This film is part of Free

How the Boat Comes In

Captain Purvis muses on his long life as a river pilot and the generations of men in his family who guided ships on the Tyne.

Documentary 1980 26 mins

From the collection of:

Logo for North East Film Archive


A river runs through the life of Captain George Purvis and generations of men who lived on the Lawe in South Shields. On the eve of his retirement, this agile 70 year old looks back at his time as a river pilot on the Tyne, an exclusive vocation traditionally passed on from father to son in Shields families. The first Purvis pilot on record dates back to 1797. His extraordinary navigational skill is in evidence as he guides ships into dock, some the length of 3 football pitches.

This fascinating edition of the Tyne Tees TV regional programme Northern Scene, which ran from the 1970s through to the 80s, was broadcast on 24th April 1980. The monopoly on the recruitment of Tyne pilots (once the reserve of the religious community of the Brethren of Trinity House in Newcastle) remained unbroken for hundreds of years until the end of the 20th century. Captain Purvis is retiring at a time of huge changes in pilotage on the Tyne. Some younger pilots like John Marshall seem happy to see women recruited as pilots. But trade on the river, once inextricably linked with coal, declined with the 1984 national miners' strike. Marshall was forced to take work in the Arabian Gulf until 1988.