Exciting new addition to the Vickers Armstrong collection

I’m pleased to report that the ‘Workshop of the World’ project to catalogue the records of Vickers Armstrong is progressing well. I’m continuing to work through the large quantity of unlisted material in the collection and will look forward to highlighting some of the most exciting finds in future blogs.

Since my last blog I’ve acquired an enthusiastic volunteer. The kind soul helping me is Colin Boyd, who worked with me on the ‘We Mak’em’ Sunderland Shipbuilding Archives project. Colin has a strong interest in ships, tanks and guns so is the perfect person to have onboard. He’s currently listing the crane plans in the collection and has come across a few interesting items including an early deck crane for a screw collier ordered by Richard Young of Wisbech in 1854. Young was a prominent ship owner who served five times as Mayor of Wisbech, 1858-1863, was MP for Cambridgeshire, 1865-1868 and served as Sheriff of London and Middlesex in 1871, the year he died.

Plan of deck crane for a  screw collier, 1854 (TWAM ref. DS.VA/5/PL/1/418)

Plan of a deck crane for a screw collier, 1854 (TWAM ref. DS.VA/5/PL/1/418)

The main focus of this month’s blog, however, is an exciting addition to the Vickers Armstrong collection. The document in question is a printed album entitled ‘Warships and War Materials’ produced by Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth & Co. Ltd around 1904 (TWAM ref. 5484). It’s full of superb images of the firm’s premises and products and has very generously been deposited by Sue Wilson CBE, a former director of Vickers Defence Systems.

The album doesn’t just include views of the firm’s premises in Newcastle upon Tyne but also covers the Openshaw Works in Manchester, the Thames Ammunition Works and the company’s interests in Italy. It’s a superb document and there’s enough material to fill a dozen blogs. For the moment, though, I thought I’d share a few interior views of the Elswick and Scotswood Works. These images have really captured my imagination because they give us a glimpse into the firm just a decade before the outbreak of the First World War.

There’s a great view of some of the hydraulic forging presses inside the Elswick Steel Works.

View of hydraulic forging presses in a bay at the Elswick Steel Works (TWAM ref. 5484)

View of hydraulic forging presses in a bay at the Elswick Steel Works (TWAM ref. 5484)

The album explains that the presses “are capable of turning out solid and hollow gun forgings that may be required in connection with the heaviest artillery in use either ashore or afloat”. The Steel Works alone employed nearly 1,500 people.

The Ordnance Works at Elswick feature very prominently in the album. In 1904 it consisted of 93 buildings, including forty large workshops.

View of one of the Heavy Gun Machine Shops at the Elswick Works (TWAM ref. 5484)

View of one of the Heavy Gun Machine Shops at the Elswick Works (TWAM ref. 5484)

This image shows 8”, 9.2” and 12” guns being machined. The album includes a note that all the guns are ribbon wound and that the total length of wire ribbon used in a 12” gun was 123.5 miles. The album also contains a view of the Gun Inspection Department.

View of the Gun Inspection Department, Elswick Works (TWAM ref. 5484)

View of the Gun Inspection Department, Elswick Works (TWAM ref. 5484)

After completion in the manufacturing shops each gun was sent there. Checks included examination of the bore, rifling, outside dimensions of the gun, ease of working of the breech mechanism and the fitting of spare parts. The firm built over 5,000 guns and 7,000 mountings during the period 1893-1903. These numbers would be dwarfed during the First World War when the Elswick Works went on to produce 13,000 guns and 12,000 mountings.

I always think photographs which capture people going about their daily work are particularly special so I also thought it would be nice to share this view of the sawmills at the Scotswood Works.

Workers in the sawmills at the Scotswood Works (TWAM ref. 5484)

Workers in the sawmills at the Scotswood Works (TWAM ref. 5484)

The sawmill was spread over three floors and included “a complete plant for the manufacture of Artillery wheels, consisting of spoke copying machines, spoke lathes, wheel lathes, one machine for felloe bending and a hydraulic tyring press for tyring wheels cold. The second floor contains small machinery, joiners’ benches, saddlers’ shop and a painting and varnishing shop”.

Sue Wilson’s generosity in depositing this superb document with us is really appreciated. If any current or former employees have any documents that they would be interested in adding to the Archive collection then I would be delighted to hear from them. By depositing with a record office you’re not just sharing documents with a wider audience but you’re also helping to secure their long-term preservation.

38 Responses to Exciting new addition to the Vickers Armstrong collection

  1. Vin Mullen says:

    Alan I hope your not getting confused over Vickers Armstrongs?

