Wonder Woman and the Amazons

The recent release of the film Wonder Woman has raised interest in Amazons, fearless warrior women, who were more than capable of taking on their male equivalents in combat. Wonder Woman herself is an Amazon brought up on the island of Themyscira, where she trains to become a fierce and skilled warrior.

Stories of Amazons originated with the Ancient Greeks who told tales about their encounters with these fierce warrior women. The Fifth Century BC historian Herodotus, for example, described the customs of the nomadic peoples, such as the Scythians and Sarmatians, who lived in the Black Sea region and who included female warriors among their number. However Herodotus confessed that he was only recording what he had been told and that he had never actually met any Amazons.

It was commonly thought that the Greek stories about Amazons were mythical and had no basis in fact. Amazons represented everything that Greek women were not. They fought alongside and against men and were proudly independent, whereas Greek women were expected to stay at home, carry out domestic tasks and obey their husbands. The Greeks frequently portrayed Amazons, especially on their painted pottery  and we can learn something of Greek attitudes towards them from these images.

An Athenian red-figure pot (pelike) dating from 420 – 390 BC on display in the Great North Museum represents a Greek warrior and companion in combat with an Amazon. The Amazon is dressed in eastern clothing and resembles a Persian, while the Greek is naked. A deliberate contrast is being made between the two with the Amazon being linked to the Persians who frequently came into conflict with the Greeks and in fact invaded Greece on two separate occasions.

A red-figure pelike (pot for storing liquids) showing an Amazon in combat with a Greek soldier.

The red-figure pelike (pot for storing liquids) showing an Amazon in combat with a Greek soldier.

Amazon from the pelike in the Great North Museum wearing distinctive Persian style dress. This includes an elaborately decorated tunic, trousers, a soft Persian hat and a crescent-shaped shield.

Amazon from the pelike in the Great North Museum wearing distinctive Persian style dress. This includes an elaborately decorated tunic, trousers, a soft Persian hat and a crescent-shaped shield.

The Amazons came to represent everything that was alien and hostile to the Greek way of life and were frequently associated with the Persians as outsiders with barbaric habits like wearing trousers! Often the architects of Greek temples would include sculptures of Greeks fighting Amazons as part of the decoration of the temple.  Worshippers would then be able to see representations of these warrior women who stood against all the values the Greeks held dear.

Greek fighting Amazons from the frieze of the temple of Apollo at Bassai.

Greek fighting Amazons from the frieze of the temple of Apollo at Bassai.

For a long time the Amazons were regarded as mythical characters like the Centaurs or Giants who appealed to the Greeks as subject matter for their mythological tales. However this idea has been challenged by the increasing evidence of burials of warrior women from the steppe lands around the Black Sea.  Several female burials, dating from a period when the Greeks were establishing colonies on the Black Sea coast, have been discovered with evidence that their occupants were in all probability warriors.  Grave goods have included weapons such as swords, daggers bows and other military equipment.  In addition some of the skeletons show signs of combat injuries while many are bow-legged from riding horseback on a regular basis.  It seems that the nomad societies on the fringes of the Greek World were more egalitarian than the city-dwelling Greeks and women were able to participate in horse riding and combat alongside their menfolk.

It is surprising how many parallels can be found between Amazons represented in Ancient Greek Art and the DC comic book heroine.  Some Amazons, for example, are portrayed using lassos to capture Greek warriors, in a similar way to Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth.  The evidence of archaeology now suggests that such warrior women, equipped with axes, bows, swords or indeed lassos, were a reality for Greeks living near the Black sea.   Maybe the Greek inspiration behind the Wonder Woman stories is based on real life Amazons after all.

Improving access to our shipbuilding collections

The shipbuilding collections at Tyne & Wear Archives are widely recognised to be of outstanding historical significance. They have attracted international research interest and back in 2013 were given official recognition through their addition to the UK Memory of the World Register.



Photograph of the great ocean liner ‘Mauretania’ under construction at the Wallsend yard of Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd, September 1906.


