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'Where Ships Were Born'

In this extensive body of work I have explored the location of what was once dubbed 'the largest shipbuilding town in the world', capturing the changing environment of the last surviving shipyard in Sunderland; Pallion Engineering.

Sunderland has a proud 600 year history of shipbuilding, which in the early 1900's employed 12,000 men; over a third of the town's adult population. Now the workforce is a mere half dozen and their future is uncertain. The city, like the shipyard, is changing. Wearside, once an industrial hub is undergoing a transformation, old industries dying and new businesses sprouting. The region developed as a coal port but it was Sunderland's superior shipbuilding which brought Wearside world recognition. Sunderland has been producing ships since 1346 and has been the birthplace of many famous vessels including 'The Torrens' on which Joseph Conrad sailed and began his first novel whilst aboard. Between 1939 and 1945 the Wear yards launched 245 merchant ships totalling 1.5 million tons, a quarter of the merchant tonnage produced in the UK at this period. Competition from overseas caused a downturn in demand for Sunderland built ships toward the end of the twentieth century.

Large ships are no longer built in Sunderland, but part of the industry does still remain; predominantly the refurbishment and demolition of vessels. The yard has been sectioned into smaller units where a variety of work takes place, the core of the work reflects the previous uses of the space; steel being the material which links many of the businesses. However the offices of Pallion Engineering have been long since abandoned leaving behind a Mary Celeste style shrine. The once opulent board room with adjoining dining room and kitchen constructed at the height of Pallion ambition now lay abandoned as moss and ferns cover every surface. Desks, chairs and filing cabinets remain in the spaces where plans were drawn and deals were made.

During my life I have been witness to many changes; I grew up during a time of mass privatization of the Nations industries and have watched societies change, unemployment rise and fall as job roles and identities shift. I left school at a desolate and difficult time in North East England; the year the ship building industry was all but closed down. On my return to the area over 13 years later I began the journey to document this, the last working ship yard in Sunderland.            

Paul Alexander Knox