    There was the Vickers Armstrongs Artillery Manufacturer at Elswick

    And the Vickers Armstrongs Shipbuilders at the Naval Yard, Walker

    I served my time at the Vickers Armstrongs Shipbuilders at the Naval Yard, Walker as a Marine Plumber from 1966 to 1970
    The Marine Plumbers Shop entrance was directly below the Hammerhead Crane
    The Hammerhead Crane today is all that has survived from the Naval Yard at Walker

  2. Alan Hayward says:

    Hi Vin,

    Thanks for your message. I didn’t realise that you’d worked at Vickers – I hope you’ve got happy memories.

    The Archives holds a vast quantity of records for the firm. These cover the engineering, shipbuilding and armaments work at Elswick and Scotswood as well as the shipbuilding at Walker. I’ll be cataloguing them for the next 18 months so there’ll be plenty more blogs to come. I don’t think I’m getting confused about the firm but if you spot any particular mistakes please do let me know.

    Best wishes,

    Alan

    • Vin Mullen says:

      If you find anything on the Plumbers Department or the Coppersmiths Department (which was attached to it) it would be good to know
      Just before I came out of my time I worked for 2 years between 1968 (on the stocks) and early 1970 (on the river) on the building of the container ship the Atlantic Conveyor which was sunk off the Falklands 1982 (its replacement was built further downriver at Swan Hunters in 1984)

  3. Alan Hayward says:

    Hi Vin,

    I’ll certainly keep my eyes open for anything that might relate to the Plumbers or Coppersmiths Departments. I’m hoping to put some images of the Naval Yard in future blogs and possibly also on flickr so watch out for those when they go live.

    Best wishes,

    Alan

  4. Sally Lisk-Lewis says:

    Hello Alan,

    My name is Sally and I source and clear archive for the BBC flagship series, COAST.

    We are about to film a feature about the SS Gairsoppa –a British cargo ship, sunk by a German U-boat in 1941, with only one survivor. The ship was built by Palmers at their yard in Jarrow – which I believe was then bought by Vickers-Armstrongs.

    A bit of a long shot this, but do you have any idea what happened to the Palmers archive? Did it form part of the Vickers-Armstrongs Collection which you are currently cataloguing? It’s just I’m rather hoping there are pictures of the ship available in the collection – but have no idea where to start looking!! We do have one image of SS Gairsoppa (formerly Roebuck) but are very keen to find more.

    Are you able to point me in the direction of any images, please?

    I look forward to hearing from you,

    Best wishes

    Sally

    Sally Lisk-Lewis
    Archive

    BBC Wales Factual & Music Department
    Room E4101, Broadcasting House, Llandaff, Cardiff, CF5 2YQ
    Tel: 029 2032 2577
    Email: SallyLisk.Lewis@bbc.co.uk
    Mob: 07974 692211

  5. Alan Hayward says:

    Hi Sally,

    Thanks for your e-mail. I don’t think we have any images of the Gairsoppa (relatively few Palmers records seem to have survived) but I’ll do a proper check and get back as soon as possible.

    Best wishes,

    Alan

  6. ann alexander says:

    Hi Alan,My namwe is Ann and I am related to the Thompsons.My gggrandmother was Sarah Ann Thompson of Newcastle upon tyne.Is she the same Sarah who donated funds.?I am also looking for information on Matthew Thompson(bounty mutineer)I believe he is also in my family tree.Do you know of him at all?Cheers ann

  7. Alan Hayward says:

    Hi Ann,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m afraid that we don’t seem to have any information about the Bounty mutineer, William Thompson. However, it might be worth contacting the Royal Naval Museum at Portsmouth since they seem to have some papers relating to the mutineers http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/rd/N13886919. It would also be a good idea to contact the National Archives http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ because they’ll have records relating to HMS Bounty.

    Best of luck with your research.

    Alan

  8. Robert M Cooper says:

    I am researching the life and work of Sir Dennistoun Burney, who had a life-long connection with Vickers through his paravanes, the Airship Guarantee Company and his work as a consultant to Vickers.
    Do you have any information and/or documentation, photos etc on Burney and Vickers?
    Thanks and best regards,
    Robert M Cooper
    07767 634 634

  9. Alan Hayward says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for your message. I’m not aware of any records relating to Sir Dennistoun Burney in our Vickers-Armstrong collection. If you haven’t already done so it would be a good idea to contact Cambridge University Library to see whether they can help you. The Library holds an extensive collection of Vickers records and you can find further information about the collection at the following webpage http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/db/node.xsp?id=EAD%2FGBR%2F0012%2FMS%20Vickers. Good luck with your research.

    Best wishes,

    Alan

  10. Paul Fontenoy says:

    I notice that the online catalogue does not seem to list ship plans for Elswick-built vessels – the yard number list jumps over them. Do these plans exist in the archive? Specifically, do any of the plans for the two small Spanish cruisers Isla de Luzon and Isla de Cuba (Yards Nos. 497 & 498) survive?

