loft. New structures erected on the site included a plate fabrication shed within which were installed heavy machinery including a shearing machine and roller. During the lifetime of the yard much of the site remained uncovered. The absence of covered building sheds and exposure to the elements meant difficult working conditions for many staff. Former workers could recall how during the winter fires would be lit in oil drums on the exposed decks of vessels for warmth. Recalling conditions at the yard one ex-worker described it as "the coldest spot south of the Arctic Circle". In 1964 the landscape of the yard changed with the erection of a giant shipyard crane. Manufactured by Butter Brothers of Glasgow the jib had a maximum working radius of 38 metres and a lifting capacity of 7 tons. Previously heavy loads were manoeuvred into place by way of derricks. The shipyard crane would come to dominate the view of the town from the south until the yard’s closure in 1979 when it was sold for scrap and dismantled. The Workforce To establish a yard capable of constructing modern steel vessels the firm of William Weatherhead and Sons in 1950 had to recruit skilled workers from Scotland and Tyneside, areas where there was an established shipbuilding tradition. At it’s peak the yard would employ up to 130 staff including platers, welders, shipwrights, fitters, joiners, draughtsmen, electricians, engineers, labourers and office workers. The need for a skilled workforce also provided opportunities for school leavers to develop skills and learn trades as apprentices. The bulk of the design work was carried out by naval architects and designers off- site. Fairmile, who closely collaborated with Weatherhead’s before taking over the running of the yard in 1953 ran their own design department based at the company’s headquarters in Cobham, Surrey. Workers at the yard were represented by a number of unions the most prominent of which was the Boilermakers Union that represented a range of skilled workers. Ex-employees interviewed in connection with this project who had experience of working in bigger yards in Scotland and Tyneside remembered the yard as a close-knit community where there was a real sense of camaraderie and pride in the work produced . This perhaps helps explain why over the years Berwick Shipyard was able to build a reputation for quality and workmanship particularly amongst owners within the Scottish fishing industry. The skills and ingenuity of the workforce was well remembered by those who had worked there. One former employee employed at the yard in the 1950's recalled how as a 20-year old ..."it was a real education to see the hand hammering riveters working in pairs, these long hammers being swung with precision". Equipment and facilities at the yard were fairly basic meaning that workers ,drawing on years of experience and acquired skills, sometimes had to come up with improvised solutions. Recalling his time at the yard the same former employee described how he watched in awe as platers ..." with about six labourers holding propane torches to keep the steel hot as long as they could, took plates out of the furnace and bent them to fit, over a 3D former which had been made up from black bar by the loftsman. They had one go at doing something they'd never done before and it was like poetry". The Shipyard and the Community The re-establishment of a shipyard would bring with it economic benefits to the town, a fact not lost on the Borough Council who helped William Weatherhead and Sons restart shipbuilding at Berwick in 1950. The U.K. economy at that time was undergoing a prolonged spell of austerity following the end of the Second World War. Indeed, it needs to be borne in mind that rationing across the country did not end until June 1954, four years after the reopening. The employment that the yard provided and the associated benefits for the local economy needs to be understood within this context. The shipyard provided much needed employment and would eventually become one of the biggest employers in the borough. In addition, the yard would pay some of the highest wages. As the industry became established there were opportunities for school leavers to undertake apprenticeships in a variety of trades. At the launching of the motor barge Gold in 1951, Councillor Tom Evans, who at the time was also a director of William Weatherhead and Sons, revealed that the weekly wage bill for the yard was between £400 and £500.* Given the nature of the industry however, the benefits for the workers, their families and the local economy were tempered by uncertainties that arose from a fluctuating order book. Throughout the yard's lifetime there would be large-scale pay-offs, temporary lay-0ffs and rumours of closure. Local businesses benefited not just from the spending power of the shipyard workers and their families. The yard also sourced goods, materials and employed the services of local firms. The Berwick Advertiser of the 11th February 1954 for example, reported on how half a dozen local firms contributed to the fitting out of the motor barge Taffy. These included Allan Brothers who provided the timber, the Berwick Building Company who made the wheelhouse, William Leith the well-known local tent makers who erected the vessel’s masts and tarpaulins and George Fairbairn who provided and fitted linoleum. Former worker Brian Douglas recalled how during the 1960's local joinery firms assisted with the fitting-out of the luxury yachts. The firm of J.H. Lillie, and Sons, for example, were awarded contracts to manufacturer furniture and fittings. The shipyard also established itself in the social life of the town. A football team, Fairmile United, played in the North