When we think about the old days, we remember the time before modern social media and technology, the days kids used to play in the streets and the gatherings of the community to take pride in their city.
But it’s also not just about how we lived, also the things which made us who we are and made up our world. Here in Sunderland for many, that was Shipbuilding. There’s a real concern that today’s generation will soon forget about our once thriving industrial city. People’s attitudes are changing and our heritage is being eroded. It is time we recount on what makes us special
When did this all start?
In 1346, Thomas Menvill opened the city’s first shipbuilding yard in what is now Hendon, commencing a tradition and profession that would last in the area for centuries. As time gone by the industry evolved until Wearside sustained over 400 registered shipyards at the height of the industrial area.
When introduced to iron and steel construction, workers were often nicknamed the “Boilermakers” or “The Black Squad.” The name “Mackem” actually originated from this because we used to mack them and they used to tack them.
In WW2, Sunderland became one of the most bombed locations outside of London due to its strategic importance to Britain’s shipping. Hundreds of women took on the labour intensive and dangerous jobs of men as their husbands and brothers went to fight.
After the war, Sunderland continued to lead the way in maritime industry, being hailed as the largest shipbuilding town in the world. Sadly, it didn’t last long, worldwide production went up making it hard for the British to compete leading to the decline in the industry and job losses.
When the 80’s arrived, shipbuilding had hit an all-time low. The last two yards in Sunderland had merged. Job losses continued. By 1988, the last two shipyards were closed permanently ending an era of production.
Last year, our one remaining shipyard was demolished leaving behind anger with many from the public saying “Our history is being wiped.” “There’s nothing left.”
It’s time to remember and celebrate the city we once were and be proud of everyone who were there to pave the way for the future. This is not just to be looked back at in curiosity, but to be consciously part of who we are with the recognition of where we came from.
We must take pride in the things which aim to immortalize this legacy, including Keel Square in the City Centre and the charity Sunderland Maritime Heritage.