During the early 1970s work was plentiful on the docks
MY VERY first experience of the Humber Graving Dock at Immingham was in the early 1960s on a weekend visit to the yard, writes Jeff Beedham.
The visit was organised by local librarian, Ray Storey, who was chairman of the Grimsby branch of the World Ship Society.
The new Henderson Graving Dock had just been opened in 1960 by the Hon Mrs Butler Henderson and we were shown the workings of the pumping equipment for the new dock.
We were shown around several vessels including the SS Twickenham ferry, one of the last railway ferries designed to carry coaches of the Golden Arrow express across the Channel. We were also given a guided tour of the many different workshops.
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Little did I know at the time I was destined to work there. In 1973 I started work there as a Marine Fitter and, like other workers since the demise of the trams in 1961, I travelled to and from Grimsby on the No 45 bus that ran a regular 24-hour service.
HGD was the only remaining company on the South Bank of the Humber where heavy marine engineering work was still carried out with blacksmiths, boilermakers, plumbers, platers, riggers and shipwrights workshops sandwiched between the two graving docks.
There was also a small pattern-makers workshop and foundry. where one-off items could be reproduced.
The working conditions and practices in these busy workshops were virtually unchanged since the yard opened on May 12, 1912.
There was a shipyard whistle that sounded at clocking on and clocking off times. The primitive toilets, like other shipyards of that era, had an open gulley that ran beneath a row of wooden toilet seats inside the separate cubicles. It was automatically flushed with fresh water at intervals to carry away the waste matter. There was also a segregated toilet block for visiting Asian and foreign seamen.
Many of the HGD fitters were ex-Merchant Navy engineers and the yard's fitters were some of the best paid in the area and with overtime pay packets of £100-plus were commonplace.
However the yard was a strict "closed shop" – meaning all workers had to be fully paid up members of the relevant craft trade union and there was a yard convenor who mediated in the various trade disputes.
The general manager at the time was Admiral Malim, who oversaw a team of marine engineers dressed in white boilersuits.
There were two principal foremen, Neil Macloughlin (Clocky) and Stuart Curry, who from their large office inside the fitting shop supervised a team of chargehands. In the 1970s they were Jock Dunlop, Eric Morley, Jogger Holmes, Charlie Perry, Maurice Mawer and Ray Farrow.
There were also chargehands who looked after personnel in the fitting/machine shop and the "Heavy Gang" mainly from the Ulceby area who tackled all the heavy lifting work.
During the early 1970s work was very plentiful, with the yard regularly dry docking and repairing vessels as diverse as the diminutive Humber paddle steamers to the modern British Rail and Townsend car ferries, oil tankers from the BP and RFA tanker fleet, as well as the cable laying vessels from the Cable & Wireless fleet with their distinctive white painted hulls and yellow funnels; Recorder, Retriever, Sentinel and Mercury were all regular visitors to the yard for refits and modifications. These were always expertly supervised by fast moving fitter chargehand Eric Morley, known affectionately as the "Road Runner".
There was also plenty of repair work on visiting foreign vessels in the dock, where a carton of 200 cigarettes could be acquired for a "fiver". These vessels were sometimes reached in one of two motor launches named Scawby and Ulceby, always ready and waiting with their drivers at the south end of the yard close to the small yard shop.
All night working was a regular occurrence with free sandwiches and a packet of tea and sugar being obtained from the canteen at the designated teatime, between 5pm and 6pm, as stipulated by the company's rules.
These were first published in November 1915 when the yard was a "controlled establishment" carrying out vital work for the Royal Navy.
During the 1970s I had two lengthy spells at the yard that were both enjoyable and enlightening.
However, the 1980s and 90s were troubled times for the yard and regular work eluded the once busy shipyard. It was eventually forced to make all the workforce redundant and by 2001 Humber Graving Dock was no more.