Making Of Ships At Readhead’s 



Amateur historian and website guru – John Bage talks about the days of the area’s great shipbuilders and in particular the life of Readhead’s and the people who worked there.

He reveals: “For hundreds of years, when boats and ships were built up from separate items of wood, the shape was built on the slipway by the shipwrights and carpenters with the use of only a knowledgeable and judicious eye.”  He adds, “As ships became larger, and iron and steel became the materials of choice, building techniques changed considerably.  The need for a more certain and unified procedure developed which involved dozens of different trades and hundreds of personnel.”

“One successful shipyard which moved with the times was John Readhead & Sons, of South Shields.”

  • Employment of 1000 personnel – consisting of highly skilled, time-served people, and dozens of apprentices were made for constructing ships.
  • Wages were paid out in cash each Friday.

Making of Ships:

“The design office information would be passed to the steel drawing office where the first of many drawings would be started.”  He then adds: “A model was made of the ship, showing the proposed plating arrangement.  The planning office was also located nearby and they would organise how the build of the ship would proceed.”

“Once the basic drawings were available, the lines of the ship would be set down in the mould loft which was a huge space, up in the roof of the main fabrication shed”.

About the Workers Involved:

  • Stagers: “The stagers would be required to erect the staging and scaffolding around the ship on the berth and within the holds wherever it was required to provide a safe working platform for the other workers,”
  • Storekeepers: “The storekeepers were well organised people who controlled the issue of items for the various jobs being undertaken by their individual department, such as the plumbers, electricians or joiners”.
  • Plumbers: “The plumbers sketched or made templates which were taken to the plumbing shop where the plumbers made the pipes.  They then took them aboard, set them up, and tacked them up, before taking them back to the plumbing shop where the plumbers welded them, tested them, while some were sent to the picklers and galvanisers.  On returning, they were final-fitted by the plumbers.  All hull pipe-work was also done by the plumbers.”
  • Ventilation ducting would be formed by the sheet metal workers.  They could also be involved in making anything of thin gauge steel, such as lockers, switchboards and cabinets, from drawings supplied by the outfit drawing office.
  • Electricians: The electricians covered all aspects of installation of the ships electrics, and included miles of wiring from switchboards and navigation equipment, as well as all of the lighting systems.
  • Riggers: The riggers were responsible for all of the steel wire rope and fibre ropes, and the associated thimbles, shackles, etc. necessary for all the ship’s derricks.  They had a rigging loft in the roof of the main fabrication shed.  They also maintained the yard’s crane ropes and lifting slings and were responsible for the inspection and testing of lifting appliances.”
  • Crane Operators: The crane operators were an essential part of the shipyard, and were required to be “very careful and skilful in moving their loads around the yard or onto the ship”.
  • Painters: “The painters carried out the finished painting of the external deck-house and all of the internal painting in the accommodation spaces.  he spray painters would use a compressed air-operated spray gun to spray paint the ship’s plates and sections.”
  • Design Office Staff: Once the ship was launched, the design office staff would do their assessment of its condition and complete their final calculations so that all relevant paperwork and certification could be completed.

“Finally the ship would begin its sea trials, to determine its speed and sort out any teething problems.  Once that was completed, it was handed over to the owners and sailed off on its maiden voyage.  Many of Readhead’s customers were so impressed with the quality of the ships that they came back again and again for their new ships.”


“Readhead’s built multiple ships for the likes of the Strick Line, Stag Line and the Hain Line.”

“In all, they built 87 ships for Hains , which was claimed to be a world record at one time.”

Source: Shields Gazette