Requiescat in Pace Swan Hunter cranesOn Friday 4th June 2010, I discovered that they had blown up two cranes I loved. Oddly, I had been drawn to photograph them the previous day, totally unaware that they were due for demolition. It would never have occurred to me that they might demolish them using explosions. It seemed a very violent end.
I really wish that they had kept them as monuments to the Swan Hunter shipyard, but recognise that that would have cost money. Of course, things have to change. New industries have to have space to work, and we cannot keep everything that no longer serves a practical use. I am sure, however, that nothing that is built on that spot will equal the cranes in graceful beauty. Yes, I know that each is simply a practical engineering structure, designed to lift heavy loads, but they also happened to be elegant machines.
The video below shows some of the dismantling of other Swan Hunter Shipyard cranes and gives you some idea of the scale of these great structures.
The people of the shipyards
Whilst I was looking for my own photos of the cranes, I came across Elbow’s The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver. You might like to listen to it whilst looking at the still photographs. I have wondered just how lonely it was up in those cabs. It does seem a strange and difficult work environment.
Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate, the man of the family that lived above us in Jesmond (it was quite different then to now) worked in the Swan Hunter shipyard and, if I recall correctly, was either made redundant or was in danger of being made redundant whilst we were neighbours.
Then we moved into a flat on the other side of the river, approximately opposite the Swan Hunter cranes. They were just far enough away to lose sense of their scale. Derelict, fire-blackened redundant factories were gradually being cleared from the banks of the Tyne at that time. Throughout the years, I have seen that riverscape in my head whenever I heard ‘Shipbuilding.’ I have added the Robert Wyatt and Elvis Costello versions because I could not decide between them.
I sometimes met men who had worked in the shipyard. As the contracts to build ships went elsewhere, they turned to mending and refitting old ships. Then those contracts went elsewhere in the world.
More recently, I discovered that the mother of one of my retired neighbours had worked in the shipyards during World War 2 (the same Swan Hunter yard, I think). She had been one of the women painting the ships. Today, some of the ships would be regarded as having been turned into works of art. Artists were commissioned to design dazzling abstract patterns to disguise the ships from view.
Historical views of the Wallsend shipyards
There are photographs of the shipyard in the early 20th century (these are from Newcastle Libraries’ Tyneside Life & Times collection available to view on Flickr):
- Men coming out at the end of their shift on building the Mauretania around 1906-07;
- A view of the Neptune Yard in 1924;
- The classic shot of the cranes in 1946.
- Ship and cranes looming over the houses in 1969 (see also the scenes in Hitchcock’s Marnie where her mother lives)
Sadly, my own more recent photographs now count as historical images.
More 2007 photographs of the cranes at Wallsend photographed by Janet E Davis (on Flickr).
More 2010 photographs of the cranes at Wallsend photographed by Janet E Davis (on Flickr).