At the start of the 20th century, almost half of the world's ships were being made in the North East of England. Along the four rivers of the Blyth, Tyne, Wear and Tees, many families relied on the shipbuilding and repair industry for their livelihood.
But by the start of this century only one yard, Swan Hunter on the Tyne, remained active.
Throughout the 20th century there were many changes to the way ships were built. Workers were at times very busy, but at other times there was little or no work. Despite these hardships, there are stories of comaraderie and community.
Who were the people who built those ships? What was it like to work in the busy shipyards? And what was it like for people to see the yards close and the rivers change forever?
Many historians have focused on why the shipyards closed.
We Made Ships brings together photographs, videos and oral histories so that we can begin to piece together what the shipyards were like for the people who worked there.
Blyth may be the smallest of the four rivers featured on this site, but it had an impressive reputation and retains a rich history. Learn about the origins of Blyth's port, its highs and lows and how it looks today. From fishing to dredging, shipmaking to shipbreaking, listen to the stories from the mouths of the people who grew up in Blyth.
Historically in Newcastle, shipbuilding was inherently linked to the coal mining for which the city became famous. The evolution of shipbuilding technology can be tracked in what was built in shipyards along the Tyne. Whereas fifty years ago, shipbuilding, ship repair and marine engineering firms dominated the edge of the River Tyne, now the river is best known for entertainment and cultural venues.
On the Wear, most shipyards started out as small, family owned businesses, often started by someone who had trained in the industry as a shipwright. Specialising in 'tramps', the Wear struggled at times of depression but also thrived during the 'long boom'. Today Sunderland Maritime Heritage works to teach traditional skills and share the history of the Wear.
On a small scale, shipbuilding on the Tees can be traced back to medieval times, but it flourished from the 17th century and its legacy runs through the names of streets, shops and pubs. Now shipbuilding seems set to return to the Tees on a small scale, much to the satisfaction of the residents who grew up with big ships on the river.
Just like building a house, building a ship requires a range of skills. Some of those skills were specific to shipbuilding, whereas others (like welding) could be used in other industries.
Women have always been part of shipyard life, but the parts they played were not always visible. That changed during the Second World War, when women moved into 'male' roles for the first time.
Shipyards were not just employers. Workers often lived very close to the rivers, and close-knit communities developed over generations, sharing good times and bad.
Shipbuilding was a difficult and dangerous industry with many risks, from job insecurity to dangerous working conditions.
Unions played an important role in the shipbuilding industry, and continue to support ex-workers.
Shipbuilding in the North East dates back to medieval times, but it expanded during the Napoleonic wars of 1793-1815.
From the mid-1800s, the rise of iron shipping was in response to the demand for coal to power the industrial revolution.
During World War One, many ships sank, so after the war there were a few years when there was high demand for building new ships. However, by the mid 1920s, enough ships had been built to meet demand. The 1929 stock market crash in the US meant there was less international trade, so fewer ships were needed. Shipbuilding towns were hit hard.
After WW2 new ships were needed to replace those destroyed during the war. Many people expected this boom to be followed by a slump, as had happened in the past, but that didn’t happen. This period became known as the 'long boom'.
Working conditions, including job security and job safety, gradually improved, although the work was still difficult and often dangerous.
From the middle of the 20th century, the percentage of ships being built in Britain fell dramatically. Local and national governments commissioned reports to try to understand the issues and in 1978 the industry was nationalised, but at a time when the global shipbuilding industry was facing another historic slump.
After the closure of the shipyards, most of the machinery was removed and the buildings demolished. Many places where there were shipyards were 'regenerated'.
There are no major heritage sites where you can go to learn about the history of shipbuilding in the North East, but there are many places where the memory of this industry lives on.