Opening up the collections: the archive of the Shipbuilders and Repairers National Association

Over Christmas 2019, the Caird Library closed its doors to the public for its annual Collections Work Week, which allows staff time away from their public roles to work behind the scenes with the collections. This year, the Manuscripts team focussed on opening up the catalogue of one of our largest business collections: the Shipbuilders and Repairers National Association (SRNA).

By Susan Gentles, Archivist, Cataloguing and Access

What is the SRNA?

The Shipbuilders and Repairers National Association was formed in 1967 by the integration of the Shipbuilders Employers' Federation (founded in 1899), the Dry Dock Owners' and Repairers' Central Council (founded in 1910) and the Shipbuilding Conference (founded in 1928).

The predecessor organisations of the SRNA have fascinating histories of their own. Most took on responsibilities for negotiating with local and national shipyard trade unions over issues as diverse as working hours, minimum wages and safety provisions for workers.

Many Shipbuilders' Associations were represented, including those of Aberdeen, Clyde, Barrow, Hull, Tyne, Tees and Wear. The organisations also liaised with government during times of national crises, in particular the First and Second World Wars and during the economic depression of the 1930s.

The collection

The archives of the SRNA were presented to the Museum in 1977.

The collection covers the vast majority of the association’s operations, along with those of a number of its predecessor organisations, and is a fascinating and important record of industrial relations for a central part of British heavy industry during the 20th century.

A large series of files of the Shipbuilders Employers’ Federation in particular touch on every aspect of labour relations, including:

  • Wages
  • Bonus payments
  • Piecework rates
  • Nightshift working
  • Allowances
  • Demarcation
  • Apprenticeships
  • Training and safety



Until recently, the only means of navigating the 244 linear metres of this collection was the paper listing produced by the SRNA and Business Archives Council in 1977.

Although comprehensive and open to researchers, this has never been available in full via our online catalogue as it needs to be typed up by hand and cross-checked against the records on the shelves. While balancing public-facing duties and other work, it hasn’t been possible for the Manuscripts team to tackle this time-consuming task.

However, the opportunity of a few days to spend in the stores with the records was seized upon to see how much we could get through! 

Getting through the work

The team selected two series of records to work through – the minutes and circulars of the SRNA and its predecessors, and an alphabetical series of Shipbuilding Conference files.

These records cover more than 70 years of industrial and labour relations during some of the 20th century’s most difficult periods. The Shipbuilders Employers’ Federation minutes alone contain interesting insights into how, during the First World War, shipyard workers were considered essential to the war effort, and how the yards moved forward with productions of civilian and trade vessels after peace was declared.

In just four days the team added over 1000 records to our online catalogue, all of which are now available online and searchable by keyword for the first time since the collection’s arrival at the Museum.

It is hoped that over the next few months more of these records will be added. The closure of the National Maritime Museum during the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK has meant that staff have been able to look at these catalogues again and we are hoping to use the time while our doors are closed to get more of these records available online. Watch this space!