Over the past seven years we’ve made huge strides towards our goal of making all our shipbuilding collections available to the public. We’ve catalogued the historic records of Swan Hunter, Vickers Armstrongs and eight Sunderland shipyards, making many important historical documents available to the public for the very first time. We’re delighted to report that we’ve just taken another big step forward with the completion of our project to catalogue the archives of John Readhead & Sons Ltd, shipbuilders of South Shields.


Aerial photograph of the shipyard of John Readhead & Sons Ltd, South Shields, May 1963

Aerial photograph of the shipyard of John Readhead & Sons Ltd, South Shields, May 1963 (TWAM ref. DS.RDD/5/5/19)


Readheads was a prolific firm and built over 600 ships from 1865 to 1968. It played a significant role in both the region’s shipbuilding history and the development of South Shields. The catalogue contains nearly 2000 entries and will be of interest to a wide variety of researchers including academics, local historians, maritime researchers and genealogists. Visitors to our archive searchroom will at last be able to access the whole collection including board of directors minutes, personnel records, cost books, ship specifications, ship plans and a large quantity of previously unseen photographs. The collection is especially rich in historical photographs of the ships built by Readheads and of the shipyard itself and we’ve published over 50 images from the collection online on our Flickr pages.


Photograph of First World War Patrol boat P-31 at the mouth of the River Tyne, 1916 (TWAM ref. 1061/988). This vessel was built by John Readhead & Sons, South Shields.

Photograph of First World War Patrol boat P-31 at the mouth of the River Tyne, 1916 (TWAM ref. DS.RDD/4/PH/2/1). This vessel was built by John Readhead & Sons, South Shields.


During the project I’ve been able to share interesting discoveries from the collection as I’ve come across them via the Archives twitter account https://twitter.com/TWArchives. Some items have caught my eye for their beauty, such as this long service certificate dating from the 1930s.


John Readhead & Sons long service certificate, 1938 (TWAM ref. DS.RDD/5/7/5)

John Readhead & Sons long service certificate, 1938 (TWAM ref. DS.RDD/5/7/5)


Other documents have surprised me such as this wages summary book dating from 1956, which showed women working as labourers in the shipyard long after the end of the Second World War.

Entry from eages summary book, 1956-1958 (TWAM ref. DS.RDD/2/15/11)

Entry from eages summary book, 1956-1958 (TWAM ref. DS.RDD/2/15/11)


The collection contains hundreds of fascinating documents. If you’d like to explore the region’s shipbuilding history or look through some of our other fascinating collections then why not pay us a visit. You can find details of our location and opening times on our website.

The Readheads project has been made possible thanks to a grant from the Sir James Knott Trust and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the trustees for their generous support.

My time as the Great North Museum: Hancock artist-in-residence. A Guest Post by Olivia Turner

My name is Olivia Turner and I was artist-in-residence at the Great North Museum: Hancock (GNM:H) during the recent ‘Bones’ exhibition. I am currently a Fine Art practice-led PhD student at Newcastle University making work around the theme of the body, skin and what lies beneath.

During my residency, I was situated in the ‘Learning Zone’ in the middle of the exhibition, where I transformed the space into my working studio for three weeks. This was a great opportunity to experiment with different art materials and respond to the exhibition, collections and visitors at the GNM:H.


I also spent some of my time in the GNM:H library which houses beautiful anatomical illustrations of animal and human bones, depicting both healthy and diseased specimens.

Using all the research conducted during my residency, I was strongly influenced by the structure of bones and the body, particularly in the way our mouths and fingers communicate by using simple gestures. I created a series of drawings exploring these ideas.

Whilst exploring the exhibition, it became clear that the children and adults would all point at different display objects, as if to say ‘What is that?’ or ‘Wow, look at that’. The gesture of a pointed finger goes beyond words and communicates a need to know more or to observe something. I decided to translate these ideas into a sculpture and began creating a giant finger.


