Albyn Line, Branch Line and Westoll Line

The 7,919grt Thistleroy was built in 1960 by J.L. Thompson & Sons at North Sands. In 1966 she moved to Chapman & Willan as Ingleton and in 1970 she was sold to Neptunea Mundial SA and renamed Panetolikon. In 1981 she became Shabaan of Askeladd Shipping, then on 28th March 1984 she arrived at Chittagong to be broken up by Khalil & Sons. (Malcolm Cranfield)

Sunderland was at one time known as the ‘The Greatest Shipbuilding River in the U.K.’ due to its huge output of many types of cargo ships. Today, to the long list of the shipbuilding, glass, chemicals, precision engineering and other industries one must add volume car production. The Nissan Car Plant has a huge output per year of over 700,000 petrol and electric powered cars on two production lines as the largest U.K. car maker, with over 6,500 employees and another 60,000 employees in the supply chain of components. A new car rolls off each production line every two minutes, with over ten million cars having been made in the 35 years since production began in 1986. This plant is very secure for the long term, with 75% of production exported from the Tyne as zero tariff exports to the European Union. New trade rules had to be implemented when the U.K. left the EU to maintain the zero tariff, with at least 55% of each car made either from U.K. or EU parts.

Sunderland had another first in 1887 when the first Sailor’s Union was formed as the National Amalgamated Sailors and Firemens Union by Havelock Wilson. This later became the National Union of Seamen (NUS), which today has become the Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers Union (RMT).


Sunderland had a number of medium sized tramp ship companies, of which three are under review in this article. Albyn Line existed from 1901 to 1966 with a total of 18 owned tramp ships, Branch Line was the common name for the Ritson family ships, who owned sailing ships for some time before setting up the Nautilus Steam Ship Company, which owned 32 tramp ships and managed another five ships between 1881 and 1931. Westoll Line was managed by the energetic James Westoll and his son, also named James Westoll, and owned 100 tramp ships between 1868 and 1959 under Westoll Steamships Ltd. and other companies.

The 4,026grt Thistledhu was built in 1902 by Irvines at West Hartlepool. On 18th June 1917 she was torpedoed and sunk by U-82 in the North Atlantic while on a voyage from Iquique to Newport with a cargo of nitrate. Four lives were lost. (John B. Hill collection)

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