Success of a Tradesman

Duration: 4:17 minutes
Accession No: TWCMS : 2009.148
This story has been viewed 6925 times

Ken's story is about his apprenticeship in the shipping industry in Sunderland and winning an award for apprentice of the year.

By Ken Wilson

Other information

This story was inspired by the shipbuilding gallery and collections at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums.

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Video transcript

Unlike a vast majority of employees I had no family working in the ship yards. My father, who had died when I was 11 years old, was a miner who subsequently died at the age of 41. Before he died he begged my mother ‘not to let the boys (my brother and I) down the pit’. He died after a long, slow, painful condition of dust on his lungs.    I walked into Doxfords, Pallion at some ungodly hour on a Monday morning on the 5th September 1966. With me was my best friend from childhood. He was to become a Fitter where I was to become a Plater.    I was to start my apprenticeship as a ship builder becoming an apprentice Plater after approximately 1 year when all the new apprentices were given their respective trade. At first I worked in the marking off shed with a Mr Joe Bright, whom you had to address as Mr Bright. I then progressed to work on other sections of the ship i.e. decks, bulkhead, accommodation, all hand marked prior to burning, shearing etc. 

During my apprenticeship I had to attend west park college in between trying to become as capable a tradesmen I had worked with. We obviously trained and learned all steel trades used in shipbuilding. In 1969 I was sent to work with Jimmy Kirkbride, again a Marking Off Plater, with whom I was to spend the next 2 years.   In May 1969 I was forwarded for the prize scheme of ‘the worshipful company of shipwrights, London’. The nomination was a culmination of my college and hands on work in the yard. On the 23rd may I was invited to an interview at Deptford shipyard, on the 24th June I received a letter informing me I had been successful in my interview by the local committee. And I was to attend the final examination in the Baltic Exchange, St Mary’s Axe in London at 10am, Friday 4th July.    This being my first time in London, it absolutely terrified me. I was booked into the Great Western Hotel. I travelled down on the Thursday and after finding my hotel by taxi from Kings Cross I had a walk around.   The interview went well with all the very well spoken posh people. On my return home I was back to me mates in the yards talking proper. I continued to get my head down, working with some of the best people I have ever met. With Jimmy’s guidance and help I was making good money on a percentage of Jimmy’s ‘piece work bill’.    I can not actually remember when I was informed about my award but it was obviously with great delight, not only for me personally but for my family especially my mother who had sacrificed a lot of time and money for our well being.    The award consisted of a silver medal ‘the queens silver medal for shipwrights apprentice, with an award of £225 to go towards college and work materials and equipment. 

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