The foundation of this sculpture was a metal armature that I then layered papier mâché onto. I was not able to complete this sculpture in the time frame of my residency but ultimately I would like to finish the sculpture in plaster. The plaster will not only make the finger look as though it is constructed from a bone-like material but it will also become monumental, rooting itself within the history of sculpture, of replication and plaster casts.

A personal highlight for me was the toddler group that visited my space where they created a song about their fingers, using their hands to gesture and point at my artworks whilst also using their hands as binoculars. I was inspired by this child-like idea of ‘hand binoculars’ and your fingers as two holes to see through.

I created a drawing, photograms and a series of sculptures around the idea of your hands being alternative eyes. I think this concept challenges the vision-centric interaction in museums and galleries, emphasising the importance of tactility and non-visual modes of perception.

My residency at the GNM:H provided a stimulating space for generating and testing ideas, as well as creating artworks. It was a fantastic opportunity and I look forward to finishing off my sculptures and continuing my PhD research.


Funding the Willington Waggonway

It is common knowledge that museums are feeling the pinch as councils tighten budgets, so you may have wondered where the funding came from for the Willington Waggonway Research Programme. The rescue, preservation and research of a section of the Willington Waggonway was only possible through the generous support of two Arts Council England funds: the PRISM Fund and the Designation Development Fund.

The Preservation of Industrial and Scientific Material (PRISM) Fund is a rolling fund awarding grants between £500 and £20,000 for acquisition and conservation projects. Their quick response was vital in securing the future of the waggonway. The excavation took place prior to the redevelopment of the site which created a time pressure, as did the fact that as soon as the timbers were exposed to the air they began to deteriorate. We were awarded the maximum £20,000 for the recovery and stabilization of the remains of the waggonway which took place immediately. The timbers were then sent to the York Archaeological Trust for conservation treatment which will fully stabilize and conserve the waggonway for study and eventually public display.

waggonway south and conservation

Left: The Willington Waggonway from the South. Top right: The excavated timbers. Bottom right: The timbers at York Archaeological Trust

Without the Prism Fund we would have potentially lost a vital source of information on early railways that our current historic and archaeological record is lacking. The discovery of the Willington Waggonway was one of world significance, as it is the most complete and best-preserved section of early wooden railway to ever be discovered. Being standard gauge, having an association with the Killingworth line, as well as the presence of reused ships timbers and a wash hole, gives the Willington Waggonway a significance which we have not seen previously, even at the Lambton D pit excavation near Fencehouses in 1995.


Remains of the waggonway discovered during the excavation of the former Lambton D pit at Fencehouses. Image credit: https://sites.google.com/site/allthingsbournmoor/railways

The Designation Development Fund supports projects that ensure the long-term sustainability of designated museum collections, maximizes their public value and shares best practice. They offer grants between £20,000 and £90,000 every other year with a different theme which the project aims are required to meet to secure funding. Fortunately 2016’s theme was ‘Research and Development’ making it an ideal time to pursue funding for a research project on the Willington Waggonway. We requested and were awarded £77,130 with the project beginning in December 2016.


Excavated remains of the Willington Waggonway, looking towards the River Tyne. Photography © The Archaeological Practice

The Designation Development Fund grant is allowing us to work closely with experts in early railway history, archaeology and conservation to uncover new information which will undoubtedly enhance our understanding of wooden waggonways.

Many thanks to Arts Council England for the PRISM Fund and the Designation Development Fund grants that are allowing this once in a lifetime research project to take place.

archive image

Illustration of Parkmoor Waggonway, Gateshead by Richard Turner, produced for the B.B.C Domesday Project under the direction of Les Turnbull . First published in the Gateshead Domesday Book, 1986.

We will be launching our program of events in June so keep an eye out for exciting family friendly activities, meet the archaeologist sessions, talks and waggonway walks!

