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13 November 2014

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You are in: Wear > History > Shipbuilding > Under Picky's shadow

Chris Stewart reporting for Look North

Chris Stewart reporting for Look North

Under Picky's shadow

Chris grew up in a world where shipbuilding dominated: Southwick in the 1960s and '70s. Twenty years after it was announced the last Wearside yards would close, he reflects a little.

The thing about NESL [North East Shipbuilders Ltd] is that nobody ever called it that. Nobody who lived next to the river, anyway.

Each yard in that company was always known by its pre-NESL name. So the shipyard which loomed over every moment of my childhood will forever be known to me as Picky's.

How odd. That is the very first time I have ever written that name down and, for a minute, I puzzled over whether it should be Picky's or Pickie's.

I could, of course, take the easy option and give it its Sunday name, Austin and Pickersgill.

No. Picky's it is.

Chris Stewart and the football team of St Hilda's RC Primary school, Southwick, aged about nine

Chris' friends all had shipyard links

Growing up in Southwick in the 60s and 70s, Picky's dominated your life.

The day would begin with the shipyard hooter - no alarm clock was ever needed to make sure I was up in time to get to school.

It was the same for my friends, among whom I was a bit of an oddity, because my dad was a pitman.

Mick's dad, Frankie's dad, Willie's dad, John's dad, Paul's dad, Charlie's dad, Anth's dad...all of them worked at Picky's.

I forget what Alan's dad did, but he was one of only two people I knew who had a car, so perhaps he was a foreman at Picky's. That would explain it.

"Precisely the sort of juvenile idiocy which nowadays can find me interviewing a horrified police officer."

Chris Stewart

Watching the yard

My best mate was Moggy (or Malcolm if his parents were in earshot) and he was even more of an oddity.

His dad worked at the council. How posh was that?

The road we now know as Wessington Way was yet to be built when I was a child. We had Clockwell Street, which ran from the pie-and-peas shop and then petered out.

Beyond that was the railway line which would carry coal from Hylton Colliery and, between the railway and the river, was Picky's.

Chris Stewart aged about eight

Chris aged about eight

The wall next to the railway overlooked Picky's and was a favourite spot. Moggy and I loved to sit there in summer, watching the cranes trundling along and the men scurrying around.

At the foot of the wall was a strip of wild flowers, alive with bees and butterflies.

If we heard a train coming, we would run to a nearby bridge and dangle over the top to get a blast of steam or smoke in our faces. Precisely the sort of juvenile idiocy which nowadays can find me interviewing a horrified police officer, in fact.

Son et lumiere lullaby

Best of all, though, was night-time.

All the noise I could hear and the light I could see from my bedroom came from the shipyard.

The crashes and flashes, the clanging and banging, the grumbling of the sounds horrendous, but it was magical.

"It would have been the greatest honour to have my words appear in John's scrapbook."

Chris Stewart

This son et lumiere performance was my lullaby and, if I could snatch one bit of my childhood and bring it into my adult life, it would be that.

Let me mention John Goldsmith. I lost touch with John at the age of 16 when I went off across town to do my A-Levels, but I gather he went to work at Picky's.

Hardly a surprise. Even as a boy of six or seven, John already knew the name of every ship Picky's had built: its tonnage, its displacement, its owner, its launch date and, very possibly, the brand of champagne cracked across its bows.

And every launch would mean another page or two in his scrapbook, lovingly compiled from Sunderland Echo cuttings.

And then came the day when the Echo reporter covering shipping news was me.

It would have been the greatest honour to have my words appear in John's scrapbook. I wonder if it ever happened.

last updated: 02/03/2009 at 15:38
created: 25/11/2008

You are in: Wear > History > Shipbuilding > Under Picky's shadow

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