‘Fred’s Shed’ is a remarkable hidden gem on the River Tyne. Tucked away down a back street with unexpectedly dramatic views down the riverfront, this is the last traditional boatyard in North East England.
‘Fred’s’, as it is affectionately known, is not your average shed. Once inside, 300 years of Tyneside’s boat building heritage comes alive in a space that shouts out ‘save me’.
Now comes the great news that the shed is to be saved as a heritage resource, thanks to the North East Maritime Trust in South Shields.
Inside the Shed
Until recently, the historic shed could only be seen by boat fanatics and volunteers working with the North East Maritime Trust.
But the times they are changing, and Fred’s Shed is being opened up to the wider public. I was lucky enough to be invited along for a sneak preview this weekend.
I felt privileged to step into this incredible space which provides a rare glimpse of what a boatyard must have looked like in its heyday when workers crafted boats from great chunks of wood.
The shed has a great atmosphere. It’s a cavernous space, stuffed with relics of the boat builders’ craft including ropes, tools and wood working instruments. You can imagine the sights, sounds and smells of the workers labouring at their craft in days gone by.
It’s also a relic of a bygone era when many yards of its kind could be found on the river banks of the north-east coast. Today, Fred’s Shed is the only one left.
At the turn of the century, when wooden boats were common, these yards were the life-blood of the river, where the traditional skills needed to keep boats afloat were preserved.
I’m thrilled that the shed will be restored and brought back to life. For the last 25 years, it was run by boat builder Fred Crowell but following his retirement, North East Maritime Trust stepped in to acquire it.
Now the general public are being invited inside for a rare look around. The boat shed will be open to the public on Saturday 25 June from 11:00-15:00 when volunteers from the North East Maritime Trust will be on hand to show visitors around the yard.
After several years of neglect, however, the building is in a poor state of repair. The North East Maritime Trust is launching an appeal to raise £28,000 for a new roof and other improvements which they hope will make the shed into an even more exciting place to develop boat building skills and for people to visit.
You don’t have to be boat mad to enjoy a trip to Fred’s Shed and the Maritime Trust’s small museum next door. There is something evocative about this location and the romance of boat building, especially in today’s machine-driven age.
Right now, the Royal Diadem II, is the first boat to be brought into the newly acquired shed for maintenance. It seems appropriate because this was also the first boat ever to be restored by the North East Maritime Trust
She looks great sitting on top of the slipway rails which will allow her back into the river once refitted.
The slipway into the Tyne is a real bonus for the shed as it allows boats to be winched out of the river for maintenance and repair.
This facility was not available to the trust until now and allows them to increase their ability to maintain wooden boats and offer the traditional boat building skills to people interested in learning them.
The people working on Fred’s Shed are my heritage heroes of the week. This is creating a fantastic opportunity to keep the maritime heritage of North East England alive.
This historic building could have been lost forever without the hard graft of the North East Maritime Trust.
Then there’s the important job of reviving boat building skills which are bring lost – and handing them down from generation to generation.
Jerry Dudman from the Trust told me, “If we hadn’t managed to agree the 30-year lease with the landlords South Tyneside Council, it’s highly likely that the land would have been put to another use and the boatyard facility gone for ever.
“We’ve now got a big job clearing out what’s gathered inside since Victorian times, but we don’t want to lose the historical interest of the place because it’s part of the history of this river.”
Restoring the past
Next door, the Trust have several exciting projects taking place which the public can see during open days and weekend tours.
Most impressive is the Henry Frederick Swan, the world’s second oldest lifeboat, which is being restored to its former glory. Originally built in 1917, this is a huge job for the restoration team. The oak rudder alone is huge!
Restoration is expected to be complete by late 2016 and it’s hoped that the boat will make her way out of the Tyne piers once again, accompanied by the current Tynemouth lifeboat Spirit of Northumberland.
Dwarfed by the lifeboat is the much smaller ‘foy’ boat Joan which dates from around 1920. Foy boats like Joan were mainly used to assist the mooring and servicing of larger vessels.
Her restoration is nearing completion and she’s looking splendid after getting a full paint job. Joan is extremely cute if you like little boats.
At this point I have to declare a personal interest because my partner in crime, Tony, is one of the many volunteers working on this project. Here he is sitting on the boat which he helped to paint.
Meanwhile, next door, Fred’s Shed makes for an intriguing trip out for anyone who loves history and industrial heritage.
This is the the start of something special at Fred’s Shed. Why not grab your ticket to the open day for a sneak preview of what’s to come? This is one trip that’s guaranteed to float your boat!
Tammy’s Guide – North East Maritime Trust
The North East Maritime Trust is staffed entirely by volunteers and is dedicated to maintaining traditional craft skills, so if you fancy helping out, why not get in touch.
The Trust runs courses in traditional boat building at their yard on Wapping Street in South Shields, which is next door to the Fred’s Shed boat yard.
For updates about open days and tours, check out the North East Maritime Trust’s Facebook page There are also great views along the River Tyne from the outside yards.
Watch a video about the history of ‘Fred’s Shed’ on YouTube