Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Sunderland Shipyards

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Sunderland was a major centre for shipbuilding and marine engineering, with many yards on the River Wear. For many years it could legitimately claim to be the biggest shipbuilding town in the world (as distinct from the most productive river: tonnage launched on the Clyde was often greater, but the Clyde yards were located in a number of different towns).[1]

During WW2, 1.5 million tons of merchant shipping was produced, 27% of the total output of British yards.

Vistors will struggle to find tangible evidence outside the excellent Sunderland Museum, but a token effort at outdoor commemoration of the city's proud shipbuilding heritage has been made, in the form of a marker on the riverside walk on the north bank of the Wear (see photo).

Yards shown on marker:-

From east to west

Bartram's - see Bartram and Sons (South Hylton), later Bartram, Haswell and Co of South Dock. The yard was taken over by Austin and Pickersgill, and closed in 1978.

T. W. Greenwell and Co of South Dock

John Blumer and Co of North Dock. Closed in the 1920s.

Joseph L. Thompson and Sons. Closed in 1979, but yard reactivated for specific work, but closed after 1986.

John Crown and Sons, also known as Strand Slipway Co (yard immediately west of J L Thompson's, who took over in 1946).

John Dickinson and Sons of Palmers Hill Engine Works, Monkwearmouth (engine and boiler makers). Works bought by Doxford in 1946.

S. P. Austin and Son of of Wear Dock Yard, south bank. Austin's pontoon was close to Wearmouth Bridge. Yard closed in 1956.

Sir James Laing and Sons of Deptford Yard. Closed in 1985.

Robert Thompson and Sons. Closed 1933.

W. Pickersgill and Sons of East and West Yards, Southwick. Closed 1988. Note West Yard was originally owned by John Priestman and Co, as Castletown Yard, Southwick. Closed in 1933, but taken over by Pickersgill.

William Doxford and Sons of Pallion. Closed 1988.

Short Bros. of Pallion. Yard closed 1964, fitting-out bay bought by Bartram & Sons.

Sir William Gray and Co of Pallion. They took over the yard of the Egis Shipbuilding Co, which closed in the 1930s.

Yards not shown on map:-

(Possibly absorbed into yards listed)

D. Baxter and Co of North Sand Point

Davison and Stokoe

J. Knox and Co

Osbourne, Graham and Co of North Hylton. Closed in 1925.

T. R. Oswald and Co

William Pile. Closed in 1873.


Note: Many more shipbuilders are listed in the Sunderland Built Ships website[2]. Many of these will have been makers of wooden sailing vessels. In fact, in 1840 Sunderland produced no less than 251 ships, having an average tonnage of 257.[3]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 'Where Ships are Born: Sunderland 1346-1946', by J W Smith and T S Holden, Thomas Reed & Co 1946 p.1
  2. [1] Sunderland Built Ships website - use Search facility for 'Builders'
  3. 'Where Ships are Born: Sunderland 1346-1946', by J W Smith and T S Holden, Thomas Reed & Co 1946 p.93