THE ghost of shipbuilding has taken up a berth at one of the region's museums to celebrate a rags to riches story.

Artists Stephen Dixon and Alison Welsh have created a sculpture, entitled Refuge, based on the journey made by Robert Ropner, who arrived in the North East in 1857 as a penniless teenager and went on to become a successful shipbuilder and the Mayor of Stockton.

The sculpture, which fills the Billiard Room at Preston Park Museum, has been constructed using steel, textiles and UV lighting.

A pulsing soundtrack made from recordings of the sea and sounds on board ships fades in and out, evoking Ropner’s voyage from Germany to Hartlepool.

Professor Dixon, from Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “Ropner was an orphan who arrived by ship in West Hartlepool, hoping to make a new life for himself. He settled in the region and made his fortune in the shipbuilding trade, as well as being elected to the local council and serving as Mayor of Stockton.

“Ropner is an important part the Tees Valley’s maritime history and his rags-to-riches story really fired our imaginations."

Artist Alison Welsh, who is head of research at Manchester Fashion Institute, added: “It will be a glowing, mysterious and ethereal ghost ship which we hope will give people a sense of what it feels like to be on a long journey by sea.”

The artists have been studying the blueprints for ships made by Ropner’s shipping company, which are held in the collection of Preston Park Museum.

Judith King, co-director of arts and heritage at the museum, said: “The artists have been able to work very closely with staff at Preston Park Museum to use the museum’s collections to help inform the sculpture and if people look closely at the ghost ship they’ll see details from the ship’s plans appearing in the fabrics.

“Positioned in the traditional surroundings of Preston Park Museum’s Billiard Room, Refuge certainly makes a dramatic sight.”

Refuge will be on show at Preston Park Museum from today to November 12. For information visit and