The story of the Several companies which have come together to form the Lithgow shipyards is as complex as it is inspiring. While few of these constituent groups ever aspired to build the costliest ships on the market, they did in all cases construct craft which were suitable for their purpose and economically priced. With the ever-growing sophistication of merchant ships the group, like all other major shipbuilders worldwide, was forced into re-assessing its
market strategy, and owing to this has in the past 15 years successfully completed ships as diverse as giant tankers and heavy lift cargo carriers. To gain an appreciation of the background to the setting up of Lithgows Ltd each history must be looked at in turn.
The oldest link in the chain is formed by Robert Duncan & Co, an organisation that was to have two lives in the Inverclyde area. The first was from 1830 when Robert Duncan left the shipyard of James MacMillan of Greenock, where he was a partner, to found his own yard in Greenock which continued till his death from typhus in 1841. In 11 years he was to build some interesting ships and his products increased in size as his name became known and he could tackle bigger jobs. Probably the most important job to come from the yard, and
certainly the best known, was the PS Britannia built on hull subcontract to Robert Napier. This ship opened the North Atlantic mail service by Cunard and along with other Clyde-built sisters Acadia, Columbia and Caledonia started the long history of what was then called the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. Duncan built the hulls for the paddle steamers Clyde and Teviot for the Royal Mail Line but, again, as subcontractors to Caird & Co who manufactured the engines. The relationship between John Scott Russell and the Cairds has already been noted but it is interesting to discover that Duncan built a ship, the Flambeau, to J.S. Russell's design as a means of checking the efficacy of his wave line theory. Robert Duncan's son, also named Robert, trained as a shipbuilder, spent some time at sea and then worked as manager for his father's old partner MacMillan. However, in 1862, he decided to strike out on his own and using his father's company name took over the East Yard in Port Glasgow. The company was successful far beyond Robert Duncan Jnr's wildest hopes or dreams. Nearly 400 ships were built in the East Yard from its start through until the last ship was delivered in 1931. Robert Duncan had the pleasure of seeing his three eldest sons join the business and in public life was greatly honoured by becoming President of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland for the 1872-4 sessions. He was another of the many shipbuilders with an inventive turn of mind and produced many ideas which either were patented or which earned considerable sums of money for himself or associated ship-owners. From 1882 mild steel replaced iron for all work in the shipyard making Duncan's one of the first companies to commit themselves to this extent. Robert Duncan Jr died in 1889 and left behind excellent relationships with the Anchor Line, with P. Henderson of Glasgow and their subsidiary the Albion Line which later amalgamated with Shaw, Savill & Co. For some years his associations with the Anchor Line were closer than appeared on the surface as he was manager of the Barrow Shipbuilding Company and was responsible for the layout of their yard. In 1900 the last sailing ship left their yard and in either 1914 or 1915 the yard was taken over by Russell & Co. Duncan's continued in their own name and produced some fine vessels including the SS Dalriada of 1926 for the
Glasgow-Campbeltown service. Around 1934 the yard was finally closed.
The next thread in the complicated Port Glasgow set-up is of John Reid & Co who operated in three yards, the East, the Glen and Newark at various, times between 1847 and 1891. John Reid related to John Wood the builder of the Comet and was in partnership with him between 1838 and 1857. One of his first major contracts was around 1847 when he accepted an order from trustees and managers of a parish of the Free Church of Scotland for a floating church for use in Loch Sunart in the district of Morvern. The great disruption of 1843 had split the Church of Scotland and those dissenting - on conscientious grounds were faced with leaving: their manses and churches and starting anew. To overcome hostility from landlords still giving allegiance to the Auld Kirk ' the members of the Free Kirk held services in strange places such as on one Hebridean Island between the high and low water marks. The floating church disappeared long ago and most fortunately, with the reunification of the, Scottish Kirk the need for it has passed.
Reid's son, James, joined the business and being an enthusiastic yachtsman tried to popularise yacht construction in iron and later steel. He was successful in that in 1885 the America's Cup challenge Galatea was built of steel and sailed the Atlantic in her vain bid to wrest the elusive cup from Mayflower in 1886. The work output of the yard ranged from the pioneer SS Collier in 1849 to the largest steel full rigged ship of the 1880's the British Isles.
