Hartlepool shipyard trainee remembers those times vividly

The former Grays shipyard in Hartlepool.
The former Grays shipyard in Hartlepool.

Shipyards played a huge part in Hartlepool’s history for decades.

They certainly shaped the memories of Barrie Oxtoby who served his apprenticeship in them in the 1950s.

Barrie Oxtoby in his younger days.

Barrie Oxtoby in his younger days.

We first heard from Barrie when he spotted our recent article in the closure of Gray’s - the very yards where he began work as a trainee engineer on April 8, 1958.

He was a fresh-faced young lad hoping to make a career at the Central Marine Engine Works. Four years later, it was cut short and he explained more.

“The apprenticeship ceased prematurely on September 30, 1962 on being made redundant due to closure of the firm. I was fortunate to be recruited, along with 16 other apprentices, by an engineering firm in the West Midlands to complete my training.”

Just last month, we told how in 1962, the Hartlepool Mail reported that 1,400 people were going to lose their jobs with the closure of Gray’s. Our story at the time said: “An estimated 1,400 men and women must begin to look for new jobs.”

Travelling by bicycle from home to CMEW was like a cycle rally with hundreds of competitors. Middleton Road was the bottleneck for cyclists pedalling like mad to reach work before the 7.30am buzzer

Barrie Oxtoby

It also warned that, if the people laid off failed to find alternative work, Hartlepool’s unemployment rate would “rocket to ten per cent or more”.

The first 400 who were laid off immediately took the town’s jobless rate to 6.2 per cent.

Talks were being held with the unions who represented the shipyard men.

As training periods go, it was relatively short for Barrie from 1958 to 1962 but he said: “Memories of my experience, almost 60 years ago, in the shipyards remain vivid .

“After leaving West Hartlepool Technical Day School, working in the shipyards was an entirely new adventure. Travelling by bicycle from home to CMEW was like a cycle rally with hundreds of competitors.

“Middleton Road was the bottleneck for cyclists pedalling like mad to reach work before the 7.30am buzzer.”

He remembered: “Money was docked off your pay for latecomers clocking-in after 7.30 am. The cycle sheds at work seemed endlessly long and the car park had space for a half-dozen cars for a CMEW workforce of about 600 employees. Wm Gray employed about 2000 people at the time.”

He remembered the different departments that he worked in as well as the wonderful experiences he enjoyed.

Watch out for more on Barrie and his shipyard experiences later this week.

In the meantime, if you have any memories you would like to share of times gone by, just get in touch. We would love to hear from you.

It could be on anything from events which you remember in town, to former Hartlepool restaurants, shops, pubs and clubs.

Tell us more by emailing chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk