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Friday, August 23, 2019

Crystal Palace

The editor’s piece in ‘From The Lookout’ in the February 2014 edition of Sea Breezes regarding the Woodside Hotel in Aberdour (Fife, Scotland) and the magnificent stained glass ceiling, originating from the ss Orontes, when she was broken up at T&W Ward’s yard at Inverkeithing in 1926 interested me greatly.

I was born and brought up in Rosyth and got to know the Woodside Hotel very well indeed. The hotel had a large lounge overlooking the main A92, and on Sundays evenings in the early 1950s a trio played in a corner at the west end of the lounge, two ladies and a gentleman -– a violinist, a cellist and a pianist. They wore evening dress and their choice of music gave the lounge a ‘Palm Court’ atmosphere, It was definitely the place to take a young lady on a Sunday evening.

In 1954 I married a local Dunfermline girl; her family were fisher folk from Cellardyke. I was at sea, but when home on leave we would visit relatives in the East Neuk often stopping off at the Woodside Hotel for coffee or luncheon. When I left the sea to take a job with the UKAEA at Dounreay we continued to visit Fife and indeed the ‘Woodside’ until 2000, by which time had taken its toll; my wife had passed away and many other Fife relatives also. The drive from Thurso to the East Neuk is now just too trying, but pleasant memories of sitting below that beautiful stained glass ceiling remain - a reminder of past times and the 1902 built ss Orontes.

My own family had a long connection with T&W Ward’s shipbreaking yard at Inverkeithing. It all started with my father who built amateur radio sets. In those pre-war days it was a popular hobby. There were several weekly or monthly magazines dealing with the subject. They would publish plans and there were numerous shops that sold all the necessary parts. These parts were assembled on a base board and the finished radio was powered by a glass-electric accumulator. My father liked to make wooden cabinets to contain his radios, so he would go to T&W Ward’s and pick up odd pieces of the most beautiful timbers from whatever passenger liner was being scrapped. The shipbreakers were only interested in the iron, steel and non-ferrous metals and were quite glad to get rid of anything else. My father would pick up pieces of Honduras mahogany, figured walnut, maple – you name it.

On one occasion my mother went along with him to the yard and came home with cushions, curtains and some items of crockery. Now when her neighbours and friends saw this they asked her to get some bits and pieces for them. That was the beginning of what was to become a small business.

About this time with improved bus and rail links more and more people were coming to spend holidays in the coastal towns and villages of Fife. Many local people with large houses that had been built in the days of lucrative herring fishing, decided to change them into guest houses.

Now word got round and my mother started getting orders for dressing tables, stools, mirrors etc. With the large number of cabins on the large liners she could afford to pick the best items, ones with no scratches and no cigarette burns. She engaged the services of an old retired shipwright, there were many in Rosyth at that time. He would remove the items from the ship, and in many cases where the deck was cambered, when taken ashore the items would lean to one side, so old George would level the bottoms so that they would sit upright. In some cases the items of furniture were built against the cabin bulkheads and had no backs so George would find suitable pieces of panelling and fit backs to them.

My mother soon realised that there were some very good carpets to be had, however, she had to be careful and only take carpets from rooms or cabins where there were no cigarette burns. Not only did these carpets go to small hotels and guest houses, but I am sure our house must have been one of the first to have fitted carpets. When I was a small boy and we had visitors they would often slip me a ten bob note. Now if my parents were aware of this, I was made to put it into my Post Office Bank. These were steel boxes made to look like a book, with a slot for coins and a round hole for rolled up notes. They could only be opened at a Post Office. If my ten bob note went undetected by my parents, I would take it up to my bedroom and hide it under the corner of the carpet. When I turned back the carpet there stencilled in inch high black letters was ss Baltic (scrapped Inverkeithing 1952). To a nine year old boy this was a more fitting place for my treasure than a Post Office money box.

Mauretania2The advent of World War 2 put paid to the ship breaking industry, the government were desperate to keep any ship that could float. As far as I can remember the only work carried out at T&W Ward’s was breaking up the remains of ships that were too badly damaged to be repaired. For a few years after the war ship breaking recommenced at Inverkeithing, but my mother never restarted her business and father no longer built radios. However they continued to visit the yard when there was an interesting liner being broken up and I would sometimes accompany them, picking up the odd interesting items. In my home, now in the far north of Scotland I have a few bits and pieces from the mv Brittanic and the ss Mauretania. Among other things I have a nice framed plan of the Mauretania’s double bottom tanks and when I have friends in for afternoon tea, it is served from a Shaw Saville silver teapot, milk jug and sugar basin.

Your article about the ss Orontes stain glass ceiling, brought back a flood of very pleasant memories of people, places and ships.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - July 2014 Issue
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