In 1891, after building the paddlers Marchioness of Bute and Marchioness of Breadalbane for the Caledonian Steam Packet and the auxiliary yacht White Heather, the company suspended both work and payments with liabilities of £103,000 with however, an estimated surplus on uncompleted contracts. In 1891 the yard was sold to William Hamilton & Co. James Reid continued in business running a limited liability business on the old name. From 1891 to 1909 he was in Whiteinch, Glasgow, concentrating on pleasure steamers, sailing vessels and yachts some of which were designed by Alfred Mylne. The four-masted barque Colonial Empire of 4,000 ton dw was launched in 1902 and was one of the first such sailors to be fitted with bilge keels. In 1903 the four- masted Mneme was launched-she is still afloat as the Pommern at Mariehamn in the Aland Islands In 1909 the yard was taken over and absorbed by Barclay,Curle & Co Ltd.
In 1871 William Hamilton founded a shipyard which in 1891 absorbed John Reid's Glen Yard.Hamilton's was a yard concentrating on trading ships. Their products include several small vessels for Turkey, several standard trawlers and, in 1904, two famous four-masted barques-the Han's and the Kurt,later renamed Moshulu. William Hamilton retired in 1919 and Lithgows took over with the shareholding ultimately being almost 50/50 with the Liverpool ship-owners Thos & Jno Brocklebank Ltd. From about 1920 almost all Brocklebank liners with lker distinctive black hull and white band came from the Glen yard and, indeed, many of the smaller members of their associated fleet, the Cunard Line. In 1963 the yard was closed and ultimately merged into the reconstituted Lithgow East Yard.
The real Lithgow legend began in 1874 when Joseph Russell (c 1833-1917) and Anderson Rodger (c 1843-1909) formed a partnership called Russell & Co and took over the Bay Shipyard from McFadyen. They concentrated on building hulls only and on achieving high steelwork tonnages as a means of efficient overhead recovery. In 1882 they expanded and took over Murray's Kingston Yard with the existing staff including W.T. Lithgow (1854-1908) the chief draughtsman. Lithgow was invited to become a partner and with his enthusiasm and the very able service of the Shipyard Manager, Alexander Lambie, the yards went from strength to strength. In 1890 with three yards and about 14 building berths they obtained the world 'blue ribband' of 70,370 tons gross from 26 sailing ships and eight steamer hulls. Lambie was an enthusiast for standardisation. a feature which was aided by the company policy of building different ship types at each yard. It is said that he built close on 50 sailing ships from the same mould loft scrieve, achieving considerable savings in man-hours and increased efficiency through the familiarisation which such production gave to the workforce. His fertile mind thought up many productivity ideas and he designed a hydraulic frame joggling machine.
The regular clients of Russell & Co included Andrew Weir's Bank Line. Nourse, Burrell and
Bruugaard Kidsterud of Drammen. In their long history only one order came from the Admiralty for the fast patrol craft P 21 of 1916. One of the outstanding ships was the case oil carrier Brilliant built in 1901 for the Anglo- American Oil Company. She was the largest of four sailing ships, all four masted barques being built for the owners by Russell & Co and William Hamilton & Co and, indeed, was the largest four-masted vessel afloat being 352 ft 5 in x 49 ft 1 in (107.4 m x 15.0 m) and capable of carrying 6,000 tons dw. The other ships were called Daylight- (Russell) and Comet and Nonpareil.
In 1891 Russell retired. Lithgow took over the Kingston and Greenock yards which continued as Russell & Co until 1918 when Lithgow's sons renamed them Lithgows Limited. Anderson Rodger took the Bay Shipyard which operated until 1912 as A. Rodger & Co.
At the dissolution of the partnership Rodger and Russell both kept in step number wise, both continuing with ship No 298. Rodger built about 120 ships including the famous Anglo-American Oil Company's four-masted barque Arrow in 1902, later renamed Parma. Most ships were tramp steamers for Hogarth, Kyle, Burrell and others. Mr Rodger died in 1909 and by 1912 the yard had reverted to Russell & Co.
Two small yards are worthy of mention; the Greenock Cartsdyke mid yard was operated from 1874 to 1879 by J.E. Scott. Despite misconceptions this is not part of Scott's of Greenock, and in 1879 their yard became part of Russell & Co. The other is Carmichael MacLean which occupied Russell's Kingston Yard from 1895 to 1898, but they failed and Russell had to finish their contracts before handing the yard over to the Grangemouth & Greenock Dockyard in 1900.
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