Many people started out in the shipyards as apprentices when they were still very young.In the years after World War Two, children sat an ‘eleven plus’ exam at the end of primary school, which determined whether students would be sent to ‘grammar schools’. Often, the expectations for children in working class areas were low, and many children left school early. They couldn’t start as an apprentice until aged 16, so until then they were given general duties to get an understanding of how things worked. After an accident on the Glasgow at Swan Hunters, rules were introduced so young apprentices had to be over 18 before they were allowed to work on the ship.  

Apprenticeships usually took four years, during which you learned a trade by working with experienced "journeymen" and gradually taking on more responsible tasks. Some apprentices had to attend training schools as well.

Shipyards were often busy, noisy and overwhelming for young apprentices. Part of their training was in learning how to handle working in the yard, and to fit in with the shipbuilding culture. Many former apprentices tell stories of jokes or tricks played at their expense. 

Frederick Brady of Sunderland, Welder

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Fred Brady moved to Sunderland with his family as a young boy, and fell in love with the town. This interview is part of the Millenium Memory Bank. From about 38 minutes onward, Fred talks about shipyard solidarity; shipyard fatalities he witnessed; and (from 42 mins) being sent for a ‘long stand’ on his first day at Doxford’s as a young apprentice. 

Andy Wilkinson of Blyth, Apprentice Joiner at Blyth Shipyard

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Oral history recording of Andy Wilkinson of Blyth, Northumberland, recalling his apprenticeship as a joiner in Blyth Shipyard, Blyth, Northumberland, between 1948-1953.

Arthur Hancock of Blyth, Apprentice at Blyth Shipyard

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Oral history recording of Arthur Hancock of Blyth, Northumberland, recalling his experiences as an apprentice in Blyth Shipyard, Blyth, Northumberland.

Life in the shipyards from age 15

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BBC Wear explores the life of Peter Callaghan from the age of 15 as he worked his way up the Sunderland shipyard ranks.