Tag: river tyne

The Fitter’s Lament

The above image shows what remains of the Middle Docks in South Shields. Two or three ships would be moored alongside this quay with several more dry-docked for various repairs.

Several years ago, the BBC produced a series of radio ballads, one of which was called “The Ballad of the Big Ships.” The broadcast contained songs and interviews with former workers from Tyneside and Clydeside shipyards. One particular interviewee relates how, when he left school, he went to the local employment office where he was asked what he wanted to do for a living. The lad answered that he wanted to be a vet and work with animals. The careers counsellor informed the lad that being a vet was not a worthwhile occupation and that he needed to get himself down to the ‘yard’ and sign on as an apprentice fitter where, after four years of training, he’d have a job for life. The interviewee continues how he was laid off at the age of 45 when the shipyards closed. He ends the interview saying, “Aa’ve been out of a job now for years. Aa mean, who needs to employ a fitter?”

In recognition of that man and the thousands like him who toiled in the harshest of conditions, I wrote these verses.

Oh Aa think them days is ower now, when we built ships o' steel,
Ye nae langer heor them rivet guns; thor layin' doon nae keels.
Noo the yards are virry dark,
An' the fitters have nae wark,
An' the river seems sae quiet in the mornin'.

Aa remember the Clan an' Port Lines, Ellermans and Strick,
For Shaw Saville we built the Northern Star, ee she was such a bonny ship.
Noo they make 'em from tin cans,
In Korea and Taiwan,
An' the river flows sae quiet in the mornin'. 

Wye it seems like yesterday but it must be fowty yors,
Since Lord Louie brought the Kelly in, te aal them Geordie cheers.
Aye, that ship is still the pride,
O' the people o' Tyneside,
Noo the river is so quiet in the mornin'.

From Vickers doon to Hawthorns and from Redheads up to Swans,
The cranes stand stark an' idle; the ships wu built are gone.
Aye, the slips are now all bare,
For nae one wants them any mare,
An' the river flows so quiet in the mornin'.

At the Labour Club Aa sup me pint and taak o' days gone by.
The pride and skill in what we did brings tears intu me eyes.
But the ghosts o' ships so fine
Are still sailin' from the Tyne,
But the river flows so quiet in the mornin'.

A High Level View

I might be showing me age, but I’m still gannen strong.  I mean, I was a hundred and sixty-nine yors old last month.  Noo that’s a canny age and I’m proud to say, I’m the owldest of the bunch roond here.  That modern winky-wonky thing down by the Spillers wharf calls me an ‘old relic’, but I divvent care.  I’d like to see him carry two trains and a couple of double-decker buses ower the river at the same time!    

I was designed by Robert Stephenson, an outstanding engineer who did a champion job with me.  Mind you, he got his brains from his dad, George.  Noo there was a clever bloke.  Invented the forst miner’s safety lamp he did, although most people will tell you that it was invented by some gadgie called Sor Humphrey Davy.  Whey, I’ve never come across a pitman by the name of Humphrey, let alone one that was a “Sor”!  Wor George on the other hand, worked at a pit up in Northumberland for a canny while, though he was originally from Wylam.  So, he knew what was gannen on underground.  If it hadn’t been for some toffee-nosed MP’s in London, who complained that he wasn’t clever enough to make such an important invention, speaking in Northumbrian as he did like, he would have won the two thoosand-poond prize they was offering and not Sor Humphrey.  But for George, it was nowt but a minor setback.  Of course, wor man would gan on to bigger and better things, and eventually outshine his rival.   

I’m very proud of the fact that Queen Victoria horself came to christen me.  She was on her way up to Balmoral in Scotland when they stopped hor train on me upper deck, halfway across the river.  It was raining, and someone opened a window so she could do the official opening.  I was told afterwards that the mayors of Newcastle and Gateshead were expecting hor for a slice of ‘Singin’ Hinny’ and a cup of tea. 

But she didn’t stop, and more than a few people were very upset by Her Majesty’s seemingly bad manners.  (Well, having gan to all that trouble to bake a cake for hor, you would be, wouldn’t you?)  Anyway, the coonsil sent Buckingham Palace a bill for the party.  They never paid it of course but as a token of hor esteem, Hor Royal Highness did bequeath the City of Newcastle a fine gift in hor will.  A pair of hor best knickers!

People, carriages and horse-carts would cross back and forth all day long, preferring my nice level roadway instead of having to struggle up and down the steep lonnens on either bank.  And then they took the owld stone bridge away and I was the only one left.  For a while at least, until they started building more and more bridges and spoiled my view.  Well, I didn’t mind the little Swing Bridge, he wasn’t nay bother and I used to love watching him swing open and close as the ships went by.  And there used to be some ships, let me tell you.  There were colliers, coming and going all day long to the big staithes at Derwenthaugh.  And then there were the warships from Armstrong’s yard at Elswick, with muckle big guns and their sailors, smartly dressed in white uniforms, lined up along the decks.  Eee, that was a sight to see.

Of course, it’s all very quiet noo and though I sometimes miss the hustle and bustle of the owld days, I think I like the peace and quiet.  I certainly don’t miss all the black smoke and soot that was belched out of the trains and ships.  Whey man, it’d get all ower me bonny painted girders.  And as for me beautiful arches, whey they’d end up looking like the walls of a midden.      

 I’m a lot cleaner noo and I’ve had a bit of work done over the last couple of yors: replacement beams and more than a few timbers, you knaa, the usual things that have to be seen to as we get owlder.  Aye, and they’ve also lightened me load by putting in what they call, a ‘one-way system’.  I’ve got to tell you, hinny, it feels much better, but don’t say nowt to that googly-eyed, little gob down-river.  I’ll never hear the last of it!

Andy Bogle
2019