A Swans Man

Duration: 3:17 minutes
Accession No: TWCMS : 2009.406
This story has been viewed 9508 times

John's story is about his memories of working at Swan Hunters and his anger at the destruction of the site.

By John Kilpatrick


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Video transcript

I first got interested in Swan Hunter shipyard when I was a little lad and my uncle took me onboard a famous liner that was built there that was called the Bergensfiord. It always stuck in the back of my mind and when it came to leaving school I put my name down to go into Swan Hunters as an apprentice, which is what I did and I was accepted, so I went in as an apprentice welder.  But before that I had to work in the general stores for a year. This is because you went in the yards when you were 15 but you weren’t allowed to start your time till you were 16. Unfortunately I had an aluminium flash which affected my right eye and it was advised that I pack my trade in as a welder and so they changed my trade to a shipwright. In being a shipwright apprentice I learnt 3 or 4 different trades in one trade which was lining off, which was iron work, which was woodwork, which was working in the loft and I was one of the youngest ever apprentices to go to sea at 20 and 2 months. I also worked on 5 clan boats, which were built at Swan Hunters and they were a big order, there was no overtime on them. And they weren’t very long on the stocks, just a matter of months then they got launched. But, I also had the beauty of sailing on them as I was a carpenter with Clan Line which was an Indian crew. I also have memories of coming into Swans when I was a young chap of cycling all the way from West Allotment through the fields and passing the famous colliery on my way there which was the Rising Sun pit. And this was a part of Wallsend – that’s gone as well, so has Swans gone and the whole lot has gone up the Swanny.  I also went back into the yards when my career was in the merchant navy as a shipwright and I also worked on another famous ship at Swans, which I was underneath when it launched called the Esso Hibernia. I also worked in various yards on the Tyne; Swan Hunter – Wigham Richardson, which is the Neptune yard which I totally hated.  I also worked in Redheads which I didn’t like. I worked in Smiths Docks, which I didn’t like. And I worked in, also, Wallsend – Swans docks. So the only yard for me to work in was Swan Hunters. Unfortunately, Swan Hunters is down there now. It’s a shame is was the best shipyard in the world and as far as I am concerned this is the end of the Tyne as a ship building river also I believe this is the end of the Swanssnappers as we have documented the river for 3 years, the cranes coming down, the sheds and now there’s nothing left bar 2 cranes. Swans was the best yard to work in and I’m proud to be associated with Swan hunter and Wigham Richardson, and I served my time there and to me I will always be a Swans Man.

You can really hear the passion in Johns voice when he talks about the end of shipbuilding on the Tyne. Its a great story and I bet it rings true with anyone who has worked in heavy industry and seen it disappear too. Posted on 23/09/2010 at 08:44:37

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