Trainee Tuesday: A bit of old Britain

A bit of old Britain pamphlet front

A bit of old Britain pamphlet front (ref: NRO 2674)

As part of my traineeship I’m creating an online exhibition at Northumberland Archives, showcasing items that reflect aspects of the maritime history of the area.

Though I was aware of some parts of this history, such as the region’s long association with the shipbuilding industry, I had little knowledge of other elements like ship breaking.

This pamphlet (see right) is from Hughes Bolckow & Co., battleship breakers based at Battleship Wharf, Blyth, Northumberland. The company bought in redundant ships and stripped and made furniture and other household goods from the fittings of the ships. It appears that the company had an extensive business and they sold directly from Blyth and from their London showrooms.


A bit of old Britain pamphlet inside illustrations

A bit of old Britain pamphlet inside illustrations (ref: NRO 2674)

I was quite intrigued to learn about the ways in which the company re-crafted the materials. The pamphlet explains that ‘the illustrations in the leaflet show a few pieces of useful furniture made from the timbers of Britain’s old Battleships. Each piece is carefully wrought by skilled furniture craftsmen. There is a sentimental attaching to the possession of one or more of these pieces, which gives them a distinction quite of their own.’

It’s pleasing to think that care and good workmanship was taken in the artistic design and creation of the re-use of the materials. Each piece took on a new form or function but still held an aesthetic and decorative beauty. Judging by the pamphlets the company seemed keen to acknowledge the origins of the materials and not to forget their original context, giving information about the history of each ship.

A section of bit of old Britain pamphlet text

A section of bit of old Britain pamphlet text (ref: NRO 2674)


This leaflet below from 1915 is entitled ‘From the seat of War to the seat of Peace’


Extract from the leaflet 'From the seat of war to the seat of peace'

Extract from the leaflet 'From the seat of war to the seat of peace' (ref: NRO 2674/1)

The garden furniture is made from timber from H.M.S. Collingwood, H.M.S Barfleur, H.M.S. Southampton, H.M.S. Centurion and H.M.S. Renown.

As well as making individual household goods this leaflet below is an example of how they could also completely fit out a house with reclaimed timber!


House in Fenham, Newcastle

House in Fenham, Newcastle (ref: NRO 2674/3)


The online exhibition will be completed soon and once it goes live there will be a link from our Archives exhibitions menu page.


  1. Phyl Carruthers says:

    So interesting. Thank you.

    1. Sarah Fellows says:

      Thanks very much for lovely comment Phyl, I’m really pleased you found the post interesting.

  2. Angela Watson says:

    I have no idea if this page is current as it does not have a year, but I came to it when doing research on a pair of teak garden benches that I have inherited. They have a plaque on the back of each bench stating they are from “SS Nova Lisboa” and I have discovered that this ship was sold to Hughes Bolckow & Co., battleship breakers based at Battleship Wharf, Blyth and was subsequently scrapped in 1950. I am currently restoring them to their former glory and was very interested to read your blog about late 19th/early 20th century ‘recycling’.

  3. Danielle Byl says:

    Hi – a very interesting read. I am researching any information about the ship SS Regina (later: Westernland) which was broken up by Hughes Bolckow in 1947. Ideally, I am looking to see if any parts/items of the ship are available for purchase? Would you have any information in this respect? Thanks for any help!

  4. Tony Obrien says:

    Hello I own a fire surround which has a small brass plaque which says HMS LION Dogger Bank heligoland Jutland And I have been trying to confirm if it was in the ship or was made from wood from the ship by hughes bolckow can your catalogues shed any light on this. Regards tony

    1. Alexa Phillips says:

      Hi Tony,

      Unfortunately we can’t help with research requests on the blog, but our research advisers would be happy to help you. All the details for how you can get in touch with them are here:

      Many thanks,


  5. Tony Obrien says:

    Hello alexa Thanks for pointing me in the right direction Tony

  6. Barbara White says:

    As part of of our World war one centenary commemorations in Newark. We have been researching the men named on a memorial in the parish church to the parishioners and the Royal Engineers of the 67th Field Company who trained in Newark.
    It was made by Hughes Bolkow in 1919 from wood from HMS Britannia, the cadet training ship ,1869-1905

  7. Phil Huntley says:

    Very interested in this page. Came across it as I’m trying to find photos of Ralph Hughes and Charles Bolckow that I can copy. HMS Lion was broken up by the firm, it needed to cut in two halves to enter Blyth harbour for fear of blocking the entrance. I too wonder what year we’re in!!

  8. Kelly says:

    i have a garden bench made byHughes Bolckow & Co , HMS TESSA

    i would love to know more information about it and also where i would sell it as we no longer have the room for it ? .

    thank you

  9. Ann Watkins says:

    I have in my possession a round drop-side table. There is a brass plate with the inscription :-
    Made from the oak timber taken from HMS Southampton
    Built 1806 broken up by Hughes Bolckow & Co Ltd
    Battleship Wharf, Blyth 1912
    “She saved Natal in 1842”
    I also have a pair of candlesticks which I was told also came from the same ship. I would appreciate any information and what the value is.
    Thank you

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