The last days of a Hartlepool legend

Derek Hinds
Derek Hinds

A SHIPYARD could be a hazardous place. Derek Hinds found that out during his time in Hartlepool.

He remembered one day when he found himself stuck in one of the narrowest spots in the whole place - inside a boiler.

“A job the apprentice fitters had to do was to go inside at the top manhole and climb down between the tubes to the sides of the furnaces near to the bottom to fit anti-corrosion plates,” said Derek.

“On one occasion, I got stuck between the tubes. People were shouting ‘don’t panic’ at me. Panicking would have made my body swell.

“A rope was lowered down inside the boiler from the overhead crane and I was gingerly pulled out.”

But some people were not as lucky. Derek explained: “If you were really stuck, you were doused with cold water to stop your body swelling up in panic, then you could be pulled out.”

Yet Derek’s days in the yard were about to change.

“An office job was my next move. It was a change to come to work in clean gear and not have to be dressed in old clothes and in a boiler suit.

“The job was in the progress office. We tracked the various pieces around the workshops and the engine works, also dealing with customers who were asking when his piece of equipment would be ready for despatch.

“It was very interesting to see how the jobs proceeded though the different operations needed to get to the finished article. Sadly this job didn’t last too

long.”

Shipyards were being closed and those still operating were cutting back.

“With the demise of the engine works and the imminent prospect of the works closing, people were leaving to go to other more secure jobs,” said Derek.

Staff were not being replaced and the yard needed a marker off in the engine works.

And because Derek was one of the last apprentices to be trained in marking off, he was soon coming to work in his old clothes again.

But fate was to deal him a lucky break.

“It was during my lunch breaks that I first became aware of the Ben Line and their ships,” said Derek.

“Sitting on the quayside one day, I watched the Benarty, a heavy lift vessel sail from Hartlepool, to be replaced in port the next day by the Benledi, an identical sister ship.

“She remained in the port for a few years until she in turn was replaced by another similar sister ship the Benalbanach.”

Before long, Derek joined the Ben Line and later discovered the vessels in Hartlepool were on a Government Charter, which meant one of the vessels had to be in a UK port at all times in case the need arose to transport heavy military equipment by sea.”

Derek’s time at William Gray’s came to an end, but only after building up a lifetime of memories.