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Last updated:17 April 2015

Shipconstructors' and Shipwrights Association

Associated Shipwrights Society emblemThe Ship Constructive and Shipwrights' Association was formed in 1908. It later became known as the Ship Constructors and Shipwrights' Association. It developed out of problems arising from a loss of status of the shipwrights when shipbuilding changed from wood to iron and sail to steam power.

In 1850 the United Kingdom Alliance of Associated Shipwrights had been formed as a loosely organised federal association of local autonomous societies. It failed to develop any form of centralised structure, or indeed, to reach agreement on the relationship of the local societies to a central structure. Local societies were reluctant to surrender parochial control of their assets and in that situation, each society tended to find its own solution. Even a change of title in 1878 to United Kingdom Amalgamated Society of Shipwrights failed to achieve any significant cohesion of the independent shipwrights' societies and the amalgamation became merely a discussion forum unable to stand comparison with the 'new model' amalgamated unionism of the Boilermakers or Engineers.

Glasgow Shipwrights Society chest

Glasgow Shipwrights Society chest

In 1882, as a result of initiatives taken by Glasgow and North Eastern societies, the Associated Society of Shipwrights was formed from eleven local societies at Glasgow, Govan, Leith, Clydebank, Greenock, Aberdeen, Dundee, Dumbarton, Jarrow, Tyne, (Heburn) and Walker. They were quickly joined by seven other societies at Preston, Port Glasgow, Kinghorn, Grangemouth, Fleetwood, Barrow and Whitehaven which spread the society's influence beyond Tyneside and Glasgow.

Later the title was changed to The Associated Shipwrights' Society in an attempt to unify the shipwrights working in timber and iron. Gradually other independent societies joined:

Society Formed Joined
Runcorn Shipwrights 1871 1892
South Shields Shipwrights 1823 1893
Cardiff Shipwrights 1852 1893
Passage West Shipwrights, Cork 1855 1893
Wexford Shipwrights' Association 1861 1893
City of Dublin Shipwrights 1887 1893
Belfast Shipwrights' Assoication 1855 1893
Newry and Warrenpoint Shipwrights 1889 1893
Liverpool Shipwrights' Society 1889 1894
Queenstown Shipwrights 1856 1894
Liverpool Mast and Block Makers 1848 1897
Wear Boat Builders Benevolent Society (Monkwearmouth) 1872 1898
River Thames Shipwrights' Protective and Benefit Society 1874 1899
Boat Builders' Union of the River Thames 1840 1899
Newport-Monmouth Shipwrights' Society 1858 1903
Gloucester Shipwrights' Society 1858 1903
Wear Shipwrights' Benevolent Society [including Hylton Shipwrights] 1846 1908
Shipwrights and Shipwrights' Ironworks Society 1882 1908
London and District Society of Drillers 1889 1908


Liverpool Shipwrights Association plaque

Liverpool Shipwrights Association plaque

The name was then changed to Shipconstructive and Shipwrights' Association in 1908 after several major amalgamations. This brought an amalgamation with the Amalgamated Society of Drillers and Hole Cutters which in 1896 had itself been an amalgamation of some twenty five independent societies. In 1913, the North East Coast Riggers' Association joined and in 1919, the last of the old shipwright societies, the Liverpool Shipwrights' Trade and Friendly Society (1794) was absorbed.

In January 1963, it became part of the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Blacksmiths, Shipbuilders and Structural Workers which itself amalgamated to become the General Municipal and Boilermakers Society.

Major issues in the history of the union included piece work to which the union was hostile as being conducive to poor workmanship; demarcation primarily with the carpenters and joiners; the balance of power between the Executive and the local societies as expressed through circulars and delegate conferences. Alexander Wilkie played a central part in the development of the early years of the Union.

Apart from papers relating to union business, the bound volumes of Reports and papers include material relating to the following:

  • Federation of Engineering and Shipbuilding Trades
  • General Federation of Trades Unions
  • Labour Representation Committee and Labour Party.
  • Trades Union Congress and Scottish Trades Union Congress.

Many of these papers are the inaugural and early Reports and Conference papers and in addition there is material on: Housing, Old Age Pensions, Education, Boer War, Land, Co-partnership, Anti-vivisection, Public Transport.

We are grateful to the Chairman of The Friends Of The Library, John Smethurst, for assistance in compiling this brief history of the Shipwrights.

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