Berwick upon Tweed
George Lee, Lee & Wight, Robert Lee
Types built here:
Customers (Not Exhaustive):
There is evidence of the Lee family building small wooden cobles on the banks of the Tweed from the 1820s, given the Lee family constructed Grace Darling's coble in 1828. It is recorded as being "built by Littlejones of Lee & Co Tweedmouth". Littlejones was likely the person who worked either alongside the family or under them. Some newspapers state the Lee family had been building boats on the Tweed since the 17th century.
The first Newspaper reference to the boat building Lee family is in 1855, when a ship was launched by George Lee. He treated his workers to a supper at the Foundry Arms, which was located on Church Square very close to the shipyard.
The yard is illustrated on the Ordnance Survey of 1855, surveyed in 1852. Two separate yards are located in this vicinity, and the Lee shipyard is likely to be that at the bottom of Lees Lane given its size and proximity to the fishery who they worked closely with. The street name also gives a kind hint. The map shows a U shaped building with a wing on its eastern side. It is possible the Lee family owned both sites. This was also before land was reclaimed to construct Dock Road and the railway to the Tweed Dock.
George Lee retired from the yard in the late 1870s, and was revived by Messrs. Lee & Wright. They commenced building herring boats in the early 1880s "on the bank of the new docks", referring to the newly constructed Tweed Dock. The first was named "Ebenezer" for Mr John Buglass based at Eyemouth on the borders. Another was built for them shortly after, as well as a number of other herring vessels for the summer trade. A report in the Berwick Advertiser notes they had despatched a boat to New Zealand.
In 1881, it is noted the Lee & Wight yard were building a pleasure boat for work on the river Eden, and a small yacht for a Glasgow gentleman who intended to take it to Holy Island for his summer holidays.
Throughout the next decade such work continued, employing a few dozen people. By the late 1880s the yard was upgraded to allow steamships to be built here. Three steamline fishing boats were built by 1889, and in the years thereafter engines were obtained from Rennoldson's of South Shields and Baird & Barnsley of North Shields to build screw steamers. They were put to use for the Tyne fishing trade.
Despite the larger orders, the traditional craft of coble building did continue into the next century. They were built by hand - austere tools like the adze continued where it was rarely seen elsewhere. Manual working continued through to the early 50s. At this point, electric machinery was set up in a one of the elder stone buildings to speed up the production of salmon cobles as well as boats for individual use of anglers.
By the 1930s, Mr Lee were employees of the Berwick Salmon Fisheries Company Ltd, repairing cobles for work on the Tweed. There was also a period Lee worked at the Walker Naval Yard. They did continue to build individual orders through, notably for the Rt. Hon. Earl of Home (father of PM Alec Douglas-Home) as well as a few others sent to Wales and Kent.
References to the yard wind down in the mid 1950s, so we can presume the yard closed around this time. A Berwickshire News piece in 1950 states Mr Lee had passed in the late 1940s, and was the only man in Berwick to build a carvel-built coble.
Ordnance Survey, 1855
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Historic Environment Records
Durham/Northumberland: Keys to the Past
Tyne and Wear: Sitelines
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