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'It was an exciting place to work. It could be again'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 14, 2012

'It brought back a lot of memories' – former dock worker Keith Sowden

'It brought back a lot of memories' – former dock worker Keith Sowden

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It was a nostalgic moment for one man as he watched vessels being towed into Richmond Dry Dock for the first time in 40 years.

Keith Sowden was only 15 when he started working at the dry dock in Appledore in 1961. He carried out an apprenticeship and worked at the site for six years. Now 66, he said to see the dock working again was a great sight.

"It brought back a lot of memories seeing the gates open," he said. "It was the heart of the village when I was there. Everyone worked there. I think it could become like that again.

"I think there were 150 of us altogether back then. I started my apprenticeship straight after school, although I had actually wanted to be an electrician but there weren't so many jobs in that at the time."

Mr Sowden was working at the dock when it closed for a few months in 1963.

"We just waited because we were all so sure it would re-open. There was plenty of work around – it was the financial difficulties. I didn't start doing anything else in the meantime.

"It was an exciting place to work.

"The ships we built went all over the world, not just in the UK but to Russia and Canada."

When Mr Sowden was 21 he left the dock and joined the Merchant Navy as a marine engineer. After a couple of years he returned and worked at Appledore Shipyard, retiring recently as a team leader.

He said: "On Thursday I knew the boats were supposed to be coming in, but I wasn't sure when.

"I looked out of my window and saw them coming in. It was excellent. But I wouldn't want to go back to it now."

Saying he had "the best job" now being retired, he explained that he spends his time running and playing golf.

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