Focus on Selby: Shipbuilding

The Cochrane of Selby Archive

By Gwyneth Endersby, Record Assistant

In 2012, the North Yorkshire County Record Office was ‘Trawling through Time’, thanks to a grant of £48,000 awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund in order to open up the archive of Cochrane of Selby.  The project, based on the business records of the shipyard, ran throughout the year. It involved outreach work to hold events with a number of local groups, schools and organisations, whilst behind the scenes at the Record Office, work was underway to clean, list and repackage the Cochrane collection. A great team of dedicated volunteers helped achieve this task – some being former employees of the shipyard drawing office. 

Although the funded project has now ended, the Record Office continues to care for and promote records in the Cochrane archive (catalogue reference ZZU). We have exhibited material from the collection and held interactive sessions at various public events over the last seven years – including events of the recent Selby 950 celebrations (2019-2020).

ZZU 2/5/1184 Profile plan of the Englishman

A substantial Selby shipyard features on the First Edition 6 inch OS map 1851 (Sheet 221, surveyed in 1845-47), and is shown in even more detail on the large scale OS 1:500 Town plan of 1891 (sheet 221.11.3), though Cochrane and Sons did not begin operating in Selby until the business was transferred from Beverley in 1898. A major employer in the area, it continued – albeit under a number of ownerships during the 1960s to 1980s – until its closure in 1992. Situated on the banks of the River Ouse – 50 miles inland from the sea – the shipyard famously launched all its vessels sideways on, drawing crowds of onlookers.

DC/SBR Ordnance Survey 1:500 Town plan, Selby 1891, sheet 221.11.3 showing the shipyard and canal

The Cochrane archive includes business and administrative records, as well as those relating to the practical process of shipbuilding itself. In addition, there are records relating to Drypool vessels, records relating to design projects and vessels not built at Selby, and additional records relating to individual ships. The collection overall spans the 1890s to the 1990s.  The associated photographic collection containing images of the shipyard, the workforce, and of ships built, is deposited at Hull Culture & Leisure Services.

Model-makers and ship enthusiasts from around the world regularly contact us for copies of ships’ General Arrangement and Lines plans. General Arrangement drawings show full details of the ship, via cross section, profile and bird’s eye views, whilst the Lines plans depict the contours of the hull in cross section and profile. Depending on the type of vessel, additional detailed drawings relating to specific aspects of the ship: structural steelwork, engine room, rigging, accommodation, firefighting, pumping, and so on, might supplement the main General Arrangement.

ZZU 2/5/136NS Lines plan of the Lady Theresa tug, Yard No 136 New Series

One particular Cochrane’s ship is famous for its connections with the environmental protest group Greenpeace – the Rainbow Warrior II. It replaced Rainbow Warrior I, which was bombed in New Zealand’s Auckland harbour in 1985. Rainbow Warrior II was originally a deep sea fishing boat (steel screw steam trawler), named Kashmir (Yard number 1422), launched in 1957. The ship was extended and re-fitted (with some environmentally low-impact systems) and re-launched by Greenpeace in 1989. After 22 years’ active service, Greenpeace sold the ship in 2011 to a Bangladeshi NGO, for use as a hospital ship. It was renamed Rongdhonu – Bangladeshi for rainbow, and was in service as a hospital until scrapped in 2018.

ZZU 2/5/1422 General Arrangement plan of the Kashmir ship (Yard No 1422), which in its later life became Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior II

We are happy to provide more specific details regarding this archive should you wish to contact us, and a catalogue of the records is available to view using our online catalogue.

Further reading

‘Cochranes of Selby: Yorkshire Shipbuilders 1844 – 1992’ (2013) by Eric Hammal and Peter Coates.

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