It was a sad day in June 1961 when Sid Ham, the timekeeper at Wivenhoe
Shipyard rang the bell for the last time. The workforce was down to some
twenty hands, and the last contract for the Admiralty was finished; there
was hope that we would be building yachts, but unfortunately this work
went to Burnham. This was the end of the last phase in the two hundred
year history of this four and half acre site, upstream of the Quay.
The beginning of World War Two saw the yard derelict, having had a
forty year ban imposed by Shipbuilding Securities Ltd on steel
construction in 1937. But the need for extra naval patrol boats and mine
sweepers was soon recognised; a new company called Wivenhoe Shipbuilding
Ltd was formed by Rowhedge Shipyard on behalf of the Admiralty, and so
began the last 21 years of shipbuilding on this historic site.
The output during World War Two was a great credit to all concerned.
When it re-opened in November 1939, the Yard was overgrown with weeds. The
dry dock had tons of mud in it despite the efforts of George Hillyard, the
landlord of the Shipwrights Arms, who was retained by the landlords to
keep an eye on the dock. It was a losing battle as the dock gate always
The dry dock was very important, being the the only one on the coast
between London and Lowestoft. During World War Two it was never empty;
drifters and trawlers came to Wivenhoe in their dozens to be converted or
maintained for mine sweeping. New wood construction of the Mickey Mouse
class, ninety foot overall, was started and the larger 126 foot motor mine
sweepers were also built. These consumed 250 trees per ship, all from a 25
mile radius of Wivenhoe. These sweepers were built largely by tradesmen
who, during the slump of the 1930s had done many different jobs. The
alternative, as we know, was the dole queue, but in 1940 all men who had
been shipbuilding had to register and were directed back into the yards.
At the end of World War Two, work continued on motor mine sweepers for
the Reserve Fleet, and also maintenance of Trinity House Vessels was
undertaken. In 1951, the Yard got an order for three Ton class motor mine
sweepers. These were quite large ships, over 150 foot in length, built of
wood and non-magnetic metals. The last naval contract was for four 48 foot
provision tenders, built in the old 'White City' and taken away by low
loaders after being lifted out by Cook's Shipyard.
In the 1950s, the Yard had acquired the barquentine "Cap Pilar"
which had been lying at Railway Quay. Her seams had opened up and
she was slowly sliding into the main channel, so the Borough Harbour
Master had instructed she had to be moved. At the close of the Yard,
some personnel were kept on to undertake the move into the dry dock. Ernie
Cook, the shipwright foreman, Mr Frostick, the engineer foreman, and one
or two other hands were kept on for this purpose. She went into the dock
and there she lay until she was broken up in 1966 when the dock was
concreted over and a timber yard was established on the site.
We can say without fear of contradiction that on this site, every type
of vessel has been constructed in the last two hundred years. It is great
heritage and now marked by a plaque in a fine plinth erected at the head
of the dry dock in 2002.
Don Smith, September 2002
|The inscription on the plaque reads:
the building of H.M.S. Inspector, a ship of 36 guns in 1782, until the
construction of H.M.S. Wiston in 1958, this dock area was the village
shipyard. Craft from fishing
smacks, sail and steam yachts, tramp steamers of 1000 tons and gunboats
for Lord Kitchener and General Gordon were built.
WW1 and WW2 minesweepers were also built and serviced, and so too
were sections of the Mulberry Harbour constructed here.
The yard closed in June 1961. Further history of the site and road
names can be found in the Nottage Institute.’
|The unveiling of the plaque by Town
Mayor, Cllr David Craze, with Cllr Peter Hill (left), who proposed
and dealt with all the arrangements for its location, and Don Smith
(right) who devised the wording.
The plaque was unveiled at a small ceremony on
Saturday 19th October, 2002.
Construction of the plaque was paid for by
Persimmon Homes, developers of this part of the shipyard
For a full list of shipbuilders at this upstream yard, including a plan of
the yard, click here