Harland and Wolff - Shipbuilding and Engineering Works
How many know of the Inglis Bakery Story?
“A manager was sometimes called a ‘hat’. They wore white helmets but in bygone days they wore bowlers. A foreman was a ‘gaffer’. The sun was often referred to as McCormick. I’m not sure why. Imagine the confused apprentice who was told ‘here’s McCormick!’ A shed was never a shed, but a ‘shade’. Yardmen always made tea in tin cans with a wire handle - though never called a ‘can’ - but a ‘ken’. A strike, walkout or protest was always preceded by calls of ‘up the road’. A place to take tea breaks, usually built out of wood, was known as a dugout, a terminology probably brought back from the trenches. Toilets were ‘the minutes’. In days of yore seven minutes was the allotted time, and was diligently timed by clerks who were given a rather uncouth nickname that almost rhymed with ‘ship-house’! At least one minutes clerk was still working in the yard as recently as the early 1970s. Although time was no longer monitored in the 70s, the clerk watched very closely to see how much of the hard, shiny, H&W-stamped toilet paper you took off the single roll which hung at the turnstile in front of his office. Labourers working with the ‘heaving-squad’ who lifted sections of the hull by crane were called ‘bull runties’ - I’ve never figured that one out either. Overalls were called ‘linens’ by older workers, who were always referred to as ‘oul lads’. Anyone who stuck anything in their ears to protect them from the painful noise was often laughed at. An apprentice was always ‘a boy’, which didn’t sit well with some! We used a basic sign language in the yard - usually for ‘what time is it?’ or ‘here comes a hat!’ A diligent worker was ‘a snick’, a tiny measurement was ‘a nyim’ or ‘a bee’s wing’, and a botched job was greeted with ‘Quick! Throw your hat over that!’ (To hide it.) A ‘knee-beg’ was a term that was applied to various kinds of people, from someone considered to be not very bright to those regarded as ‘riff-raff’, usually outside the yard. A ‘knee-bag’ was in fact a sack stuffed with rags to kneel on, often used by a caulker, who was called ‘a machine man’. An ‘empty head’ was another derogatory term. Swear words, as can be imagined, were liberally used, though there were two exceptions; the word that questioned the marital status of a workers’ parents, or taking the Lord’s name in vain, which was just not done. When a workman died he went to ‘the other yard’. Length of service in the yard was often counted in winters, not years, due to the relentless hardship of working outdoors. There was no compulsory retirement in the 1970s, and many men worked on into their 70s and 80s. I can remember a caulker, reputedly 86 years old, still working the night shift - iron men, steel ships! Strangely, Titanic was rarely mentioned, even by these ‘oul lads.’”
Years before Brands Dock was built the piece of land at the deep water was called McKibben's point. There was a small house there and a bell that sounded when it was foggy weather. When everyone knocked off and headed home up the Queens Road two men headed down the Road. It was only when I had to do a rigging job in the Boat shed I found out they were brothers and were called McKibben. Yes, they were born in that wee house and still lived in it for some time. Maybe if there are some older joiners still living who remember them can give some more info on them.
Apprentice riggers did their first 6 months in the Rigging shop at the Thompson Works ( gate no 8) bottom of Queens Road. I was asked which yard I wanted to go to and as I only had to go over Fraser Street bridge picked the EAST YARD as it was called. I went to the Riggers store looking for David Calder the foreman and was told he was out on the slips but this guy said he would take me to him. Instead of walking round the head of the slips we went underneath the ships between the keel blocks .As we ducked under the third keel there was an almighty bang and a fellow began waving his fist and shouting up to someone and as I straightened up all I could see was a metal plate with 2 legs sticking out and what seemed like blood. After being violently sick I was taken to the First Aid where it was explained to me it had all been a joke as the plate was part of a wooden crate painted to look like a steel plate and the blood was only RED LEAD
A production meeting chaired by a production director well known around "The Yard" for his aggressive almost bully nature would take an interesting twist. As per normal with this director he would organise production meetings with the senior foremen after the end of the normal dayshift. This day one of the foremen was due to pick his wife up in Belfast and therefore asked the director if he could deal with his business first so he could make a quick getaway. However, as the meeting commenced it became clear that his request was being ignored. So, as time pressed on up popped the foreman and he made for the door to which a rather loud "Where da f#@k do you think you're going?" to which the response came "There's only one person in this world that I'm freighted of more than you and she's standing waiting on the Queen's Bridge". the place erupted.
"The Yard" could be an unforgiving place for the young graduate manager's. It was reported to one that "The grinders kept tripping" to which he replied, "I'll have a word with them in the morning". He was never allowed to forget; this story did the rounds for some time!
A welder was coming out of the bank on the QueensRoad when he met one of the shop stewards. They stood chatting for a while then the Steward boasted about getting one of the last remaining books on 125 years of H&W. When the Steward went on his way the Welder went across the road into the main offices and inquired about getting a copy of the book.
He spun the yarn he was only out of the Hospital the previous week after going through a big operation and didn't know the book had to be preorderd. As he was leaving empty handed one of the office girls who had overheard the conversation told him to call back after lunch and she might be able to source one for him. He called back and lo and behold one of the junior office girls had bought the book but had changed her mind so sold it to the Welder. When the Welder got home and opened the cardboard package he discovered the book he had bought was a signed copy. Unfortunately he had to keep quiet about it as no one would believe him. I did for I have that book.
An Aul Hand was caught sloping off to get his hair cut. The boss give him a right telling off, warning him that he should'nt be getting his hair cut on company time to which the reply came "well why not it bloody grew on company time!"
If anyone has any ineresting Yarns/Stories relating to life in Harland and Wolff and would like them added to the page please e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org