The Willington Waggonway Appeal
Many of the excavated timbers still remain untreated and risk being lost forever. Without further financial support, we will be unable to fund the preservation of these important industrial artefacts. If you would like to find out more and make a donation to this appeal, please click here


The Willington Waggonway Research Programme is funded by the Designation Development Fund, Arts Council England



Danger and adventure for Tyne and Wear ships’ crews in the Spanish Civil War

bilbao ruins skipper's war picture horiz 2

This photograph of the devastation of the Basque port of Bilbao in April 1937 was taken by Captain Still of the Newcastle ship Hamsterley, on a mission to take food to the beleaguered city and rescue refugees during the Spanish Civil War (North Mail, May 11th).

I’ve told some of the story of the involvement of Newcastle ships in two previous blogs – Newcastle foodships rescue Basque refugees in the Spanish Civil War; Newcastle foodship crew witness the devastation of Guernica bombing in the Spanish Civil War. This blog widens the story, with more details about the difficult experiences of the crews.

Eighty years ago, the crews of ships from Tyne and Wear found themselves caught up in the Civil War in Spain (1936-39), dodging shells, mines and bombs. The North East of England had a strong trading relationship with the Basque region of northern Spain, exporting coal and importing iron ore. North-East sailors also worked on many other ships trading coal to Spain. Some of the captains and crew were keen to help the Basque people, others were just doing a job, and some would rather have avoided the dangers of the warzone.

Dangers to Ships and Crews

Early in the conflict, Nationalist warships began stopping British ships to check they were not carrying any materials that could help the Republican war effort. The British ships’ crews sometimes saw floating mines and experienced air raids, often quite close to their ships. The most dangerous incident was when the Newcastle ship Blackhill was shot at near Bilbao in March, prompting official British protests. Until a test case at the South Shields Court of Referees in March 1937, seamen didn’t have a choice about sailing to the warzones if they didn’t want to lose unemployment benefit.

In April 1937, the situation for ships’ crews sailing to northern Spain became more difficult as the Nationalists intensified the war effort in the Basque region.

Wear Ships Coquetdale and Brinkburn at Bilbao


In very early April 1937, the Wear ships Brinkburn and Coquedale (Consett Iron Company) arrived in Bilbao with food from Antwerp. (This photo of the Coquetdale can be viewed in higher resolution on the searlecanada website.) Speaking to the North Mail on their return (22nd April), the Sunderland skipper of the Coquetdale, Captain Charles Smith, described their voyage. The ship had already been stopped once when they witnessed a distressing event:

Apr 22 Coquetdale text 1 (3)

Coquetdale had arrived too late to see whether the ship’s crew had been taken off. Captain Smith continued:

Apr 22 adven (2)

Apr 22 adven (1)

The Couetdale and crew, and Captain Smith (right) were pictured in the North Mail (April 22nd, p7) when the ship berthed at Tyne Dock:

Apr 22 pic Coquetdale crew enhanced reduced

Cpt Smith photo N Mail Apr 22 p7 cropped.JPG (1)


The Coquetdale’s sister ship Brinkburn was also at Bilbao at this time, having brought potatoes from Antwerp.

brinkburn3Captain Collinson of the Brinkburn also described frequent air raids at Bilbao, commenting that “One bomb dropped in the water 300 yards astern of us while we were lying at the quay.” (Sunderland Echo, April 20th). The North Mail (April 21st) continued Captain Collinson’s story, describing how the population was desperately short of food:

Brinkburn scraps Apr 21 p3 (1)

Blockade of Bilbao and Santander

While Coquetdale and Brinkburn were at Bilbao, Franco imposed a blockade, intending to starve the Basque city of food and materials.

Brinkburn was the last ship into Bilbao before the blockade, said Captain Collinson (Sunderland Echo, April 21st). Having rapidly loaded her cargo, she was also the first ship out, fortunately without a problem, returning to Sunderland on April 20th:

“When we left after a stay of five days a number of insurgent warships came and had a look at us, but they did not interfere…”

Coquetdale similarly made it out of Bilbao without incident, but when the ship finally returned to the North East, several of the crew decided they wouldn’t make another trip to the warzone.

