When the British Cavalier was launched at Joseph Thompson & Sons’ North Sands shipyard in Sunderland on 19 June 1962, it was the biggest vessel built on the River Wear at the time. It’s an impressive sight when the great drag chains on the ways kick up clouds of dust as they break the ship’s path on the river. A large crowd watch from the South Bank, a reflection of the great local pride in the craft of world class cargo ship builders on the Wear.
Robert Thompson and his sons set up a shipbuilding firm at North Sands on 13 February 1846. By 1884 they were the leading shipbuilder on the Wear and dominated the waterfront. The company’s S.S. Empire Liberty, launched in 1941, was the inspiration for a whole fleet of 2,710 Liberty vessels built by the United States government between 1942 and 1945, which contributed to the Allies’ victory in World War Two. Three launches a day were not uncommon on a river studded with small shipbuilding yards. But the 6 March 1947 was a magnificent day for Sunderland when 3 ships were launched in an hour. Joseph L. Thompson & Sons finally shut down in 1976, and sadly the last shipyard on the River Wear closed in 1988.
North East Film Archive is one of a network of regional film archives established to collect, preserve and show film made in, or about the North East of England. Our collections are non-fiction, and date from the early 1900s to the present day, providing a rich record of life in the region over the 20th century. Many of our films are available to watch, free of charge, on our website.