Recent discoveries from the Sunderland shipbuilding archives project

I am delighted to announce that work has started on the ‘We ‘Mak’em’ Sunderland Shipbuilding archives project. This is the first in a series of blogs that will report on the project’s progress and highlight any exciting discoveries I make. Background information about the project can be found on our website.

The Sunderland Shipbuilding archives that we hold include a vast quantity of material rescued by our archivists during the shipyard closures in the 1980s. Many of these documents have lain undisturbed on shelves and in boxes for over twenty years. Working on these records is really exciting because I never know what treasures may emerge as I open each box or look along our shelves. I started by sorting through large quantities of unlisted archives from the firm William Doxford & Sons Ltd, which was as well known for the marine diesel engines it produced as it was for the ships it launched.

Yours truly looking along the shelves in our storage areas

So far I’ve looked through a lot of operational material relating to the Doxford Engine works including engine particular books, test bed and sea trial records, machinery contracts and engine and machinery specifications. I’ve also uncovered a large quantity of personnel records including officials wages books dating back to 1881 and an apprentice register covering the years 1912-1948.

In mid-July I also found four wage books for an unidentified shipyard. Fortunately, the wage books seem to cover the whole of the yard’s staff from the apprentices through to the directors. With a little investigation I was able to establish that one of the directors listed in the wage book, Allan J. Marr, worked for the shipyard of Sir James Laing & Sons Ltd. I have to admit that this sort of detective work is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job as an archivist.

Wage book entries for the Directors of Sir James Laing & Sons Ltd, TWAM ref. 2276 (unlisted)

Once these wage books have been catalogued I’m sure that these will be of great interest to family historians. I am hopeful that these finds are just the tip of the iceberg and I look forward to reporting back with details of more exciting discoveries over the coming months.

15 Responses to Recent discoveries from the Sunderland shipbuilding archives project

  1. This looks like a really interesting project! I have just started a similar cataloguing project at Wolverhampton Archives so I look forward to reading about your project and seeing how it progresses. I have also had the Eureka moment of identifying an unknown volume so I know how satisfying it is to find the answer! I think our projects may have a lot in common…

    • Alan Hayward says:

      Hi Kimberley,

      Thanks for you kind comments. Your project looks really interesting too and I’ll be sure to keep an eye on your blog.

      Best wishes,


  2. L.S.
    As a retired Chief Engineer from the Dutch Merchant, Navy I am interested in a court case brought by Doxford against Harland & Wolff for patent infringement, in detail by the court.
    I believe it took place in the late ‘60’s perhaps early ‘70’s
    Perhaps you are able to help me in this case or know the right way to get this information
    Thanks in advance
    Kind Regards

    • Alan Hayward says:

      Thanks for getting in touch. We hold a huge quantity of Doxford records but unfortunately we won’t start cataloguing them for a few months. When I do start work on the Doxford material, I’ll make sure to look out for any references to the patent infringement you are interested in. I’ll let you know if anything turns up. Best wishes,

      • Dear Sir,
        Thanks so, far I am really looking forward to the outcome from the court case
        Kind Regards

      • Alfons Verheijden says:

        Dear Sir,
        Thanks so, far I am really looking forward to the outcome from the court case
        Kind Regards
        Dear Sir,
        Is there any progress in this matter’?
        I am willing to pay for the costs involved
        Awaiting your answer
        Kind Regards
        Alfons Verheijden (Doxford enthusiast)

        • Alan Hayward says:

          Dear Mr Verheijden,

          Thanks for your e-mail. All the relevant Doxford records have now been catalogued. Sadly, I haven’t come across any papers relating to the court case that you’re interested in. If you happen to know which court dealt with the case then it might be worth checking the court records to see what the outcome was.

          If I should come across any other information about the case between Doxfords and Harland & Wolff I will of course contact you again.

          Best wishes,


  3. suzie hole says:

    hi i think what you are doing is great as this needs to be passed onto future generations. i feel strong about this as my ancestors were doxfords my mums maiden name was doxford. i would love to know more about doxford shipbuilding

  4. Alan Hayward says:

    Thanks for your kind message. By a happy coincidence I start cataloguing the Doxford records today. There’s a lot of material so it’ll keep me very busy for the next few months. I’m sure that Colin and I will have plenty of exciting discoveries to report so please do keep reading the blogs.

  5. Keith Reynolds says:

    We have had a ships bell in our family for a number of years and recently I decided to find out more about it hence the email. It has, Dolbadern Castle 1863, Bombay, inscribed on it. The history suggests that it was built in Sunderland, any ideas how I could go about varifiying the authenticity of the bell? Regards Keith Reynolds

  6. Alan Hayward says:

    Thanks for your message. A quick check on the Miramar Ship Index shows that ‘Dolbadern Castle’ was built in 1863 by the Sunderland shipbuilding firm of Oswald, located at Pallion. I’m afraid that we don’t have any records for that firm – I assume that they simply haven’t survived. I’m afraid that I can’t advise you about the bell’s authenticity but I’ll bring your message to the attention of a colleague who may be able to help.

  7. Julie Gill says:

    I read with interest about your archiving project, I am one of Sir James Laing’s gt gt grand daughters by his first son, Philip Henry and have thoroughly enjoyed searching my family history. We are a narrow ‘branch’ as Philip Henry only had one son. I live in Dorset and one day I hope to visit Sunderland with my cousin, who has the same level of interest as me. I look forward to finding details of Philip Henry’s involvement in the yard

  8. Alan Hayward says:

    Dear Julie,

    Thank you very much for your e-mail. It would be great if you could visit us one day to look through the archives of Sir James Laing & Sons. You can find details of our location and opening times on our website

    As well as the main shipyard records the archives holds some personal family papers including Philip Henry Laing’s private ledger covering the years 1874-1900 (TWAM ref. DS.LG/6/4), which may be of interest to you. I really hope that you can pay us a visit.

    Best wishes,


  9. Mark Waller says:

    Hi, Great project!
    I am interested in the passenger ship, “Duncan Dunbar”, built in 1857 by Laings of Sunderland. My great grandparents were aboard when this ship was wrecked in 1865. They came to know each other whilst perilously stranded on a barren strip of rocky land mid atlantic and married after their lucky rescue!
    I have a number of records which I would be happy to share with you, including my great grandfather’s remarkable account of the wrecking, their ordeal and their eventual rescue. I even have their original ticket!
    I have collected a variety of prints, documents and newspaper cuttings about the Duncan Dunbar, but what I really want to track down are some plans or drawings from which I could construct an accurate model.
    Are you able to find me plans of this ship or point me to whoever holds the records from Laings Shipyard, please.

  10. Alan Hayward says:

    Dear Mark,

    Thank you for your kind words about the project. We’ve catalogued all the records we hold for Sir James Laing & Sons but sadly these don’t include any plans for as early as the 1850s. The earliest plan we hold dates from 1872. I’m not aware of any Laing plans held elsewhere, although you could always try contacting the National Maritime Museum to see whether they can help

    Best of luck with your research.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

What is 5 + 4 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
IMPORTANT! To be able to proceed, you need to solve the following simple math (so we know that you are a human) :-)