Northumberland League while a number of workers also played semi-professionally with Berwick Rangers. Of these, the most well-known of whom were John Cassidy, a shipwright with William Weatherhead and Sons, and William "Wassel" Purvis who worked as welder at the yard (see panel above). * Berwick Advertiser - 20.12.51 Launches, Fitting Out and Sea Trials Launch days were proud occasions for the yard and crowds of spectators would gather to witness the spectacle particularly on those days when vessels would be launched sideways. The launch of a vessel was usually marked by ceremonies attended by owners, their representatives, senior figures from the yard and local dignitaries. While ships were being built owners and their representatives would visit the yard to see how work was progressing and agree modifications. The layout of the Quay Walls site meant that space could be at a premium particularly when the yard had several vessels under construction at the same time. As a consequence, two launch techniques were used. The traditional method of launching involved vessels being lowered into the water from the slip on bogies. Where this method was deployed, (see photo right), some of the fitting out would often be carried while the vessel was still on the stocks. The sideways launch technique whereby vessels slid into the water on greased timber runners was altogether more spectacular. Ships launched in this manner including Rosehaugh, Sea Otter and many yachts and fishing vessels that would have their superstructures added later. Photo sequences showing the launch of the fishing vessels Janet Helen and Fairweather IV can be seen in the panels below. On launch day there would usually be a naming ceremony. An apprentice from the yard would on occasion present a bouquet to the wife or female representative of the owner who carried out the tradition of naming the vessel. This was the case in 1967 at the launch of the motor yacht Lanesra (photo below), where yard apprentice Richard Ormston presented a bouquet to Mrs Dudley Robinson. Looking on is Bob Younger, Foreman Engineer who would later become the yard's general manager. The launch or completion of a new vessel would also occasionally be used by the yard's owners as a marketing opportunity. In 1957 for example, yard owners Fairmile held a lunch at the Castle Hotel to mark the launch of the tug El Tigeel. This was attended by senior figures from the company, local dignitaries (including the mayor) as well as representatives from various companies and organisations from in the shipping world including the Tees Towing Company, Ridley Tugs, Grangemouth and Forth Towing and Motor Boat and Yachting magazine. After lunch the invited guests were taken to sea onboard the newly completed tug El Tigeel under the command of the then harbourmaster Captain Richardson where the vessel was put through it's paces behind Berwick Pier. The side launch of the fishing vessel Janet Helen was vividly recalled in a contemporary account written in 1958 by the co-owner after whom the vessel had been named. The owners had travelled by train from London the day before to attend the event. In a letter the writer describes how... After breakfast they took us down to the boatyard to look at the Janet Helen, which is her name. They’ve painted her black with and orange anti-fouling below the water line. At the moment she is just a hull but she has a beautiful line. She will have an orange funnel and grey and white superstructure. We were shown around all the workshops where the joinery work is nearly finished and also the alloy parts too. All very interesting. After the little tour we were taken back to the Castle Hotel with the Managing Director of the firm and the White Fish Authority representative. We were amazed when we got back there to see a table laid in the dining room for about 30 people. All the local dignitaries including the Mayor and various freemen of the town. The writer goes on to describe how …we went down to the yard for the launching ceremony. I had to stand on a platform bedecked with flags and bunting. I was presented with a lovely bouquet of yellow roses by the office girl. Then I cracked the bottle and named the boat – it cracked first time too! The actual launching was very spectacular as she went sideways off the stocks. It was a really big splash and she took quite a load water over the gunwales but soon righted herself again. 1 Side launches Explained Unlike those vessels that took to the water from the slip, those that were side-launched were not moved prior to launch. Their keels were laid in the usual way on keel blocks. As sections were built on, blocks were built up and wedged under the hull at convenient points. These blocks were fixed together by rough iron bars. These were about 18 inches long, with 6 inch sharp spikes at right angles. The bars were hammered into the blocks to keep them stable. As launch day approached, the side launch timbers were placed under the vessel, lined up through and then timber blocks were built between the sliders and the hull. By a day or two before launch date, the vessel would effectively be supported twice, once as she'd been all through building and again on the slides. In the final hours and minutes, the build blocks were taken out until only those on the sliders remained. The first time the vessel's keels moved, was at the moment of launch. Obviously, it was more important to entirely remove the build blocks on the river side, as they'd foul the hull as the vessel slid. Those on the landward side. were mainly left in place as an 'insurance policy' against the ship 'falling' the wrong way. In the final few moments before launch, the whole ship was held on wooden pegs, one per rail. These sat at an angle between two brackets and prevented the top rail from sliding. Above that peg was a square wooden box which stood up above. This had a big heavy weight in it held on a thin rope. The ropes were run through pullies to a box with a blade in it. When the blade cut the ropes the weights dropped and simultaneously and took the pegs. At this point gravity took over and the vessel would head off into the water. 