Funded Projects

New public history website: We Made Ships

At the start of the 20th century, half of the world's ships were being made in the North East of England. Along the four rivers of the Blyth, Tyne, Wear and Tees, many families relied on the shipbuilding and repair industry for their livelihood. But by the start of this century, only one yard, Swan Hunter on the Tyne, remained active. 

The We Made Ships ( educational public history website went live in June 2019. The site was written by Dr Alison Atkinson-Phillips and Rosie Bush, with Web design by Invent Partners,and funded by the Catherine Cookson Foundation. It gives an overview of the history of shipbuilding in the North East, including a wide range of resources, photographs, videos and oral histories. 

Home page of We Made Ships website

Through her research on the "Work and After" theme, Alison uncovered a wealth of local history projects about shipbuilding, which share information online but through multiple small resources which are not always easy to locate. Collaborating with Rosie, a public historian who is also a secondary school teacher, the pair were able to bring that wealth of projects and resources together in an easily accessible, interactive site.

We Made Ships was designed in consultation with secondary teaching staff, in response to current curriculum demands and learning styles, in order to make it as useful in real terms to schools as possible. It is designed to be of use for students, teachers and local historians. As the Oral History Unit & Collective conduct more oral history interviews with former shipyard workers and local shipbuilding communities, these will be added to the site. Students are also encouraged to participate in building up the archive of this important history.

While many historians has focussed on why the shipyards closed, this project is about giving students an insight into the lived history of the shipbuilding industry. It encourages students to ask a series of questions: 

  • Who were the people who built those ships?
  • What was it like to work in the busy shipyards?
  • What was it like for people to see the yards close and the river change forever?

The name of this site is taken from a book and film by writer Tom Pickard, We Make Ships, which were produced after a writing residency at the Austin & Pickersgill shipyard in Sunderland in 1987/8.


Last modified: Thu, 23 Apr 2020 10:19:50 BST