Franco’s blockade of Bilbao and Santander and other Basque ports began on April 6th. It was enforced by the warships Almirante Cervera, Espana, and Canaries, with the large armed trawler Galerna and a flotilla of smaller armed trawlers. Later, two submarines joined the blockade, and Franco could also call on a large airforce. On April 14th, the North Mail mentioned that, “Some idea of the dangers of taking legitimate cargoes to Spain can be gathered by the jump in the freight rate from the Tyne to Bilbao from about 7s. to 15s.” The seamen got a bonus of 50% of wage for 24 hours either side of being port, raised to double pay from May 17th.

British Ships Blocked

The population of the Basque capital Bilbao was swollen by refugees from surrounding towns and the land supply routes were cut off. Food was in short supply. Immediately after Franco’s announcement on April 6th, the (Wear-built) London steamer Thorpehall got through. Nevertheless, the British government advised ships to stay away, fearing that the approaches to the Basque ports were heavily mined.

However, the Newcastle ship Hamsterley was already on her way to Bilbao, having left Antwerp with a cargo of peas and beans on April 3rd (North Mail, April 12th). After receiving an Admiralty warning that protection was not guaranteed, Captain Still retreated to the French port of St Jean de Luz. Hamsterley joined several other British ships waiting in the hope of Navy assistance to get through the blockade (North Mail, April 10th):

Apr 10 Newcastle ship offer (1)The Nationalist cruiser Almirante Cervera sent out a warning that “any foreign vessel approaching the Spanish coast would be sunk or seized”. The food ships continued to wait.

Bilbao Blockade Runners Hamsterley and Stanbrook

However, after the Welsh ship Seven Seas Spray successfully made a solo dash from St Jean de Luz to Bilbao with food, arriving on April 20th, the British government authorised the Navy to give more protection to British ships breaking the blockade. Hamsterley (pictured on Wrecksite) was the next ship to run the Bilbao blockade, in a small convoy with Stanbrook, which had sailed from Blyth, and the MacGregor. They arrived at Bilbao on April 23rd

The three ships Hamsterley, Stanbrook, and MacGregor had left the French port of St. Jean de Luz the previous night. As dawn broke, they were intercepted by an armed Nationalist trawler, which fired a shell between the Hamsterley and the MacGregor. But the British flagship Hood and the destroyer Firedrake came to their aid. The blockade runners were big news in Britain, and Hamsterley had a Daily Express reporter on board. He gave a vivid description of their journey as they neared Bilbao (Daily Express, April 24th):

We were now leading the convoy, but we had gone only a few yards when the trawler, the Galerna, fired right across our bows. The shell skimmed across the deck very low and plunged into the sea a bare fifteen yards away. Captain Still cursed aloud, and banged his fist on the bridge rail. “Stop her, quartermaster!” 

Another signal fluttered from the destroyer’s mast: “Proceed, Hamsterley.” Captain Still fairly bellowed through the megaphone to the Stanbrook, just astern: “Come on, my lads! Follow me into Bilbao.” … 8 a.m. – Shell from shore battery has just fallen a bare six feet short of the Galerna. Galerna turned in her own length, and, dodging between the Hamsterley and MacGregor, scuttled off to safety…

The British ships were given a tremendous welcome when they berthed up in the town this afternoon. They arrived in the middle of an air raid, but hundreds of people came from their shelters to cheer the blockade-runners. The raiders came in batches of nine; since yesterday they have dropped 500 bombs.

captains photo r

Captain Still of Hamsterley (wearing cap) brought this photograph back from Bilbao, where he was visiting an army factory with the Basque Minister of Marine (far left), Captain Roberts of Seven Seas Spray (second left), the President of the Basque Republic (in beret) and Captain Jones of the MacGregor (far right) (North Mail, May 11th).

bilbao ruins skipper's war pic detail June 29The newspaper also later published Captain Still’s photograph of the aftermath of one of the air attacks on the city. The crew of the Hamsterley were mostly from South Shields (listed at the end of the blog). On this ship, the firemen, who had the hot and tiring job of stoking the boilers, were drawn from South Shields’ Yemeni community.