    Thank you for your help,

    Paul Fontenoy
    Curator – North Carolina Maritime Museum

    • Alan Hayward says:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for your message – sorry for the delay in responding. Our system has stopped automatically alerting me when blog comments are sent and I just spotted yours by chance.

      The plans for the Elswick-built ships will be added to the online catalogue next year once the cataloguing of the Vickers Armstrong collection is complete. I can, however, confirm that we don’t hold any plans of ‘Isla de Cuba’ or ‘Isla de Luzon’.

      We do have a photograph of the launch of ‘Isla de Cuba’ and if you’d be interested in that it would be a good idea to contact Ian Whitehead, our Keeper of Maritime History (email: research@twmuseums.org.uk).

      Two images of ‘Isla de Luzon’ also appear to be held by Newcastle Central Library. Contact details can be found on their webpages http://www.newcastle.gov.uk/leisure-libraries-and-tourism/libraries/local-studies-and-family-history.

      I hope this helps.

      Best wishes,

      Alan

  11. Dom Sore says:

    Alan

    Do you know if the Vickers Armstrong collection has any of the Whitehead & Co archive? I believe Vickers bought them out around the turn of the century, maybe a little earlier.

    I have a friend involved with the Whitehead torpedo restoration project down Portland way and they would be very interested in viewing the archive if some is available. They are attempting to get working copies of 8 marks of the Whitehead Torpedo.

    Thank you

    Dom

    • Alan Hayward says:

      Hi Dom,

      Thanks for getting in touch. There’s still quite a lot of unlisted material to go through in the Vickers Armstrong collection but I believe it does include a small amount of Whitehead & Co. material. I’ll keep your message on file and will get back in touch next year when I’ve got a better idea of precisely what we have.

      Best wishes,

      Alan

    • John Twydle says:

      My Grandfather worked at Whiteheads Torpedo factory at Weymouth during the second work war as a lathe operator. I have a few photographs of parts he used to make and of other family members I believe at the works. Please contact me if these are of any interest.
      John Twydle

  12. Ilya Tsarov says:

    In the T&W archives online catalogue in “DS.VA” section only folder 4 is listed. I’m searching for plans of screw iron steamer Ida (Palmer Brothers & Co, Jarrow, 1856) and I suppose that they may be held in Vickers Armstrong collection (in DS.VA/5/PL for example) but not shure. Will it be possible in the near future to take a look on a complete list of DS.VA funds in online catalogue?

    Best regards

    Ilya

    • Alan Hayward says:

      Hi Ilya,

      Thanks for getting in touch about plans of the ‘Ida’, built by Palmers’ in 1856 (yard no. 46).

      I’m afraid that we have very few plans for vessels built by Palmers’ and none for the mid 19th Century. If you haven’t already done so then it might be worth contacting the National Maritime Museum just in case they have any relevant plans or photographs. Contact details can be found on their webpages http://www.rmg.co.uk/contact/buy-ship-plans.

      Best wishes,

      Alan

      • Ilya Tsarov says:

        Hi Alan,

        Thank you very much for your response and for advise. I will send an enquiry to RMG.

        Best regards,

        Ilya

      • Ilya Tsarov says:

        Hi Alan,

        I got responce from RMG. Bad news for me. Those plans are not represented within their collections. Whereabouts of early Palmer’s plans becoming a mistery.

        Best regards,

        Ilya

        • Alan Hayward says:

          Hi Ilya,

          That’s a shame. I’m not completely surprised, though. Palmers Shipyard closed in 1933 at a time when there wasn’t an appropriate local record office to collect and preserve the company’s records. As a result relatively few documents seem to have survived.

          Best wishes,

          Alan

  13. mary o connel says:

    I have 4 wage slips from Vickers Armstrong Scotswood Works dated 1942
    also tax deductions from wages all in the name of Simpson., also letter of ref., for Mr..Simpson from The Weardale Steel, Coal & Coke co. ltd., Are these of any value

    • Alan Hayward says:

      Hi Mary,

      Many thanks for getting in touch. I’m afraid that wage slips, tax deduction papers and letters of reference for individual employees wouldn’t usually be of long-term historical value to a record office like ours. These usually mean most to the family of the person they belonged to. It’s really thoughtful of you to get in touch, though. Please do contact us again if you come across any other historic documents.

      All the best,

      Alan

  14. David Blenkinsop says:

    Hi. I have many old photos of the Vickers Armstrong Gymnastics team from the 1940’s and 50’s. My father was a member of the team. If you are interested I would be happy to scan and email to you.

