Old apprenticeship registers discovered at Discovery Museum

As an archivist it’s always a great feeling when you receive an exciting new donation or you discover a fascinating document in your collections. I experienced that feeling earlier this week as I was working in the Discovery Museum loft with Colin, my colleague on the Sunderland shipbuilding archives project.

Colin and I were called in to look at various collections of documents held by the Museum because it was believed that they included a large number of shipyard records. Many of these were donated in large quantities in the late 1970s and 1980s and were stored so that they could one day be catalogued and made available for research. This role of rescuing items for the future is a common feature of the work of archivists and curators.

The work of sorting and appraising these documents was certainly worthwhile because we found interesting material relating to several Sunderland shipyards including Bartram & Sons Ltd and William Doxford & Sons Ltd. However, the most exciting finds relate to a Tyneside business, R. & W. Hawthorn Leslie & Co Ltd, an internationally renowned builder of ships, locomotives and marine engines. The company was created in 1886 by the amalgamation of two firms – the Newcastle upon Tyne engineers R. & W. Hawthorn (who had works at Forth Banks and St Peter’s) and the shipbuilding company A. Leslie & Co, based at Hebburn.

Aerial photograph of St Peter's Works, Newcastle upon Tyne taken by Turners (Photography) Ltd, 1957 (TWAM ref. 3396/18478J)

As we were sorting through various documents stored on a pallet we came across two old registers. The excitement built as we read the works ‘apprenticeship register’ on the spines and grew when we looked inside and discovered that they once belonged to an illustrious local firm.

The two Hawthorn Leslie apprenticeship registers (TWAM ref. DS.HL/2/106/1-2)

The registers date from 1877 to 1978 and contain details of the men and women who served apprenticeships at Hawthorn Leslie’s marine engineering works at St Peter’s in Newcastle upon Tyne. The earliest entries up to 1886 relate to the firm R. & W. Hawthorn before it merged with A. Leslie & Co. The information given includes: 

  • Name of apprentice
  • Parent’s name (usually the father)
  • Trade
  • Length of apprenticeship.
  • Date of indenture
  • Rates of pay
  • Date agreement expires
  • Home address


Pages from the earlier apprenticeship register (TWAM ref. DS.HL/2/106/1)

Detailed view of entries in apprenticeship register (TWAM ref. DS.HL/2/106/1)

I’m sure that this discovery will be of real interest to family historians and is a particularly exciting find because personnel records have often not survived well within the business records for Tyne & Wear.

The Archives already holds a large, well used collection of Hawthorn Leslie records and the apprentice registers are an exciting addition to it. The registers can be viewed in the Archives searchroom, although access restrictions may apply to entries from 1926 onwards. Details of our location and opening times can be found on our webpages.

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