A black and white image of a shipbuilding yard with a boat in the background and women carrying timber.
Female workers handling heavy timbers at Palmers' Shipbuilding and Iron Company, Hebburn, Tyne & Wear. © Crown Copyright
Female workers handling heavy timbers at Palmers' Shipbuilding and Iron Company, Hebburn, Tyne & Wear. © Crown Copyright

New Project Launches to Uncover Lost History of Women Shipbuilders

Historic England is leading a new crowd sourcing project, which aims to uncover the stories of women who worked in the shipbuilding industry in the north-east during the First World War.

With many of the north-east’s shipyard workers away fighting, local women volunteered to keep the region’s maritime industry afloat. Between 1914 and 1918, they took on highly skilled engineering roles in shipyards including Swan Hunters in Wallsend, Palmers in Hebburn, and at Haverton Hill on the Tees. However, when the war ended, they were pushed out of these roles to make room for the men returning from the conflict.   

The Women in Shipbuilding project is launching on Tuesday 24 October with a pop-up exhibition at Wallsend’s Forum shopping centre featuring photographs of women at work in the shipyards during the First World War. These images, sourced from Imperial War Museums’ collection, will act as a focal point for people to contribute their own family stories, photographs and memorabilia relating to this neglected area of the north-east region’s history. People will also be able to make contributions via email at [email protected] or by visiting the exhibition.

These newly captured materials and the original exhibition images will be used to create a short film, which will be released in Spring 2024 as part of the Lloyds Register Foundation’s Rewriting Women into Maritime History initiative.

By increasing awareness of the role that women played in shipbuilding and marine engineering in the north-east during the First World War, it is hoped that it will inspire women to consider a career in marine engineering.

These photographs of women working in the shipyards really struck me when I first saw them. They show women directly involved in heavy, skilled engineering rather than on assembly lines. Although they are not named, I am sure they have stories that will provide inspiration to women in maritime engineering today.

Antony Firth, Head of Marine Heritage Strategy Historic England

The exhibition runs from Tuesday 24 October until Sunday 19 November. The Forum Shopping Centre is open daily. Check here for opening times.  

Women in Shipbuilding is led by Historic England in partnership with Women’s Engineering Society (WES); Imperial War Museums (IWM); and Newcastle University Oral History Unit and Collective; and in collaboration with Remembering the Past, North Tyneside Art Studio and North Tyneside Council. The project is funded by Lloyds Register Foundation.

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