People and Processes

The dramatic photographs of ships launching to sea sometimes make us forget the people that created those vessels. In these pages we have tried to give an overview of the kinds of tasks needed for ships to be built, as well as explaining something about who the people were who built them.

Building Ships

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 Workers

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. 

Social Lives

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.

An Uncertain Industry

Shipbuilding was a difficult and dangerous industry with many risks, from job insecurity to dangerous working conditions.

There's Power in a Union

Unions played an important role in the shipbuilding industry, and continue to support ex-workers.


Many people started out in the shipyards as apprentices when they were still very young. Apprenticeships usually took four years, during which you learned a trade by working with experienced "journeymen" and gradually taking on more responsible tasks.