‘My golden shipyard memories’

Derrick Rowbotham
Derrick Rowbotham

A PENSIONER has looked back on the golden years of Hartlepool’s shipyards while welcoming news of a 200-jobs boost.

Derrick Rowbotham, 66, was taken on by Hartlepool firm Laing’s in 1972 as a labour officer tasked to recruit 1,000 new workers.

Laing’s, which took over the disused Gray’s shipyard in 1971 to build offshore oil rigs, used the shipyard as a joint venture with a French offshore construction firm and the new recruits were needed to dig out a basin.

Around 250 acres of dry dock, at the time the largest in the world, were eventually created.

Forty-four years later, the site, now ran by recycling firm Able UK, is set for another transformation as 100 jobs are on the way to build a new quay, with a further 100 planned later as part of a multi-million-pound contract to dismantle four offshore structures.

According to Derrick, Laing’s was “the best thing to hit Hartlepool for a lot of years”.

Derrick, of Park Road, Hartlepool, “talked his way” into the recruiting officer’s job, having been a section leader at Hartlepool Steelworks 20in pipe mill.

“Laing’s had civil contractors in first to do all the preparation work,” said Derrick.

“From that point I had to start the recruitment of all the local workmen.

“In Hartlepool at that point there was quite a lot of people out of work.

“I was recruited to help the more senior labour officers because of my Hartlepool background.”

Derrick worked with the then-town MP Ted Leadbitter to sign up the workforce.

In the next 18 months, Derrick was to give 1,000 townspeople a chance of work at Laing’s.

But after two years in the role, Derrick’s own career took a whole new direction.

He left to pursue fame as a drummer with his band March Hare.

“We got offered to go to Germany and perform in places over in Germany.”

But although the tour of Germany never materialised, the band turned professional for two years, performing up and down the country.

Derrick, now a grandfather-of-seven and great-grandfather-of-two, said: “Laing’s was a good job, I should never have left it.

“It was excellent, with dealing with the French company, I also had to find houses for the French and organise social events for the staff.”

At its peak, Laing’s employed 2,500 – half of which Derrick had taken on and a highlight for the firm was a £20m contract to build a structure for BP.

Eventually, in 1996, Able UK took over the site and used it to dismantle ships and offshore structures.

The Mail reported yesterday that 200 jobs are on the way at Able with news of the dismantling contract.

Derrick, a dad-of-three who is married to Shirley and runs videography business Masspro Productions, said: “I don’t know if we will ever get anything as good as Laing’s was.

“But the breaking news of the contract that Able have won is brilliant news for Hartlepool.

“Well done to Able, it’s almost a revival of 40 years ago when the yard was building the rigs.”