The Stanbrook, which accompanied the Hamsterley, was built by the Tyne Iron Shipbuilding Company. She had sailed from Blyth to Antwerp on about April 10th to take on her cargo of food. She had several crew members from Blyth and Tyneside, reported the North Mail (April 24th) (listed at the end of the blog).

Tyne ships to Bilbao: Stesso, Sheaf Garth, Sheaf Field, Blackhill and Consett

More ships followed including the Newcastle coal ship Stesso, manned by Tynesiders, which arrived on April 25th. The Sheaf Garth (Sheaf Steam Shipping Company, Newcastle) arrived at Bilbao on April 26th, and her sister ship Sheaf Field entered port three days later, carrying food. One of the ships waiting to run the blockade was the Newcastle ship Blackhill, said the paper (North Mail, April 24th, 26th, 27th & 30th).

The master of the Sheaf Field was Captain R. Arnott of South Shields, and there were several Tynesiders on board. The second steward, Ernest Hawkins of Hull, told the North Mail (May 12th) how the ship was rocked by explosions from bombs aimed at oil tanks on the banks of the river.

The crew helped load the cargo of iron ore themselves in an effort to get away quickly, and the ship returned to the Tyne on May 11th. Sheaf Field had spent 2 months in the Spanish war zones, and had experienced air raids in every Spanish port they’d visited – Valencia, Barcelona, Tarragona, Portugalette and Bilbao. The second steward Ernest Hawkins also told of the acute food shortage in Bilbao:

IMG_3218 May 13 p2 Sheaf Field diary 3 detailr

The Consett (Consett Iron Company) arrived in Bilbao right at the end of April. The captain had intended to dock at Santander but was confronted by the Nationalist battleship Espana, which threatened to fire on her. Consett had no radio to call for help, but fortunately the British destroyer Forrester came to her aid. A crew member later told the Sunderland Echo (May 7th) that the situation at Bilbao was serious:

The evacuation had not started and hundreds of citizens both rich and poor crowded the quayside. “We gave them everything we could and any food left lying about they stole from the ship.”

Just after the crew listened to a radio broadcast of the Cup Final football match (Sunderland won) on May 1st, there was an air raid. Many of the crew joined people sheltering in “dugouts … underneath the slag heaps at the quayside”, said the Consett sailor:

“I had a child who was weeping in my arms, and we tried to cheer him by singing sea shanties.” 

…“Eventually we sailed from Bilbao thinking our adventures had finished, but 36 miles out we were stopped by an armed merchant ship. It was a tense situation and I must confess I was scared.” The guns on board her, he continued, were all manned, and for an hour she circled round the Consett, no one knowing what was going to happen.

The steamers Blackhill, Sheaf Field and Consett all took part in the refugee evacuation of Bilbao in May together with Hamsterley and Backworth.

Backworth Relief Ship to Bilbao

Backworth 1919-6-16

In Britain, the Spanish Relief Fund (set up to provide humanitarian aid to either side) co-ordinated appeals to send food and medical supplies to Bilbao. The ship chosen was the Backworth, which loaded at Immingham near Hull (Backworth was built on the Clyde, and this photo is from the website Clyde Built Ships). Before Backworth left, the North Mail (April 24th) reported:

Backworth apprentices + party N Mail 1937 Apr24 p3 (1)

The North Mail also gave the names of other Tyneside crew members (see end of the blog), who had signed on at Newcastle. On April 28th, the ship began a nail-biting approach into Bilbao, chased by Nationalist ships, (the dramatic events are described in my previous blog – Newcastle foodships rescue Basque refugees in the Spanish Civil War). Ships’ captains worried that their ships might be trapped if the Nationalists took the port while they were anchored there.