    • George Hopkins says:

      I was a member of the Vickers Armstrongs Gymnastics Team in 1956 and would be interested in any photos you can scan and email

      • Alan Hayward says:

        Hi George,

        Thanks for getting in touch. Vickers Armstrongs kept a large collection of glass plate negatives, taken by its Photographic Dept. A volunteer is currently working through these and if any turn up of the Gymnastics Team I’ll let you know.

        Best wishes,

        Alan

    • Craig Burton says:

      Would be interested in any pictures of the gymnastics.

      Think there may be a link to gymnastics in Darlington and billingham.

  15. Alan Hayward says:

    Hi David,

    Many thanks for getting in touch about your photos of the Vickers Armstrong Gymnastics team. We wouldn’t take scans but if you’d be prepared to donate the original prints then we’d certainly be interested. I’ll completely understand though if you prefer to hold on to them, given the personal significance of the photos.

    If you want to get in touch offline please do sent me an e-mail (archives@twmuseums.org.uk).

    Best wishes,

    Alan

  16. Helen Parker says:

    I have an original ‘Indenture of Apprenticeship’ dated November 6th 1914. The name on it is Ernest Laverick, who I think was my Great Uncle. He trained as a Plater at The Armstrong Naval Yard, High Walker. Just wondered if this would be of any interest to you?
    Thanks.
    Helen

  17. Alan Hayward says:

    Hi Helen,

    Many thanks for getting in touch about the apprenticeship indenture. We have quite a few in our collections and so will have to turn this one down. It’s really thoughtful of you to have contacted us, though. Please do get in touch again if you come across any other items that you think might be of interest.

    All the best,

    Alan

  18. James Farrimond says:

    Good afternoon all

    My grandmother worked as a riviter at Vickers in Crayford during WWII. Can anyone tell me where I might find employment records?

    Regards

    James

  19. E G (Geoff) Pogson says:

    Hi Alan.
    I am wondering if you might have records, or access to records of Vickers small arms work during WW2. I am an Historic arms collector In Sydney Australia, and a few months ago I was advised of a Vickers Vanguard, semi hammerless, modified 12bore shotgun. It was quite distinctive having a barrel of only 18 inches length, with the stock cut very short and fitted with a pistol grip. I was told that its recent history was in the Cattle industry of the Northern Territory, where it was carried by horsemen musterers, probably in the fifties -sixties, as they all use helicopters now. There is a well made leather holster, with saddle straps to attach to a riders saddle kit.
    I was told they these modified guns where quite numerous in the Territory, and factory modified. It was also suggested that the RAF trained the air-gunners in the turrets of Wellington and Lancaster bombers, by clay target shooting. first in the normal way, at a firing line and then in a replica Turret on a trailer, with a single barrelled shotgun shooting clays from the turret, to get muscle and brain tuned to the process of using feet to move the turret electrically while trying to train and fire a shotgun at a speeding clay bird, I have a video clip of such a turret set up, filmed of my computer screen,
    The Vanguard shotguns were made in the 1920’s at Crayford, and there was a suggestion that they were modified at Crayford for use in the turret training.
    Of course other brands of gun were also used in this way, but I wondered if there were any records of such work being undertaken by Vickers, probably modifying old unsold stock.
    I now own this odd shotgun, which is registered, and I am hoping to write an article for the Arms Cavalcade, magazine of the Antique arms collectors Society of Australia, in Sydney, but I would like to write something authentic and not based on what I have been told by the seller that I bought it from.
    Any information or suggestions of where I can turn to next would be very welcome
    Best regards
    Geoff Pogson
    Sydney
    Australia

    • Alan Hayward says:

      Hi Geoff,

      It sounds like you’ve got an unusual item there. I’m afraid that we don’t have any records of shotguns manufactured at Crayford in the 1920s or modified during the Second World War.

      It might be worth contacting Cambridge University Library since they hold a significant quantity of Vickers material. Contact details can be found here http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/a?_ref=12.

      Best of luck with your research.

      Alan

      • Glenn says:

        hi I have a Vickers-Armstrongs wooden officers cupboard dated on the back 1952 with vickers-armstrongs on it is this worth anything

  20. Good afternoon
    One of the topics I am doing research on is the intended building by the Royal Netherlands Navy of dreadnoughts before the First World War. Several shipyards abroad were asked for tenders. Vickers seemed to have sent several including No.s 694-695. I found at least one yet not mentioned namely No.607. However there is also table preserved supplying some details of more tenders. Is there an overall list available of all the designs of Vickers between 1909 and 1914 and are there records preserved with this topic?
    sincerely yours
    Ron van Maanen, Netherlands

  21. Alan David says:

    Does the Archive have any information covering the production of small arms at Crayford?

    Regards

    Alan David
    Sydney
    Australia

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