Linda Williams is a Caldicot commercial photographer, who will travel by arrangement.
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In the UK, the building of three National Shipyards were planned during the First World War, in close proximity to each other along the River Wye and the Severn. National Shipyard No. 1 was at Chepstow. It was further developed on the site of an existing shipyard, and it was here that eight slipways were established to start the construction of new merchant ships, in the hope of recovery from heavy losses due to German U-boat attacks.
Over 6000 workers came from the shipyards in the north of England to work here, one of the reasons historical Garden City was built. Part of the towns 13th century portwall was even demolished to accommodate the new and flourishing industry.
The Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company bought the site in the mid 1920’s. A heavy engineering and bridge building company, who were in operation until after the Second World War. During the sixties the site was bought by Mabey. Specialising in temporary and permanent bridging, over the next three decades Mabey Bridge became famous for it’s modern version of the Bailey Bridge
A major employer to the people of Chepstow, and outlying areas, it was not unusual to hear of grandfathers, fathers, sons, and brothers all working for the Mabey family. People seem to have had a great fondness for the company and its long illustrious history. It seems steeped into the very bones of the town. I was only employed here for three years, but was told many amusing, entertaining and sometimes tragic stories of days gone by. When the announcement was made that the Chepstow factory would be closing, and that redundancies were imminent, I could feel how crushed some of these people felt. How saddened they were, and how they felt their loyalty was being sorely tested. For this is the human side of things.
I had only ever visited the outskirts of the factory itself. From my reception desk I could see the daily activity, hear the crashing and bumping, watch the heavy haulage guys load and manoeuvre girders of phenomenal length. I was glad of the opportunity to see what had been going on behind the corrugated metal of the factory walls. It reminded me of when my Grandfather used to take me to the ship breaking yard he worked on when I was a child. It’s a shame that the one time I was permitted to get a closer look, was long after most had said their goodbyes, ( myself included ) and moved onto pastures new. One or two maintenance men and a small group of hauliers waited quietly. It was a strange experience. Strolling around an empty industrial area that was silent. There was no clanking, no grinding, no sparks from the welding, no cursing, no laughing. Just the cries of the gulls outside. And my footsteps crunching in the deep red dust, all that remained from the ground down bones of a thousand girders.