Backworth was a key ship in the British refugee-evacuation programme in early May and afterwards. Captain Russell of the Backworth telegraphed the North Mail (May 7th) to outline his plans:

IMG_3116 May 7 backwoth chartered for 6 monts

Knitsley at Santander

knitsleyNewcastle steamer Knitsley’s encounter with Espana outside Santander was even more momentous than the confrontation Consett had. The Sunderland Echo reporter got the opportunity to talk to the crew when the ship docked at Sunderland with iron ore (Sunderland Echo, May 6th). (The ship is pictured at Tyne Dock on a separate occasion.)

On Friday, the Knitsley loaded with minerals disregarded signals to stop given by the Spanish insurgents battleship Espana and the destroyer Velasco outside Santander.

The insurgent vessel fired on the steamer, but Government planes went to her rescue and the Espana was sunk. The Knitsley entered Santander in safety… Captain Robinson was quite cheery this morning … [but] Another member of the crew said they had had a terrifying voyage.

Following this trip, 11 members of the crew refused to sail on another voyage to Spain if they didn’t get more than the agreed warzone bonus of the time. At court in Sunderland in June, they were convicted of conspiring to impede the ship’s progress and fined 40 shillings each (North Mail, June 18th). During the trial, the captain testified that the trip had been been much more dangerous than a normal commercial voyage:

knitsley saw Espana sunk June 18

Hamsterley and the last days of Republican Bilbao

Cpt Still photo Pres Basque Republic N Mail June 19 p1The Newcastle ship Hamsterley continued to sail to Bilbao to load iron ore. The ship last left the city on June 13th, 6 days before the city was occupied by the Nationalists. While in Bilbao, Captain Still took this photograph of the President of the Basque Republic reviewing his troops. It was published in the North Mail on June 19th, the day after Hamsterley docked on the Tyne, together with an interview:

June 19 p3 hamsterley air raid Bilbao

Shortly before the city fell, the Newcastle steamer Alice Marie had arrived from Blyth with a cargo of food, coal, ambulances, motor-cycles and medical equipment. The ship subsequently left port with a part-load of iron ore plus 500 refugees. The North Mail (June 21st) published an account by the second engineer F.A. Snaith, given in a letter home to his wife in South Shields:


Bilbao fell to the Nationalists on June 19th, and Santander followed in August 1937. The Civil War finally ended in 1939.

My reading of newspapers finishes in 1937, and is mainly about the steamers voyaging to northern Spain (prompted by the 2015 exhibition British Art and the Spanish Civil War at the Laing Art Gallery). The war continued in southern Spain, and North East sailors were involved in dangerous situations there. The ships included the Newcastle steamer Hebburn, which spent 4 months in Spanish ports, experiencing severe air raids at Valencia, Barcelona and Santander, before returning to the Tyne on May 14th 1937 with iron ore from Castro Urdiales, a port near Bilbao. The Tyne-built destroyer H.M.S Hunter, with a Sunderland captain, Commander Scurfield, and some Tynesiders among her crew, hit a mine off Valencia on May 13th 1937. The ship had significant damage and several men died (North Mail, May 15th and 17th). Eleven days later, the Newcastle steamer Greatend, while unloading grain, was hit by shrapnel in a Nationalist air raid at Almeria and nearly sunk (North Mail, May 25th). In addition, the Thorpehall (which had a Sunderland master, Captain Andrews) was sunk in an air raid in May 1938 near Valencia.

How Britain learnt lessons from air raids in Spain

Moor CourtOne result of the terrible air-raids in Spain was that air-raid precautions planning started in Britain in case of war with Germany. In April, when construction started on a new block of flats, Moor Court in Gosforth, it including a “bomb-proof shelter” in the basement (North Mail, April 5th). Newcastle council also set up a plan for 5,000 volunteer civilian air-raid personnel (North Mail, June 10th).


