The hammer blow for Hartlepool’s shipbuilding industry

How we reported the news in 1962.
How we reported the news in 1962.

Fifty five years ago this summer, the Hartlepool industrial scene changed forever.

It was the year that the mainstay of the town’s employment source disappeared. Shipbuilding was about to come to an end.

A shipyard scene.

A shipyard scene.

And with the news that Gray’s was going to close, it meant a 99-year tradition was finishing.

The Hartlepool Mail headline told how 1,400 people were going to lose their jobs and the first paragraph of the story told it all. “The Hartlepools shipbuilding industry is dying in its centenary year,” it said. “Gray’s are closing down completely.”

In fact, the whole process was expected to be completed by Christmas that year.

The story added: “An estimated 1,400 men and women must begin to look for new jobs.

I hate unemployment and I hope some of the Gray’s men will be able to find employment at Haverton Hill

Coun O.F. Bradshaw, 1962

“Employees of the firm go on their annual holiday tonight for two weeks but 400 men from the ship repairing department will not return. Their jobs finished today.

“The rundown has begun.”

At the time, Hartlepool had two town councils for its different areas of West Hartlepool and Hartlepool. Both reacted immediately.

The Mayor of Hartlepool Coun OF Bradshaw said at the time: “I hate unemployment and I hope some of the Gray’s men will be able to find employment at Haverton Hill.

“The people of the town can be sure I will do all in my power to improve the situation.”

Coun RF Trotter, President of the Hartlepools Chamber of Trade, said strenuous efforts were being made to help those affected.

Shipyard bosses cited a reason of the “absence of a sufficient volume of profitable orders” and said that was the reason for bringing the business to an end “at the earliest possible date consistent with existing commitments”.

The front page story came with a photograph of the Etnefjell, one of the last ship conversion orders to be undertaken by William Gray and Co.

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.

But as one Gray’s worker, who had been there for a long spell, put it at the time: “We have seen this coming for years.”