Historical Films and Photographs

Over the course of the 20th century, shipbuilding was the focus of many photography and film project, including feature films, trade documentaries aimed at promoting the industry, and campaing films that tried to save the shipyards from closure. Here we have included links to some films and photography projects that are available online. 

This essay by historican Hugh Murphy gives a contextual overview of British shipbuilding and film

The British Film Archive

British Shipbuilding on Film is an extensive collection of films from around the UK. Some are available to watch free. The collection has also been curated into the DVD collection Tales from the Shipyard that can be odered from the BFI website.   

North East Film Archive

Located at Teeside University, NEFA has an extensive collection of archival films, including professional and amateur footage. 

Tyneside Story (1944) is a dramatisation of the re-opening of Tyneside shipyards at the start of the Second World War after being closed during the depression.  

A Ship There Was (1952) is a docu-drama produced for the National Savings Committee. It tells the fictional story of a shipyard worker who is convinced to give up his own dreams to use his savings for his son's education. The film includes footage of the Ocean Monarch, built at Vickers Armstrong in Newcastle, 1951. 

Four launch films are available to watch online, made between 1957 to 1966, each commissioned as promotional material. As well as giving a sense of the buzz and excitement of a launch, they give an insight into the way the events were organised, with a clear social division between workers and ship owners.

Full Ahead (1965) is a promotional film about the modernised Austin & Pickergill ship 'factory' in Southwick, Sunderland. 

River Work (1975) is an 'impressionistic record from dawn till dusk of the sights and sounds of working life on the River Tees', made by students at Teesside College of Art.

The Land of the Three Rivers (1956) and Move North (1966) are not specifically about shipbuilding but were commissioned promote the North East as a place to live and to invest. 


Amber is a Newcastle-based film and photographys collective that has been documenting the lives of working people in the North East of England since the late 1960s. They have a permanent exhibition space at Side Gallery, Side Street, Newcastle, which includes desktop computers to view the digital archive. 

Three of their films may be of particular interest:

  • Launch (1974) shows the launch of World Unicorn, and includes the now iconic image of the tanker towering over the terraced streets of Wallsend. A short excerpt is available to watch free online, with the full film available to rent. 
  • Launch of the Rio Delta (1980s) is an unfinished film that follows the launch of a home-made ship, built on the Meadow Well Estate with materials 'liberated' from the shipyard. 
  • Sunderland Oak is a film from an educational program Amber ran with Hilton Castle Primary School. It includes footage of the inside of the inside of the old Doxford shipyard, the first 'ship factory' in Europe, courtesy of Pallion Engineering. 

Amber also has some important photograph collections. 

  • Shipbuilding on the Tyne, photographs by Bruce Rae commissioned in the early 1980s. 
  • Smith's Dock photographs by Peter Fry taken in 1990/91, commissioned as part of Amber’s 5 year residency in North Shields.
  • The Mauretania photographs documenting the construction of the famous ship, launched in 1906, by mostly unknown photographers but including James Cleet of South Shields.

Tyne & Wear Achives & Museums

TWAM has digitised many of their archival photographs and made them available through photo-sharing site Flickr. The full list of albums is available here