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29 October 2014

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You are in: Wear > History > Shipbuilding > Life in the shipyards

Peter Callaghan in front of a ship in a dry dock

Peter Callaghan

Life in the shipyards

From the age of fifteen Peter Callaghan's working life has been the Sunderland shipyards. Following in his fathers footsteps, he served his time as a Shipwright before finally becoming the Head Shop Steward.

From the age of fifteen Peter Callaghan's working life has been the Sunderland shipyards. It was back in 1965 when Peter left school and with the majority of his family working in the yards there was only one thing he wanted to do.

Crane on the Wear

Crane at Pallion Engineering

Gaining an apprenticeship with Austin & Pickersgill Ltd he managed to follow in the footsteps of his father (Shipwright) and grandfather (Riveter) and keep the family tradition going.

Working conditions

Peter explains, "The work was hard but it was your job, you just got on with it and made the best of it. There were hazards, small confined places to work in, working at heights, fumes etc. Looking back the health and safety records for the shipyards were quite good then though.

"I only remember one incident where a man lost his life and that had quite a profound effect on all of us, it sort of sobered us up," Peter reflects sadly.

The first ship

"You always remember the first ship you ever worked on," said Peter. "It was the Australia Star and it was one of the Blue Line Ships. After that they all just seem to fade into one.

"You always remember the first ship "

Peter Callaghan

"There was some quiet periods in between ships. In these periods the shipyard workers would move on to another yard. That's how you had to do things, just follow the work," explains Peter.

Tie up point and rope

Tie up point waiting to be used again

The Launch

"Whenever a ship was finished and ready for launch the workers would stay back to watch and sometimes the families too. You could just feel the pride in everybody, you did not say anything but felt it." Peter says.

Peter was the head shop steward when the last shipyards closed but is still heavily involved with the shipbuilding industry and is currently the director of Pallion Engineering Ltd.

Pallion Engineering

Pallion's shipyard has been a shipbuilding location since 1887 but since the closure of the last yard in 1988 the site has been used mainly for ship repairs and steel fabrication. They currently have the SS Manxman in one of the dry docks undergoing works.

Peter says "We now have the paperwork in place and also the capability to make ships here again on the Wear at Pallion Engineering."

A ship in a dry dock

The SS Manxman

The future

"It has been hard to get and we have had to overcome some hurdles to achieve where we are now but we have finally succeeded. We want to get shipbuilding back here at Sunderland and that is exactly what we are now trying to do," Peter proudly says.

With the drive and ambition that Peter has we just might be able to sample the sights and sounds again of when a brand new Sunderland built ship heads out from the Wear.

If and when this happens, it will be more than just the family members coming to view the launch, the whole of Sunderland will be there to celebrate one more time…

last updated: 03/04/2008 at 10:33
created: 14/01/2008

You are in: Wear > History > Shipbuilding > Life in the shipyards

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