« What's Orange And Sounds Like A Parrot? | Main | Some Horse! »

The Reyrolle Story: 29 - The County Hotel

...Reyrolle was always a popular place to work, and compared to local coal-mines and shipyards it had many advantages. Numerous workers have happy memories of the place...

Robert Owen recalls the days when the huge engineering firm Reyrolles was at the centre of life in the Tyneside town in which it was based.

By 1950 Reyrolle was a massive industrial organisation in which social researchers would have glorified. It was like a small, self-contained town which imported its large population every morning and then despatched them again in the late afternoon.

Its workers came by train, bus, car, bike, ferry and on foot. Many people cycled to work and there were more bikes in the bike shed than cars in the car park. At finishing time the rush had to be seen to be believed. The Porter on the Hebburn Railway Station feared for his life as he tried to stop the stampede for the 5:18 train to South Shields.

Some people had difficult journeys to work. Carlson (2000) describes how Olive Goldsbrough, a Tracer at Reyrolle during that period, got to work. "I used to walk from Monkton; it was through a cow field. I would jump a little stream and walk through a load of mud. Then there was a pathway down besides the Pumphouse at the lakes. It was down the bank, up the other side and through Hebburn Park. If it was windy the water from the lakes would come over the bank and I had to dodge that as I walked".

The folk of Hebburn have always had a unique relationship with the large element of the Reyrolle workforce that didn't live in the town. As locals returned home for lunch, hundreds of workers strolled around Hebburn or made a quick visit to the Post Office or Bank. It was the busiest time of the day for most shops, particularly "Richies" in Tennant Street, as they tried to deal with cyclists' queries and repairs.

Reyrolle undoubtedly brought much wealth to the town and the local community were usually supportive of the Company. As Captain (later Lord) Louis Mountbatten said when overseeing repairs to the destroyer HMS Kelly at Hawthorne-Leslie's shipyard in 1940 "The Hebburn folk are wonderfully cooperative and a fine lot of people; we got to know and like them very much". I'm sure Alphonse Reyrolle would have echoed that comment.

The County Hotel, opposite the entrance to Hebburn Works played a major part in the social life of Reyrolle. Some better off post-graduate students stayed there during their time with the Company and official visitors were often accommodated at the "County". Not many workers drank there during the week, but Friday was different. Alan Moonie of the Contracts Department remembers "Regular visits to the County on a Friday to celebrate a birth, a marriage or just someone leaving".

Reyrolle was always a popular place to work, and compared to local coal-mines and shipyards it had many advantages. Numerous workers have happy memories of the place. Marlene Liddle (formerly Shepherd) recalls "What I remember about Reyrolle was its camaraderie that existed at all levels and the social scene which was second to none. A Reyrolle friend was a friend for life and I certainly made many good friends by working there".

Valerie McDowell (nee Charlton) confirms this and says; "I worked for some lovely people in the Contracts Typing Pool. Greta, our Section Leader, had a busy time handing out work while running a little shop from her desk, selling cigarettes and sweets. Then there was Miss Tuersley our Supervisor, who used to fuss over us like a mother hen and kindly turn a blind eye to any unofficial visits from young men, in her words "in case it turned to romance".


To purchase a copy of Robert's history of the firm please visit


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.