It was a real family affair. Fathers, sons, uncles and nephews all worked side-by-side in an industry that was the pride of Southampton.

For generations the noisy workshops, foundries, quays and slipways at Woolston were scenes of bustling activity as warships and ferries, in fact, vessels of every shape and size, emerged from the yard.

First, back in the early 1900s, it was Thornycroft’s, then, six decades later, the company joined forces with Vosper and, most recently, these two highly respected names were discarded in favour of the anonymous sounding, VT Group.

The plate “Made in Southampton’’ was once a symbol that guaranteed quality, craftsmanship and, above all, a proud tradition, but this week a decision was taken that finally consigns this unique boast to the quiet backwaters of history.

VT announced that, after almost 150 years, the company plans to withdraw completely from shipbuilding. From this summer the business will concentrate solely on its lucrative support services operation and aims to sell off its vessel construction arm to BAE for £380m.

As far as Southampton was concerned, shipbuilding had already been abandoned when, in 2003, VT closed down its Woolston yard and moved to Portsmouth.

However, the news that one of the most iconic names in ships and shipbuilding is to disappear, still struck a chord with many Southampton families who once relied on Thorny’s for their livelihood.

Thornycroft’s cranes and sheds became distinctive landmarks in Woolston, a community where the good times and the bad were closely linked to the thickness or thinness of the shipyard’s order books.

In 2005 the Oral History Unit of Southampton City Council compiled and published a book of memories, recollections and tales collected from Vosper Thornycroft workers young and old.

In the light of VT turning its back on shipbuilding, this already fascinating book, entitled Thorny’s, now becomes an important and highly significant archive of a lost industry.

For almost 100 years, the working day at the yard kept essentially the same routine: the wail of the siren calling people to work, men pouring in through the gate, work, tea breaks, lunchtime, work, men pouring back out of the gate again. This routine set the daily rhythm of this close-knit community.

One worker said: “Anyone who lived in that area, one of their first memories would be the siren, summoning the men to work in the morning.

“In fact, since, I have thought what tremendous power these firms had. Can you imagine today any firm being able to wake up the whole neighbourhood to summon their employees to work?’’ Another worker featured in the book remembered: “Everybody that got a job there was part of the family… John I Thornycroft’s was part of you.’’ n Continued over page The shipyard was often a noisy place as one person who lived at the local public house, the Victoria Inn, in the 1930s, recalled: “It was the only home I knew, but it was a terrible place really, in those days. All around was Thornycroft’s, and there was a terrific noise… and it got near to war, it was night and day, the noise.

“But at the same time there was a hustle and a bustle about it, about Woolston. Yes, Thornycroft’s was the hub of Woolston definitely.’’ The man whose name will always be linked to Southampton and shipbuilding, John Isaac Thornycroft established his business in Southampton in 1904 after outgrowing original premises in Chiswick on the River Thames.

Woolston had been the home to a shipyard since the late 19th century but it was Thornycroft that developed and expanded the site leading up to the delivery of its first Royal Navy vessel, HMS Tartar in 1906. In the following eight years the yard built 37 British destroyers and a number for export.

From that time there was always a saying amongst Royal Navy sailors that if they were serving on a Thornycroft constructed vessel they could rely on the warship to be well built and reliable.

Up to its closure six years ago, the Woolston yard built more than 600 vessels including destroyers, frigates, corvettes, mine-hunters, submarines, motor torpedo boats, tugs, patrol craft, passenger ferries and yachts.

Launch days were always spectacular occasions as a new ship was sent down the slipway and into the River Itchen by a bottle of champagne crashing against the hull as a military band played Rule Britannia.

During the Second World War, the Woolston shipyard was bombed but despite the damage the Thornycroft workforce shrugged off the danger of enemy raids and built a huge number of ships from major warships to rescue craft.

The Royal Navy Type 21 frigate, HMS Antelope, was launched at Woolston on March 16, 1972, but her destiny was to suffer a long and agonising death that struck at the very heart of the Southampton workforce.

HMS Antelope was part of the task force that went to fight the Falklands War and on May 23, 1982, while on duty at the entrance to San Carlos Water, the frigate came under attack by Argentine Skyhawk jets.

The news sent shockwaves through the Woolston yard as workers gathered round television sets as HMS Antelope was torn apart, from water-line to funnel.

In the hours that followed the Southampton frigate was rocked by more explosions until her superstructure melted into a heap of twisted metal and she broke in half before sinking.

One worker later said: “HMS Antelope was built by Vosper’s and people were upset. They knew their work had gone into that ship and they felt some wound when it was hurt.’’ These days nothing remains of the Woolston yard, all the buildings have been razed to the ground leaving just a barren expanse of land waiting for redevelopment. Thorny’s has gone forever.

n Thorny’s, An Oral History of Vosper Thornycroft’s shipyard is published by Southampton City Council and costs £12.