The nuts and bolts of a lifetime around ships

Derek Hinds
Derek Hinds

ON July 8, 1948, Derek Hinds began a love affair with ships which has lasted a lifetime.

It was the day this wide-eyed five-year-old watched as the cargo ship Irish Cedar was launched from the William Gray shipyard.

His dad, a charge-hand lathe turner at William Gray’s Graythorp ship-repair centre, took him down to the docks to see the momentous occasion.

It never left his memory.

Seven years later, he watched the bulk iron ore carrier Oregis begin its own working life, built in Hartlepool for Houlder Brothers Ore Carriers Ltd.

Derek told us: “I used to go down to the docks to see what shipping was in port. At the secondary school we could see the shipyards from the upstairs classroom windows.

“The approaching time for a launch was when the ship’s hull was painted in its future owning companies colours, and a lot of the clutter of staging was taken down. Over the next two years I witnessed nearly every launch from the William Gray yards.”

He was so enamoured by it all, he wrote down every detail for posterity.

Wonderful names trip off the nautical tongue. They included the 3,799 tonne SS Anatolian.

The SS Lancastrian took to water in October 1955, the same month that the MV Pearl Stone started her working life.

The merchant vessels Lotinge, Ormina, Irish Larch, Irish Maple, SS Castledore, SS Lucy, MV Irish Alder and SS Rose of Lancaster followed – all within a bustling two years of high industry,

Derek added: “I left school at 15, and as I was interested in shipping, it was natural that I followed my father into the shipyards.

“I started work at the Central Marine Engine Works, of the William Gray & Co. shipyards, of West Hartlepool.

“In pre-apprenticeship you were placed as office boys in various departments or as in my case the store boy in the general store. The general store was, as the name implies, the main store for the whole engine works.

“Initially I was placed with two storekeepers who served the workers’ requests for parts through a counter window.

“Apprentices and others came to the window with a requisition slip signed by their foreman or charge-hand for parts they required.

“This varied from nuts and bolts, rasp files and emery tape, rags and cotton waste to a can of one of the various oils and cutting lubricants which were used within the works.

“Woe-betide anyone who tried to come into the stores through the serving counter window.

“Impatient people sometimes tried to come in and help themselves to the parts they required. The stores were a place that was ‘taboo’ to anyone who didn’t work in there.

“Like a sacred place, you didn’t cross the threshold unless invited by the storekeeper to assist in finding the parts they required.”

There’s plenty more from Derek, starting next week.