Former apprentice remembers his Hartlepool shipyard days

A ship heads down the slipway at Gray's.
A ship heads down the slipway at Gray's.

Former Hartlepool man Barrie Oxtoby may not live in the town these days but it hasn’t dimmed his memory of his fledgling years in the shipyards.

He still remembers his apprenticeship at Gray’s and concludes his story of teenage years shaped by those memories.

Barrie Oxtoby.

Barrie Oxtoby.

In four short years as a trainee, Barrie Oxtoby worked with all sorts of skilled tradesmen.

He sampled life in machine shops, the brass shop, boiler section, fitting out department, works engineers, auxiliaries and main drawing offices.

And each week, he would spend one day and two evenings at West Hartlepool Technical College in Lauder Street on his studies in Mechanical Engineering. It wasn’t all industry-based, though.

“I was also very fortunate to be sponsored for a month at Outward Bound Sea School, Aberdovey. It was a brilliant experience covering mountain climbing expeditions, a variety of sailing adventures and athletics training.”

Looking back, the plight of the industry and lack of capital investment meant that employee training and development left a lot to be desired. However, I would not have missed my time in the shipyards for anything

Barrie Oxtoby

Barrie recalled: “My overriding memories related the camaraderie and teamwork on the shop-floor. The men looked after the boys but the boys had to earn respect first.

“A young person either grew up very quickly surviving and developing or led a miserable existence through uncertainty and lack of stable employment.

“During the four years of my apprenticeship, the fortunes of the shipbuilding industry seemed in permanent decline. Jobs were scarce and redundancies commonplace. Real grief and hardship was evident amongst men with families to feed and clothe.

“Looking back, the plight of the industry and lack of capital investment meant that employee training and development left a lot to be desired.

“However, I would not have missed my time in the shipyards for anything.”

Barrie added: “We had a product that sailed around the world to exotic and far-away places. Many returned from the merchant navy to share their stories with people like me. Working in the shipyards was an outstanding education for whatever life would hold.”

These days, Barrie lives in Shropshire with wife Pat but still returns regularly to visit relatives. We thank him for sharing his memories.

If you have any aspect of Hartlepool history to share, email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk