Sunderland History - River Wear - Shipbuilding - Shipyards Header


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Records of shipbuilding on the Wear go back over 600 years when in 1346 a Thomas Menville was recorded as building boats on our river. The need for shipbuilding facilities can be demonstrated when in 1824 we already had 24 shipyards which rose  rapidly when in 1840 records show they had increased to around 70.

By the mid 1900,s ,  Wearsiders produced more than a quarter of the U.K's total tonnage.

Despite having all the skills, the 1980's downturn was to bring about our fate when Wearside was unable to compete against world market competition, in particular the Far East. Sadly the last yard on the Wear was to close in 1988.

Do you have any memories of our shipyards.

Sir James Laing , W Doxford and Sons, Austin's, Crowns, R. Thompsons, W Pickersgill and Sons, Sir J. Priestman, Short Bros, Bartram and Sons, J L Thompson.

Doxford Gatehouse

The Gatehouse at W.Doxford and Sons Pallion Yard

William Doxford first began building ships in 1840 at Coxgreen , a few mile up stream but it was not until 1857 did he move to Pallion , later to be known as the West Yard.

In 1905 Doxfords earned the Blue Ribbon for the largest output of all shipyards in the World. The following year, despite not gaining the Blue Ribbon again they were producing a ship almost every two weeks. By 1907 they achieved the highest production in any yard and gained the Blue Ribbon once again

The Doxford Gatehouse

The Photo above was taken from the North side of the river. Only a gatehouse but thousands of Wearsiders passed through it every day. 

Pallion Yard Sunderland

Was Sunderland "Sold down the River ? "

Acquired by Pallion Engineering Limited who were intitially building power station ducts until they won orders for offshore work which offered some security. Sadly, this work was not enough but they had to hang on until 1994 when the 5 year restriction on shipbuilding on the river would end. As we all now know, the small print allowed for the ban on shipbuilding to be extended for another 5 years because of a provision in the Seventh Shipbuilding Directive bringing us to 1999.

Whilst most of my family worked on the river I chose a different path by working in the Fire Service. Never the less, it hurts but no where near as much as those who worked in the yards and the related support businesses who suffered too.

Looking back, there was an issue with the drop in world shipbuilding and many oversea companies were taken what little work was available, why were we not allowed to adapt to such things as offshore rigs etc.

The bottom line was we were given a £45 million pound package of Government and European money. "Here ends the biggest shipbuilding town in the world. "

Interesting Facts about the Wearside Shipyards:

Austins designed the "D" type, single deck collier.

Austins also produced the "H" type , a 3850 ton deadweight cargo steamer.

3 concrete vessels were built, including the Cretehawser, beached in 1935.

The Rondefjell was built in 2 parts and then joined together.

Women were admitted to Wear shipyards in 1916.

Plans of the SS Dorington Court was the base plans for the Liberty ships.

The Torrens , a  passenger clipper was built at Laing shipyard in 1875. 

Doxfords, founded by William Doxford in 1840 first built ships at Cox Green.

May 3rd 1985 saw the last launch at Laing,s  the Mitla.

Bartram's launched their ships directly into the sea.


Sunderland Maritime Heritage
Unit 2
Church Street East

Telephone 0191 510 2540

Find out about our Bridges over the River Wear 

Sunderland was equally famous for its Ship Repairing Skills.

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