8 Mar 2021

Peter Phorson

Submitted by Ray Lathan
Peter Phorson. WM 1906

Peter Riddle Grey Phorson was initiated into Freemasonry on the 14th of February 1901 and became Worshipful Master of Palatine Lodge in 1906.

Palatine Membership Record


He was born in Sunderland in April 1857, baptised on the 25th of June at Saint Stephen’s, and spent most of his life in and around the Southwick and Roker areas of the town. At the age of 13 he was a ‘Butchers Boy’, however, having shown a notable technical aptitude and having been presented with several awards including a copy of Thomas Bradley’s ‘Elements of Geometrical Drawing’, he became, at the age of 24, a ‘Naval Draughtsman’, eventually rising to the position he held at J. L. Thompson & Sons.

He was Works Manager and on the Board of Directors of the Wear Shipyard (formerly Robert Thompson & Sons) when it was incorporated on 12th July 1894. The yard was the leading Wear shipbuilder and the fourth largest in the world for the third year running. The firm was one of the first on the North-East Coast to adopt hydraulic power. All the frame and beam hoisting, etc., in connection with the framing stage of a ship was either done by hydraulic or electric winches. Phorson developed a ‘Hydraulic Launching Trigger’ that has been used in connection with launches since 1892, this being the first application of the device, which has been used in several of the leading British and Foreign shipbuilding yards from that time.


Hydraulic Launch

Hydraulic Launching Trigger in use at  Austin & Pickersgill (late 1980s)
Photo courtesy of: Sunderland Tugs and Shipbuilding in Pictures


Peter is named as inventor and co-inventor of three patents, which relate to shipbuilding.

Patent No. GB189921722A: Improvements in or relating to Watertight Doors.

Patent 1

Abstract: Bulkhead doors. Leakage through ships' and other water-tight doors is prevented by providing an auxiliary water-tight door on the other side of the bulkhead from the main door. Fig. 1 shows a hinged auxiliary door E, but the auxiliary door may be loose or otherwise arranged. To the back of the bulkhead is secured a frame C, of angle, Z, or other section, faced with india-rubber at D. To this frame is screwed or otherwise fastened, as by buttons F, F, the auxiliary door E. This door need only be closed when a liquid cargo is carried.

Inventors: Peter Phorson, James Marr

Patent No. GB126241A: Improvements in or relating to Holders for Pneumatic Hammers and other Pneumatically Actuated Tools.


Abstract: Supports for portable machines. A holder for a pneumatic hammer &c. comprises a tube 14 pivotally mounted relatively to the work, a spring 37, or equivalent means tending to tilt the tube, and a rod 29, arranged to slide in the tube and having one end fitted with means 30 for receiving the tool. In one form, the tube is adjustably gripped by a clamp 23 pivoted on a tube 1, which is vertically adjustable and revoluble [capable of revolving] on a standard 2. Rollers 26, 27 at each end of the tube engage the rod 29.

Inventors: Peter Riddell Gray Phorson. 


Patent No. GB190315501A: Improvements in or relating to the Construction of the Hulls of Vessels.


Abstract: Ships' framing and hulls. Vessels suitable for carrying coal, cotton, grain, and other cargoes have the general configuration above the water line as shown in Figs. 1, 3, and 5 by way of example only, the distance between the water line ‘a’ and cambered deck line ‘b’ being about one-fifth of the moulded depth measurement from the deck line. The main frames ‘c’, which are curved to meet the cambered deck line ‘b’ at an angle, are connected by butt or lap joints to the lighter upper frames ‘d’, which are carried inwards along the cambered deck line, and angled or curved upwards as shown, to meet the beams e and deck f carrying the hatchways etc.

Inventors: Peter Phorson, Alfred Edward Muir.


Personal Life

He married Annie Urquhart in April of 1882. They had a daughter, Winifred, and two sons, Douglas and Ronald. Both his sons saw active military service during the First World War, Douglas sadly paying the ultimate sacrifice (see links below).  His daugheter, Winifred, also predeceased him by three years.

The 1891 Census shows that on the 6th of April 1891, Peter lived at 82 Roker Avenue, Monkwearmouth Shore, County Durham, together with his Family, plus ‘one servant’.

He died on Monday 21st August 1922. The following obituary appearing in the Sunderland Echo on the same day.


We regret to announce the death this morning of Mr Peter Phorson, a well-known Wear shipbuilder, of Glen Lea, Roker.  He was 65 years of age, and had been in ill-health for several months.

Mr Phorson was director of the firm of Messrs Jos. L Thompson and Sons, Ltd., and Works Manager.  He served his apprenticeship as draughtsman with the firm, and February this year completed 50 years' service. Three months ago he retired owing to ill-health.

Mr Phorson was in his younger days a teacher of naval architecture.  He became Chief Draughtsman for Messrs Jos. L Thompson and Sons, then Works Manager, and when the firm was made into a limited liability company in 1894 he was appointed a director.  He was a prominent personality in shipbuilding circles, not only on the Wear, but nationally, being a member of the Works' Board of the Shipbuilding Employers’ Federation. 

A highly skilled shipbuilder and engineer, he was the inventor of many devices employed in shipbuilding, notably a launching trigger, and a pneumatic riveting hammer rig. Most of the modern appliances in Messrs Thompson's yard, such as hydraulic cranes, gas furnaces, etc., were erected to his design.  The launching trigger, which has been in general use at the yard since 1892, was the subject of a good deal of controversy many years ago as to who was really the originator of the idea, but it was finally conceded that the invention was Mr Phorson's.

In such matters as fixing and revising price lists Mr Phorson’s knowledge and experience were of much value to the industry. Amongst the workmen of the yard he was held in high esteem.  They had intended making him a presentation upon his retirement, but his illness prevented this taking place 

Prominent Freemason

The late Mr Phorson was actively connected with North Bridge Street Presbyterian Church, and was also very prominent in the Masonic craft, in which he had attained the 30th degree, an exceptional record. He was a Past Master of Palatine Lodge (97) and a Past Provincial Grand Treasurer. He was a Past First Principal of the Strict Benevolence Chapter (97), and a Past master of Union Mark Lodge (124), holding provincial rank in connection with both these positions. Among his many other degrees was that of Past Officer of the Ravensworth Rose Croix.

The deceased gentleman leaves a widow and one son, Mr Ronald Phorson.  He lost a son, Capt. Douglas Phorson, in the war, and his daughter, Mrs McNair, wife of Dr McNair, of Plymouth, died about three years ago.



Additional Information

Captain Douglas Stuart Phorson
Captain Ronald Maxwell Phorson
Wrongful Dismissal Case