Backworth:  North Mail 24th April 1937 p3: The crew of the Backworth includes; A. Goodfellow, first mate, Tunstall Road, Sunderland; George Lilie, second mate, Broadway, Cullcoats; C. Spence, A.N., Brderick Street, South Shields; C. Piggofrd, third engineer, Elmwood Street, Sunderland; Janir Mohammed, fireman, Thrift Street, South Shields; F. Sagar, steward, Hyde Street, South Shields; E. Brockie, second engineer, Edenhouse Road, Sunderland; G. Whitelock, A.B., Cleveland Road, Sunderland; Harold Renwick Bottomley, A.B., Ashgrove Avenue, South Shields; J. Wilson, ordinary seaman, Viceroy Street, Seaham Harbour; A. Felgate, steward, Middlesborough; Frederick Walton, New Seaham, and Jack Cummett and William Clark, Whitby, apprentices [15-year-old orphan boys].

Blackhill: Sunderland Echo, May 10th 1937: The master is Capt. P.F. Ridley

Coquetdale: Sunderland Echo, April 22nd 1937: Captain C. Smith, of Hastings Street, Sunderland. Mr George Pain, of Grange Street South, Sunderland, the chief officer.

HamsterleyNorth Mail April XX, 1937:  The master of the Tyne ship Hamsterley is Captain A.H. Still, of Estoril, Oaklands, Swalwell, and the others aboard are: J.R. Matthews (1st mate), Roman Avenue, Walker; N. Johnson (2nd mate), Trevor Terrace, North Shields; W. S. Joice (wireless operator), Fitzroy Terrace, Sunderland; W.S. Jones (A.B.) Marsden Street, South Shields; M. Darmody (bosun), Wilson Street, South Shields; S. Stephens (A.B.), Orange Place, South Shields; M Lamport (A.B.), Fawcett Street, South Shields; O. White (A.B.), Fowler Street, South Shields; G. Henderson (seaman), Harper Street, South Shields; A. Hastier (first engineer), Candless Street, South Shields; W. Allam (second engineer), of Sunderland, and W. Usher (donkeyman), Broughton Road, South Shields. The following are firemen: Alidie Ali, John William Street, South Shields; Hassan Abdullah, Grace Street, South Shields; Hassan Ahmed, Commercial Road, South Shields; Ahmed Ali, Derby Street, South Shields; Hassan Yehya, Green Street, South Shields. Cook and steward: John Dryden, Woodbine Avenue, Walker; mess room boy, G. Lyth, The Laws, South Shields. [A donkeyman worked the donkey boiler – the small boiler used by the crew, especially in port.]

KnitsleySunderland Echo, April 30th 1937, p1: Knitsley … She has just recently been purchased by Consett Iron Company, and there are a number of Sunderland men aboard her, including Mr Cunliffe, a seaman, and Mr Dougherty, a messroom steward; North Mail, May 6th 1937, p1: Master: Capt. Frederick Robinson, of 14 Hawarden Crescent, [Sunderland]; 17 crew prosecuted June 17th South Shields courts for refusing to sail to Spain without additional payment: John George Wilson, Mitford Street, Fulwell, Sunderland; John Vivian Lloyd, Straker Terrace, Tyne Dock; Thomas Watson, Weir Street, Tyne Dock; and eight others from South Shields: John Robert Lawson, Quarry Lane; Jonathan Williamson, Stainton Street; Robert Duncan, Braeham Street; Thomas Watson Cunliff, Shortridge Street; John Pease, Hardwick Street; Hector McDonald Profit, Campbell Street; John Taylor, Slake Terrace, and Joseph McQuade, H.S. Edward Street.

Stanbrook: Sunderland Echo, April 23rd 1937 p1: Wearsiders in the crew are W.S. Joice (wireless operator), Fitzroy terrace; and W. Allam (seond engineer); North Mail, April 24th 1937: Stanbrook crew included several Tynesiders. Blyth men aboard are P. Halpin, T. Wilson and P. Burns, all firemen, T.B. Rowland, T. Joyce, A.B.’s and ordinary seaman E. Crutchley and M. Willis.