Exhibition and Stage
From the outset, one of the central goals of the ‘Trawling Through Time’ project was to create a legacy that educates mainstream audiences about the story of Cook, Welton & Gemmell, so that its heritage is allowed to continue and thrive beyond the lifespan of our own project.
It’s always difficult to implement and measure something like this, as it requires other people to take inspiration from the project’s outcomes and carry it forward in their own way. So, imagine our delight when the project was used as the foundation for two major public events to promote the history of the company; an exhibition on Beverley Shipbuilding at the town’s Guildhall Museum, and a theatre production about the Grovehill shipyard and its workers, called ‘Broadside On’.
Boats were actually being built in Beverley for centuries before the Cook, Welton & Gemmell shipyard developed into one of the town’s most important industries in the mid 20th century.
The exhibition, also called ‘Trawling Through Time’, includes digitised archive material produced by our volunteers and develops the content with artefacts from the Grovehill Shipyard, held by East Riding Museums Service, as well as other panels that cover the wider story of shipbuilding in Beverley, which has allowed the company’s story to be placed in context of the town’s industrial activity.
Boats were actually being built in Beverley for centuries before the Cook, Welton & Gemmell shipyard developed into one of the town’s most important industries in the mid 20th century. Wooden boats were built on the Beck from medieval times until the 1950s, and the Grovehill shipyard itself was originally started in 1763. The exhibition looks at the early history of Grovehill, the Cook, Welton & Gemmell years, and the final days of the industry in the 1970s. The two main carpenters’ yards on the Beck are also covered, as well as the ferry and bridge linking the Grovehill yard to another, lesser known shipyard started by Joseph Scarr on the east side of the river in 1892.
It’s a fine example of how collections from East Riding Archives can be used for creative interpretation in a professional theatrical performance.
In tandem with the exhibition, the actor Gordon Meredith also wrote and performed a play called ‘Broadside On: Echoes from the Shipyard’ which used the archive interviews with ex shipyard workers, recorded by Dr Alex Ombler for the ‘Trawling Through Time’ project , as the main basis for its script. It’s a fine example of how collections from East Riding Archives can be used for creative interpretation in a professional theatrical performance.
The play puts Meredith, and his son Joshua, in the roles of various shipyard workers being given the unexpected task of guiding a group of tourists (the audience) around the facility and educating them with various anecdotes about life in the shipyard. The father & son team were able to bring the archival evidence to life with humour and acoustic song, complemented by an atmospheric sound score from Wai Wan. The narrative was punctuated with subtle nuances from the interviews, such as the hearing impairment suffered by one ex-shipyard worker as a result of the constant hammering as a riveter, and a tale about company director Ambrose Hunter, always having to wear a bowler hat on site, to protect his head in case of stray rivets being thrown at him by any workers bearing a grudge!
It was first performed at the East Riding Theatre on 16th February as part of the Stage4Beverley Festival and then again on 4th April at The Beverley Guildhall Museum, with an audience of 100 across two matinee performances.
Fiona Jenkinson, curator of the Guildhall, said “We are particularly pleased that we are able to present the history of this important industry, not only in our traditional exhibition format, but also as a play that brings to life what it was like to work at the shipyard.”
The exhibition began on 20th March but will run until 19th July 2019, so it’s well worth a look. More details are available on the Guildhall Museum website.
Sam Bartle: Digital Archivist, and Project Co-ordinator
(East Riding Archives)