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13 November 2014

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You are in: Tyne > History > Local History > Saving our maritime heritage

Dave and Peter looking at a boat

Dave and Peter assess the damage

Saving our maritime heritage

The North East Maritime Trust is working hard to revive interest in the region's rich maritime heritage.

The north-east of England has a rich maritime heritage.

The shipbuilding and fishing industries were once major employers in the region and the lifeblood of many riverside and coastal communities.

Some of the North East Maritime Trust team

The members give people a warm welcome

But times have changed and the vanishing cranes at the Swan Hunter shipyard in Wallsend are just the latest sign of how far these industries have declined since the mid-20th Century.

Across the river, in South Shields, the North East Maritime Trust is working hard to preserve some of the region's seafaring skills, traditions and stories before they're lost forever.

A group of passionate enthusiasts, they can't wait to spread the word.

"We just want to involve as many people as we possibly can," says trustee Dave Parker, his overalls dusty after a busy day of restoration work in the trust's workshop on Wapping Street.

"The interest in maritime history is definitely growing, it really is. But it's so important that we do get across the learning side of things, the conservation that we're doing and the heritage. We've got to pass it all onto the community."

Boats in North East Maritime Trust workshop

A coble and lifeboat are being worked on

Boat building

The trust was set up in 2005 by "a bunch of local people" worried that the area's maritime history was being forgotten.

"The skills are going, the heritage is going," explains Tim West, a retired marine pilot who started helping out in 2007.

"We're here to try to bring some of it back again."

One of the main focuses of the group is caring for historic wooden vessels.

Their riverside workshop, itself about 100 years old, is currently dominated by two large boats.

One, an old wooden coble, was built in 1948. The other, a historic lifeboat, dates back even further to 1917. NEMT are keen to get them both back on the water as soon as they can - funding permitting.

"It's absolutely essential that a boat should be in the water and when these [two] are completed that's the vision," Dave says. "So that they can be seen to be used and we go to places and we exhibit them and pass on what we're all about."

Members meet at Wapping Street at least once a week to work on the boats and they're really keen for new people to join them - no previous experience necessary.

Entrance to North East Maritime Trust

The workshop is in South Shields

"What we really emphasise is that we don't need particular skills to take part here, all we really need is enthusiasm," Dave says.

"We try to get everybody to do something useful," adds chairman Peter Weightman. "Even if it's just cutting timber or using tools that they've perhaps never used... so everybody can learn."

And when in doubt they have an expert advisor in the form of boat builder Fred Crowell, who is based next door.

"We've learned a lot from him," Peter says gratefully. "Every day he pops in and keeps an eye on us and helps with our jobs to make sure we're doing everything correctly."

Warm welcome

But it's not all boat building. The trust wants to revive other traditions of the fishing industry like rigging and rope splicing as well and preserve memories of the lifestyle and community life before it's too late.

Dave, Charlie and Tim working on an old boat

Dave, Charlie and Tim work on the coble

NEMT is still fairly small, though growing, and its members are working to raise their profile.

In 2008 they took part in the Heritage Open Days scheme and also a heritage skills fair at Gibside.

"We'd like to get a few more young people involved and a few more women along, get a bit more balance," Peter says.

"And a few more people who might not want to do the physical work as there are other opportunities here, like in administration."

If you'd like to find out more the workshop at 2/3 Wapping Street, South Shields, is open every Wednesday for people to drop in - and you can be assured of a very warm welcome!

last updated: 15/09/2008 at 12:08
created: 11/09/2008

You are in: Tyne > History > Local History > Saving our maritime heritage

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