2 Fitting Out, Sea Trials and Delivery Fitting out of vessels took place either on the Berwick side of the river in one of the fitting out berths or across at the Tweed Dock (right). Sea trials were usually carried out to the north of Berwick Pier to allow systems and equipment to be tested. A vessels speed would be tested over a 'measured mile'. Two marker posts stood a mile apart on the cliff path to the north of Berwick Pier. Once visible from the cliff path these have since been dismantled and removed. A number of vessels ventured further afield on trials. Further up the coast there was another measured mile off St. Abbs. Some ships including the two RAF Seal Class vessels undertook sea trials in the Firth of Forth. Smaller vessels such as motor launches, built in the 1950's that were designed for operating on inland waterways, completed their trials on the River Tweed. Prior to hand over a number of vessels sailed to Leith where they were placed in dry dock at the now closed Henry Robb shipyard to allow final hull inspections to be conducted. On satisfactory completion of trials vessels were either handed over at Berwick or delivered to owners in their home ports. Former employees interviewed in connection with this project could recall sailing one of the luxury yachts on a delivery trip from Berwick to its owner in Barcelona. Not all vessels built at the yard were delivered to their owners by sea. During the 1950's small vessels like Dastour pictured below were taken by road to deep-water ports and shipped to destinations overseas. Completion and delivery schedules were often tight. Former employees could recall occasions when workers were still at work applying a final coat of paint while vessels were being transported through the town on trailers. The yard lorry would follow behind the trailer to collect the workers and return them to the yard. 1. Extracts from personal correspondence reproduced with permission and thanks to Gillian Bonsall. 2. Information provided by former yard employee Michael Ross.
Yard employees hard at work painting the Marconi research vessel, Elettra III.  The lack of scaffolding and the absence of protective clothing is indicative of prevailing attitudes to health and safety in the workplace during the 1960’s.  Photo:© Berwick Advertiser
Photo:© Berwick Advertiser Invited guests onboard El Tigeel seen here in the Tweed Dock in 1957. Photo:© Berwick Advertiser Pakeina Launch Day - 26th August 1965  Berwick Shipyard like all workplaces had its share of characters. This lovely old picture was taken onboard the yard's workboat Ladrum Bay on the River Tweed at the launch of the Tonga-registered fishing vessel Pakeina in August 1965. The yard boat was used to collect blocks of wood from the cradle and shoring that were used in the launch.  The man in the top hat was "Fernie" Turnbull who was a maintenance fitter at the yard. A number of former workers were able to remember that shortly after this picture was taken Fernie was caught on a rope on the boat and fell overboard into the River Tweed. It was variously reported that when he surfaced he was either still wearing his top hat or smoking his cigarette!   Photo: © Bill Todd
Not all vessels built at the yard were delivered by sea. In the photo on the left, the launch Dastour can be seen on the first leg of its journey to Port Sudan negotiating the corner from the Quayside onto Bridge Street.  The bottom picture shows Dastour at the top of Hide Hill turning into Marygate which was still cobbled when these pictures were taken in 1955. Photos: © Photo Centre, Berwick The motor yacht Thelma M. III and the stern trawler, Boston Sea Sprite pictured in the Tweed Dock. Berwick Rangers have the distinction of being the only English-based team to play in the Scottish leagues.  A number of shipyard employees make their mark playing for Berwick in the semi-professional ranks. John Cassidy was a shipwright with William and Weatherhead and Sons who played centre-half with Berwick Rangers from 1950 - 1954. He had the distinction of being Berwick's first ever purchase having been signed from North Shields. Cassidy made 115 appearances for Berwick and played in the Scottish Cup giant-killing team in the 1953-54 season that famously defeated Dundee 3-0 before going on to lose to Glasgow Rangers in the fourth round. William "Wassel" Purvis was born in Berwick upon Tweed in 1938 and was employed as a welder at Berwick Shipyard. Before signing for he Berwick Rangers he played for a number of local teams including Spittal Rovers, Scremerston, Bowsden, Alnwick and Amble. A utility man who could play on the wing or in his favoured centre-forward position, Purvis went on to play for Grimsby Town and Doncaster Rovers.  Thanks to Berwick Rangers historian Alan Bell TOP 55.46N 02.00W To see the location of the former Berwick Shipyard, click on the map above. Pakeina left Berwick in 1965 and sailed to London where it was loaded onto the Dutch ship, Seine Lloyd before making the long delivery journey to the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa. This photo, taken in 1973, shows the vessel at low tide at Ha’apai. Photo: © Richard M. Moyle. (click to enlarge). Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

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