Film ID: NEFA 19462 Video of 19462 Launch of the ESSO Northumbria LAUNCH OF THE ESSO NORTHUMBRIA 1969 Visitor TabsDescription A Turners Film production of the launch of the Esso Northumbria from Swan Hunters Shipyard in Wallsend, Newcastle on the 2nd of May, 1969. The Esso Northumbria, a 250,000 tonne oil tanker (or supertanker), was the largest vessel, at that time, to have ever been built in Britain. The ship was scrapped in Kaohsiung, Taiwan in 1982. The film begins with a view of the Esso Northumbria in dock, at the end of a Wallsend street of terraced houses. The massive tanker towers above the houses. Consequent views explore the areas around the hull: the launching ceremony platform and dockside cranes. A propeller-driven passenger plane taxies on a runway, possibly at Newcastle Airport. Princess Anne and her entourage leave their plane and meet a welcoming party of dignitaries on the runway. A small group of journalists film and photograph the Princess boarding the royal car (reg. 356 CYN); the motorcade departs. Back in Wallsend: a panning wide-angle view over the smoking chimneys of terraced houses, a mass of cranes visible through a murky mist in the background. As the view swings round, the huge Esso Northumbria dominates the scene. Close-up of the lettering of the ship’s name, painted on its bow, which zooms out to reveal the street scene below the ship. A boy plays with a football in the middle of the road, people walk the pavements. Views around the dockside, again the launching ceremony platform – where the flag of the Esso oil company flies alongside a Union flag. Views of the ropes tethering the ship; a mobile rail crane; rusty chains lying on the dock; and the propeller, high out of the water. The ship is then filmed from the South side of the River Tyne, a tug boat passes by. A crowd has assembled at the shipyard’s entrance, queuing for admittance. A brass band plays nearby. Dignitaries mount the viewing platform. Close-up view of the Esso and Union flags. A crowd watches from behind a roped fence, umbrellas raised. An official guest and his party arrive by Rolls Royce; as does Princess Anne. The Princess is photographed by journalists as she enters the shipyard offices. The Princess is escorted to the ship, filmed and photographed as she waves to the crowd. Shipyard workers stand in a line under the ship’s hull, watching as the Princess walks by. A young man wearing a yellow hard hat presents the Princess with a bouquet of flowers, and the two talk for a moment. The Princess mounts the stairs to the viewing platform, and addresses the crowd. She smashes a bottle of champagne against the side of the ship via a sprung mechanism. The ship, however, does not launch immediately, and a few moments pass before it begins to slide down the slipway. Princess Anne waves as the ship slides past. The launch of the ship is filmed from a vantage point above the roofs of the terraced houses backing right up to the ship’s berth at the Swan Hunters shipyard in Wallsend. A view from the South bank of the river shows the ship sliding propeller-first into the Tyne. As the ship finishes its descent from the slipway, and slows in the water, a shot shows a group of children watching the event from a grassy riverbank nearby. Numerous tug boats help shunt the vessel into the middle of the river, keeping it from touching the dockside, which it only narrowly misses. Princess Anne descends from the launching platform and makes her way back to the shipyard offices. View of the Esso Northumbria on the Tyne, a Union flag flying in the foreground of the shot. The film then records the ship’s manoevre in the river by tug boats, as it is oriented and then towed seawards for trials. Shot of the empty slipway. Rubble and flotsam floating in the shallows. Views of the tanker on the Tyne. Context A young Princess Anne ushered in the era of the “mammoth tanker” with her first ship launch. The 253,000-ton Esso Northumbria left Swan Hunters shipyard in Wallsend on Friday May 2nd 1969. It was thought locally to be the biggest crowd for a send-off – about 100,000 despite the dismal weather – since the Mauretania was launched from the same slipway in 1904. The Ballast Hill on the Hebburn banks of the Tyne was a famous viewing point for Swan Hunter launches, but for the first time the Esso Northumbria created a big wave that soaked the crowd watching from the hill. This was the largest ship ever built in Britain at the time, so large that it took up two berths and had to be launched side-on into the Tyne, the river only 1230 feet wide and the ship at 1143 feet long. The Glasgow Herald reported that, as the ship gathered speed, 1750 tons of drag chains and seven anchors were needed “to keep her from forming an instant bridge to the other bank of the river”. “Esso Northumbria is not much short of a quarter of a mile long and can carry the equivalent of 8,500,000,000 pints of beer. Put another way, it can take 70,000,000 gallons of petrol which would take an average motor car 11 times round the sun and back.” As the song goes, who’d have thought you could build such a big ‘un. Swan Hunters is remembered by many who grew up down Wallsend streets in shadow from the ships rising deck by deck in building berths on the Tyne, with bedrooms lit up at night by the flashes of the welders’ torches working on the speedily constructed Esso Northumbria. The great shipbuilding tradition of Tyneside was celebrated in Wallsend-born pop star Sting’s 2013 album release “The Last Ship”, drawn from his childhood memories at the family home in Wallsend.