High Walker Shipyard
Vickers Armstrong Ltd. (1928 -1965), Vickers Ltd. (1965 - 1968), Swan Hunter
Types built here:
Customers (Not Exhaustive):
Armstrong Whitworth were one of the leading global manufacturers of armaments and ordnance between the 1860s and the 1920s.
Their works at Elswick dominated the riverside for half a century, building almost anything you can think of. They also incorporated works at Manchester and two shipyards on the Tyne - one at their Elswick base and another huge complex at Walker. The scale of warships were growing thanks to advancing technology and investment, so new berths were needed to accomodate appetite predominantly from the Royal Navy. The bridges between Newcastle and Gateshead also posed a huge issue, as the necessarily room to fit large warships through the channel became more and more limited. Additional regulation was implemented by the Admiralty, advising a need for deeper yards and Royal Navy ships not being built amongst any foreign vessel.
Before this yard was completed, vessels were taken to the river in these parts to be fitted out. It proved to be expensive, leading to a completely new yard at High Walker. It was already an industrial site - The Tyne Oil & Grease Works were situated here as well as brick works and a foundry were all located at the complex before construction. The elevation of the site required extensive works, costing around £1million to fully fit out with 10 building berths (with two at the highest end possible) and an outfitting quay to berth 3 battleships. The opening of this yard was vital to the continual growth of Armstrong's, as Elswick became a bottleneck for shipbuilding. Warship production as well as passenger liners continued even through the depression years however the company was nearly brought down by bad investments. A merger with Vickers of Barrow managed to save the company, but required control from Vickers.
The Elswick yard shut down in 1920. The Dobson yard, which was situated between the two Armstrong yards, was consumed, and as a result the lower half of Walker was entirely operated by Vickers Armstrong. The High Walker Yard was shut however for 3 years from 1928 for preparation to construct the liner Monarch of Bermuda, which was intended for the New York to Bermuda route as well as other long distance ocean journeys. The famous Hammerhead crane manufactured by Arrol comes from this time and is still in use today. After this vessel however orders continued to lack, and was closed until 1934 when the Royal Navy Cruiser Newcastle was built here. From thereon orders came through thick and fast, partly due to the prospect of war and war itself. Submarines, landing crafts, battleships and aircraft carriers were all built at the site for the Royal Navy.
The post war period saw a full scale modernisation programme for passenger and cargo vessels, recognising the likely scaleback of military ships. A number of recognisable liners were built here at this time including the Empress of Canada for the Canadian Pacific, which ran the transatlantic route. Esso tankers were also constructed at High Walker. In 1968 the yard was part of a merger between Vickers and Swan Hunter, and from there use was scaled back.
The last ship constructed was in 1980 - the container ship Dunedin. After this point, Swans utilised the site for outfitting though this came to an end in 1985. The area is now a business park.
Ordnance Survey, 1947
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Historic Environment Records
Durham/Northumberland: Keys to the Past
Tyne and Wear: Sitelines
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