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Birthplace of 700 ships missed out on being a heritage centre.

Byline: TONY HENDERSON HERITAGE

WHAT remains today of a major Tyneside shipyard is a forlorn and eerie place. The Hawthorn Leslie yard at Hebburn closed in 1982 and its buildings were mothballed. Now proposals have been lodged for new housing on the site, which was once a key part of the river's long shipbuilding and repair history.

In the case of the Hebburn yard, it stretches back 165 years to the launch of its first ship, the auxiliary steam sailing vessel Clarendon.

On what is now a silent site slipping into dereliction, more than 700 ships were constructed, with a Second World War workforce numbering 6,000.

The yard turned out world firsts, including, in 1891, the first steam turbine-powered warship, HMS Viper, with engines built to the design of Tyneside's Sir Charles Parsons.

Yet Hawthorn Leslie's could have been the site for a dedicated centre which celebrated the shipbuilding heritage of the North East.

During the 1980s Michael McHugh, who was director of the St Anthony of Padua Community Association in Walker in Newcastle, wrote a report which put forward proposals for a shipbuilding exhibition centre.

Now retired, he says: "At that time, the shipyards were being closed down and I thought it would be a good idea to do something to commemorate the skills and talent of the people who built so many ships on the Tyne and the Wear."

A potential site for the centre was Hawthorn Leslie's, where Michael's father Peter had worked as a fitter.

A consultant was appointed, whose report went to the then Tyne Wear County Council.

"The idea was that if the Hawthorn Leslie dry dock was not going to be used again, it and the riverside could be the locations for permanent displays of ships which showed how vessels were designed and constructed," Michael said.

But the vision never became a reality.

One of the exhibits could have been around HMS Cavalier, the lastsurviving British Second World War destroyer still in the UK. During the war, Hawthorn Leslie built 16 destroyers, the most famous of which was HMS Kelly, commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten.

After a five-year campaign, led by Mountbatten, HMS Cavalier was by the German E-boat S 31, commanded by Oberleutnant zur See Hermann Opdenhoff, for which he was awarded the Knight's Cross.

Severely damaged, she was taken under tow by the tug Great Emperor and for four days was attacked by E-boats and bombers as she struggled back to the Tyne at three knots. She was repaired by Hawthorn Leslie and returned to service, only to be sunk by bombers in 1941 during the invasion of Crete.

Her story was the basis for the 1942 film In Which We Serve starring Noel Coward, John Mills and Richard Attenborough in his first screen role.

During the Second World War, the yard built 58 ships, including an aircraft carrier, three cruisers, 15 tankers, and D-Day landing craft.

In the First World War, the yard's output totalled 30 warships, including 20 torpedo-destroyers and the cruisers HMS Champion and HMS Calypso.

In the 1920s the yard turned to liners, building the Ranpura and Ranchi for P&O, with the ships working the UK-Bombay run.

SS Ranpura was launched in 1924 and was converted into an armed merchant cruiser at the outbreak of war, as was Ranchi. The latter was used as an emigrant ship between 1948 and 1952, when she completed 15 voyages from England to Australia. Hawthorn Leslie also launched the RMS Andania in 1921 for the Cunard Line, with the liner operating the Hamburg to New York route, later connecting Liverpool and Montreal.

Requisitioned for use as an armed merchant cruiser during the Second World War, she was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off Iceland.

The yard also launched the cruiser HMS Manchester in 1937. In the battle to defend Malta, she was torpedoed and severely damaged by Italian motor torpedo boats and subsequently scuttled with explosive charges.

The shipyard had been founded by Andrew Leslie, a Shetland crofter's son who had moved to Aberdeen and set up a boilermaking business.

Attracted by the industrial boom on Tyneside, he moved to Hebburn. After opening his yard, he built 400 houses for his workers, many of them Presbyterian Scots who had followed him south. The area became known as Little Aberdeen.

Leslie also largely financed the building of St Andrew's Church near the yard, whose tall, slim steeple is still a prominent landmark. It is now a Buddhist Temple.

It all adds up to a rich history, and Michael McHugh says: "It's a crying shame that the shipbuilding exhibition centre never came to fulfilment."

CAPTION(S):

bought for PS65,000 by a trust set up for the purpose. In 1987, the ship was brought to the River Tyne to form the centrepiece of a proposed shipbuilding exhibition centre planned by South Tyneside Council for the Hawthorn Leslie site. But after the plans never went ahead, HMS Cavalier was bought by Chatham Historic Dockyard for display as a museum ship. In 2007, HMS Cavalier was officially designated as a war memorial to the 142 Royal Navy destroyers sunk during the Second World War, and the 11,000 men lost on those ships. The story of HMS Kelly, launched by Hawthorn Leslie in 1938, has been well told.

In May 1940, during the Battle of Norway, Kelly was torpedoed amidships

HMS Kelly. Picture: Tyne and Wear Archives

Lord Louis Mountbatten commanded the HMS Kelly

Aerial view of the Hawthorn Leslie yard. Picture: TWAM
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 21, 2019
Words:922
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