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British Industrial History

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Sunderland Forge and Engineering Co

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1929. Vibrating Screen.
1949 Sunderland Forge engine and generator at Sunderland Museum.
Steam engine and generators at Summerlee Museum of Industrial Life
April 1952. Electric Winches.
1960s. Apprenticeship certificate for Colin Smith.
1960s. Apprenticeship certificate for Colin Smith.

Sunderland Forge and Engineering Co of Sunderland.

1896 Private company.

Supplied the whole of the electric plant for the Manor Quay Works of Joseph L. Thompson and Sons

Messrs. Thompson were the principals of Sunderland Forge and Engineering Co.; Mr. James Marr was managing director of both firms.

1910 Dale's patent rudder made for SS Paulina (built Santander) [1]

Sunderland Forge’s Part In Record Hustle
Co-operation between the Sunderland Forge, Ltd., and Messrs William Gray and Co., Ltd., of West Hartlepool, has resulted in a smart piece of ship repairing work being carried out in record time. In order to keep her charter it was necessary that a new rudder should be made and fitted to the s.s. Wearbridge in three days, and this has been accomplished, although the job usually takes ten days.
"It is one of the smartest jobs we have carried out," said Mr W. Stephenson, manager of Sunderland Forge, to a Sunderland Echo representative.
“The work has taken 72 hours from the time of ordering to the time the rudder was delivered at West Hartlepool. It was rush job, and we have been working on it night and day. The time we have taken is a record for our firm, and I do not think anyone in the North could beat it." '[2]

1937 Electrical engineers and forgemasters. "Sunderland" Electric Welding Sets. [3]

1961 Electrical and general engineers and forge masters, manufacturing electric motors, winches and ships' lighting sets. [4]

1977 See Sunderland Forge and Engineering Co: 1977 Brochure

"Forge Notes" - Memoirs by Colin Smith[5]

"I started my apprenticeship in September 1961 at the Sunderland Forge & Engineering Company. The first year was spent in the electrical fitting department (EFD) working for a guy called Jim ?? Prior to starting we were advised by the welfare department about the strict rules & regulations as well as what we had to wear in the way of boiler suit, safety boots etc. We were also advised what tools we needed. Some tool shop in Sunderland provided the tools, the cost of which was garnished weekly from my meagre weekly wage of £3-16-11. A lovely lady who did all the engraving in the EFD engraved my name on the tools for me. I have no idea where any of them are or where they went?

The work for the first year involved carrying out simple, repetitive boring jobs on various cast iron junction boxes & switch boxes. Simple work for low paid cheap labor. We had to tap the holes for the lid fixing. We also had to scrape paint out of part of the switch box to allow the plug to slide in & out without jamming.

In one corner of EFD there was a department which manufactured the DC commutators for the DC electric motors manufactured by the company. I was moved there to join my new best friend, John Peterson. We were the only 2 apprentices in that division. Each commutator consisted of a number of copper segments which were slightly "v" shaped. When put together they formed a circle. We cut a slot in the back end of each copper segment using a small rotary saw. We also made tin plated copper tails which were riveted & soldered into the copper segment slot. The segments were put together in a jig & machined by one of the two tradesmen to fit onto an armature. It was here that I had my one & only accident. I pushed my thumb into the teeth of a band saw. I had a thin slot down to the bone. I was attended to by a nurse with some stitches & managed a couple of days off work.

In another part of the EFD were some (4 or 5?) old lathes. One on which I spent about 6 months turning brass glands, brass & copper fittings & other bits & pieces. There was a tradesman whose name I forget, who was responsible for setting up the lathes for myself & the other unfortunate apprentices. All the jobs we did were piece work controlled & allocated by the tradesman. I found out that the best paid piece work jobs were not given to us, but were done by him when he worked overtime. I complained to the foreman, Tommy ???, who tore strips off me. I also went to the Union shop steward who informed me that as an apprentice I had no rights. I & every apprentice in the company had being paying union fees from day one. I promptly cancelled my union payment as did a lot of other apprentices. As a punishment, I was shipped out of the EFD to the factory maintenance dept.

I spent the next 6 months climbing up & down ladders, changing light globes, light fittings & other boring maintenance jobs. I was still not forgiven when they moved me to the steam engine area. One disgusting job was mixing a white powder (asbestos) with water using my bare hands into a thick paste which was packed around the steam engine cylinder casing & when full covered a brass plate was riveted to the casing. Too late to sue them I suppose?

