Built and launched

Duration: 2:45 minutes
Accession No: TWCMS : 2009.176
This story has been viewed 13668 times

This story is about Iain's memories of going to Exhibition Park as a child and being fascinated by Turbinia. Much later he worked in Wallsend and saw ships being launched at Swan Hunters shipyard.

By Iain Watson


Other information

This story was inspired by Turbinia which is an object from the collections at Discovery Museum, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.

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Video transcript

Growing up in Newcastle I used to go to the old Municipal Museum of Science and Industry in Exhibition Park. I didn’t know then that it was called Exhibition Park because of the huge exhibitions which had taken place there with exhibits coming from all over the world. What I remember is Turbinia, this rather small experimental vessel with tine cramped quarters which was built to prove the efficacy of the steam turbine.

As a child I was given an airfix model of the Mauretania. I knew she was built on Tyneside and I remember my grandpa telling me that he’d seen her when she’d docked at Newcastle and how big she was. Unaware of the difference in scale I thought that little Turbinia, who seemed huge to me as I stood almost underneath her, was actually the giant Mauretania.

When I was at junior school, the Esso Northumbria, a ship which made the Mauretania seem small was launched from Wallsend. What I remember most is that everyone at school, maybe all school children in Newcastle, was given a cardboard cut-out model of the Esso Northumbria to make. The model was small but when I saw the launch on TV the ship towered above the terraced houses in Wallsend. Even though I didn’t live near the river I couldn’t help be aware that this city was a port and had been the capital of shipbuilding. Driven through the city on a Saturday night I remember seeing Russian sailors coming up the Side towards the bars and clubs. Going to the coast I could see the shipyard cranes. And along the quayside the sheds that had held cargo were still there, though many were derelict. And later I used to crawl through the piles of scrapped cars stacked up in some of them in search of elusive spares for my first Fiat.

Years later I worked in Wallsend, where Mauretania and Turbinia were built. They still made ships on the river then. I remember the dark winter afternoons with the sun sinking low over Newcastle to the west. The red sparks of cutting and braising and the pale electric blue of welding lit up the riverside.

One of these ships which I had watched being built I actually got to see launched. Even then, in the late 1980s, it was a major event in Wallsend. The whole town had watched the bare bones of the ship grow and rise above the shipyard fence and buildings. It seemed like the whole town had turned out to watch the launch and there were a few huge moments of hush and awe as it got to the point for the ship to actually begin her journey into the river.

Great storyPosted on 02/10/2009 at 09:38:17

As an ex-shipbuilder from Austin & Pickersgills yard in Sunderland I loved your story. Thanks. StevePosted on 27/11/2009 at 03:37:03

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