Palmer Makes It A First

Published by Shahdaroba Thursday 16th February 2012

The ‘John Bowes’ had a long lifespan. Some 81 years in which she served as a store vessel in the Crimean War, underwent several name changes, survived many collisions, and carried general cargo instead of coal. While under one of her many name changes ‘Villa Selgas’ sadly the ‘John Bowes’ sank after developing a leak in 1933 the tragedy happened off the northern coast of Spain all crew members were saved.

The success of the ‘John Bowes’ brought more work to the Palmer yard by the building of many more steamships. Those that launched in the early 185o’s. To name a few here the ‘William Hutt’, the ‘Countess Strathmore’, ‘Sir John Easthope’, ‘Northumberland’, ‘Jarrow’, ‘Durham’, ‘Phoenix’ and the ‘Marley Hill’.

Palmer Blast Furnace

In the latter half of 1853, the company provided a dinner for some of the Palmer workforces. Held in the Golden Lion Hotel in South Shields this was to celebrate the first engine built at the Palmer yard. The ‘Jarrow’ previously launched in the early 1850s was the first ship to have the machinery fitted. The ‘Jarrow’ went on to prove it’s worth many numbers of times delivering something like 18,000 tons of coal to London in her lifetime.

The first flat-iron colliers were built at the Palmer shipyard these ships had very low superstructures specially built with hinged funnels and masts which could be lowered at the appropriate time enabling them to pass under the numerous Thames bridges. This meant that coal could be shipped further up the Thames river given an almost door-to-door service to the industry.

The ‘Westminster’ and ‘Vauxhall’ both launched in 1878. The ‘Vauxhall’ carrying something like 1,000 tons of coal made regular trips to London averaging about 60 trips a year. It should come as no surprise to learn that making that many trips between the Tyne and the Thames the ‘Vauxhall’ had her fair share of accidents. One such collision was in October 1888 the ‘Vauxhall’ collided with the ‘Prudhoe Castle’ in the mouth of the River Tyne. History tells us that the ‘Prudhoe Castle’ although badly damaged came off best, the ‘Vauxhall’ on the other hand sunk, to be re-floated sometime later.

Blast furnaces were built at the yard in 1857, rolling mills were quick to follow. Having acquired the rights to mine ore near to Saltburn, on the North-East Coastline, he set about constructing a harbor known then as Port Mulgrave, which he had built close to the mines, this was at a cost of some £30,000, this was in response to no suitable nearby port being available to safely load the ore onto his own steamships destined for his own blast furnaces in Jarrow.

The early ships made at Palmer were all built of iron, but from 1880 onward steel became the way of the future. The Albatross was the first ship built from steel and was launched by Miss Price, daughter of the company’s general manager John Price back in January 1884. By the late 1880s, Palmer was an impressive sight. Lined up along the southern shoreline was the iron ore quay, behind that lay the blast furnaces, then came the rolling mills, foundry, and boiler erecting shop, behind them lay the steelworks.

As I said, a very impressive line-up and to top it all off a little further on could be seen a 440ft dry dock, used to repair ships, behind this could be seen the engine works and a smiths’ shop. There was also a shipbuilding yard with eight berths two jetties more workshops and a 600ft slipway which was also used to repair ships.

With its own railway layout linked to the main railway system. Sir Charles Mark Palmer and his brother George had brought great prosperity to Jarrow, by 1927 the yard was at its peak with more than a 10,000 strong workforce, and a promise of more to come. Little did anyone realize that in a few short years Palmer was to come to a standstill, and the people of Jarrow would be plunged into what must have been for them a living nightmare. Proud men and women from a by-gone age.

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