I was finally forgiven, I guess, because I was moved to the Test Bay which was run by the foreman, Ernie Foster. In that area I met the Blackett brothers, David & Harvey & a nice guy called Alex. I spent over 1 year in the test bay, testing electric motors & generators, both AC & DC. Using resistive load banks & even a huge Ward Leonard motor generator set. After completion of a test, the data sheets were given to the foreman. If satisfactory the motor or generator would be inspected by a Lloyd's engineer who would stamp Lloyd approved next to the serial number on the casing.

If the test results were not satisfactory, the foreman would send for the engineers in the design office. There were two of them, Charlie Marshall & Billy?????. They always went everywhere together. It was an unusual sight watching them walk through the factory as Charlie was about 6ft & Billy about 5ft. They would ponder the shortcomings of the test & arrive at a solution which generally involved increasing or decreasing the air gap with shims.

I used to worry about the waste of time & resources that were evident throughout the company. Another item of concern was the age of the equipment & machines. In the turning department all the lathes still ran from belts running on a common shaft above the lathes. Very old technology.

One of the benefits was being able to play football & rugby for Belford House.

My last year was spent in the drawing office working for George Wilkinson as a draftsman. All our drawings were in pencil & when completed & checked were given to the tracers to be put on some sort of plastic type material in ink. The checker was called Jim Brewster. He was assistant to George. He was very difficult to please. Anyway, I fell out with him & requested a transfer to another department in the drawing office. I was informed by the chief engineer, Mr Kertin (spelling??) In no uncertain terms to pull my head in or else? I only had weeks to go before the end of my apprenticeship so I offered my resignation for that date. He was so angry he dismissed me from the company. Fortunately the drawing office union rep stepped in & I ended up getting my apprentice papers etc. I did enjoy the 5 years at The Forge & have carried the experience throughout my working life."

"Sunderland Forge and Engineering Co" - Memoirs by John Martin[6]

"I was fascinated to come across Colin Smith’s account of apprenticeship at the Sunderland Forge and Engineering Company.

I was an apprentice from 1946 to 1951. One of the Forge’s rivals, Reyrolles on Tyneside sent recruiters to interview boys at Bede Grammar School but I went to the Forge where my father had been in the Drawing Office since 1929. My mother was a tracer during the war years, copying the pencil drawings of degaussing equipment onto a transparent film which was then printed onto linen as blue prints, rolled on a wooden rod for use in the work. The blue dye could be washed out to make linen handkerchiefs.

I started in the Electrical Fitting Shop on the Commutator segment cutting machine and tinning and inserting the risers. Then I moved to the benches and worked with a tradesman. I learned how to construct the 110 volt contactors and overloads used for controlling the electrical generators, pump motors and our own winches. These went to the shipyards of the Wear, Tyne and the Clyde. My experience was perhaps less fraught than Colin Smith’s and occasionally there would be time and a quarter when a job needed overtime. Everyone had a can for a brew but lunch was in the canteen. We bought tickets, ten pence for dinner and two pence for a sweet. We ate quickly so that we apprentices could play marbles in the land between the works and the Pattern Shop. Nothing to do with knitting, they were the carefully crafted wooden patterns for casting. We used half inch ball bearings for marbles, “iron bengers”. I started on a wage of twelve shillings and sixpence a week in 1956. We each had a time card to clock in; one minute late meant the loss of a quarter of an hour’s pay. It was a long day especially as I had three nights each week at the Sunderland Technical College studying for the Higher National in Electrical Engineering. At the end of apprenticeship some of the lads who had finished up testing winches found jobs with B.P. sailing in the Persian Gulf petroleum trade.

After two years I was moved to the Drawing Office. The Chief Draughtsman was a Mr.Glansfield. The office was all male except for one young female draughtswoman and an older woman who pasted together and filed the paperwork of individual orders from shipbuilders. One of the draughtsmen had been a Japanese prisoner of war but it was an experience he did not talk about.

There was a close relationship between Thompson, Laing and Forge who shared an Institute for billiards and football in Fulwell. I played outside left for TLF. In the summer the prizes at the Annual Sports Day were usually useful Phoenix Glassware to maintain our amateur status. We still have some in use. We would watch the launches of Pickersgill’s corvettes and Doxford’s merchantmen from the Queen Alexandra Bridge. There was a rumour that when the B.T. Princess was launched further down river the royal toilet had a velvet seat. Times were changing, Summerside ? prams and Cole’s cranes had recently moved in as part of the redevelopment of Wearside industry.

National Service in 1961 saw me off to Padgate near Warrington and a short career in the R.A.F 25 Night Fighter Squadron , but that is a different story."

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 'Engineering' 25th Feb 1910
  2. Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 19 March 1932
  3. 1937 The Aeroplane Directory of the Aviation and Allied Industries
  4. 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
  5. Personal written account provided by Colin Smith (October 2017)
  6. Personal written account provided by John Martin (May 2018)