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British Industrial History

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Short Brothers of Sunderland

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Short Brothers of Sunderland was a medium sized shipbuilding yard known as the 'local' yard as it built more ships for local ownership than any other in that area

1850 The yard was founded at Hylton by George Short. Short had previously been a foreman at John Watson's yard.

1859 The yard built small wooden sailing ships and traded as timber merchants.

1869 The yard was transferred down river and Short's four sons, George, John Young, Thomas and Joseph also joined the newly located yard.

1871 The yard's first iron construction High Stretfield was the first such ship to be produced by the yard. The yard then became known as Short Brothers from this point onwards.

1870s John Y. Short built up a reputation as a designer of ships. His designs for cargo ships were considered to be outstanding: they had better lines and greater beam which in turn gave greater stability and seaworthiness.

1877 Short received a gold medal in London for the best designed steamer and another at the Paris Exhibition in 1878.

1882 The yard won further medals for steamer models at an exhibition held by the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights. This, along with the many local links that the company had, helped to seal its reputation as a manufacturer of quality ships.

1883 Short's began a long association with James Knott of North Shields resulting in 37 cargo-liners being built for Prince Line between 1883 and 1918.

1892 John Y. Short introduced the eight hour day for his workers and also sets up an Institute for them

1895 John Y. Short invested a substantial sized shareholding in the Nitrate Producers Steamship Co. Ltd, owned by Colonel John Thomas North. The first ship built for the company by the yard was Col. J.T. North and the yard had a complete monopoly of ships for the company with all thirty built by them

1897 From this period onwards, Short's received orders from a number of Newcastle shipbuilders.

1899 See 1899 Shipbuilding Statistics for detail of the tonnage produced.

1900 On 24th January, John Y. Short died in his office, aged 56 years. The shipyard had a workforce of 1,500 workers. His brother, Joseph, took over management of the yard. The partnership was turned into a limited liability company: Short Brothers Ltd. The company had also taken over the neighbouring yard of the North of England Shipbuilding Co and output this year reached 26,017 tons.

WWI The yard made 17 ships of 86,391 tons and 14 barges for the Admiralty. In addition, a tanker, four small oilers, eight standard WAR 'B' types.

1918 War Seagull was launched in late December 1918 in total darkness in the early hours of the morning. The yard had completed an output of 34,967 tons in this year which was a record.

1914 Directory: Listed as Iron Ship Builders of Pallion and 58 John Street, Sunderland

1920-1930 During this ten year period, the yard produced 36 tramps and cargoliners. The company also made its first turbine-propelled ships: Sandown Castle and Sandgate Castle. These had a service speed of 14 knots.

1923 Strikes affected the yard and orders dropped due to the Depression.

1926 A second wave of strikes further affected the yard and orders dropped to near zero.

1930 The yard closed down completely after finishing Haberton in June of this year.

1933 The yard reopened again and began building the first of three new tramps to the "Arcform" hull shape. This was designed by Joseph Isherwood. The cross section was shaped like a wine cask standing on end. The widest beam was just below the waterline and 10% bigger than a normal tramp. The outcome of this was the ship Arcwear. The ship was launched on 2nd November.

1934 On the Arcwear's maiden voyage, fuel consumption was lower and the ship itself was faster than planned. However, the ship suffered with heavy rolling in heavy weather, and jerky motion in calm weather. This resulted in seawater halfway up her hatches and the whole foredeck submerged under water. Understandably, this placed the future of the design in doubt. However, several Arcform tramps were built along with some Arcform tankers. On evaluation, the design was not considered to be very successful.

1935 The Scrap & Build Scheme led to six ships being ordered five of which were colliers.

1937 One of the above ships was a tramp which became the single-decker Biddlestone which were fitted with the new White twin high-speed compound steam engine exhausting to a low pressure turbine. She was launched on 10th May 1937.

1938 After completing seven more tramps, the yard closed again due to lack of orders.

1939 The yard reopened again in the Summer. Two Maierform hull tramps were completed (one had been built prior to closure).

WWII The yard's output was 28 tramps, two small motor tankers and a tank landing craft for the Admiralty.

1944 Towards the end of 1944, the Government encouraged a move away from ships built on Short's own prototype towards partially-prefabricated 'C' type ships. The yard had a workforce of approx. 900 workers at the end of the war.

1946 John H. Short was the Chairman of the company and he was joined on the Board by the great-grandson of the founder, H. S. Short.

1950-1960 The yard received orders from British, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Dutch and Greek companies.

1961-1963 These were the last years of production at the yard. Notably the ship Carlton, was a Universal Bulk Ship which had four upper holds at the junctions of the five main holds and having separate hatches which were further divided longitudinally into three departments. This made a total of seventeen cargo spaces which meant that it was easier to carry grain cargo. Carlton was the last launch on 17th October.

1964 The yard closed with a loss of 300 jobs in January on the completion of Carlton. The Short family did not want to invest in their company to extend the berths of the yard. The yard was demolished, but the fitting-out quay was purchased by Bartram and Sons in late 1964.

Some Launch Reports

1878 'LAUNCH AT PALLION. There ws launched yesterday, from the shipbuilding yard of Messrs. Short Brothers, a screw-steamer, built to the order of the Marquis of Londonderry, of tho following dimensions and particulars:—Length 180 feet, breadth 28 feet 6 inches, and 14 feet depth of hold, with dead weight carrying capacity of 800 tons on a mean draft of 12 feet 6 inches. The vessel is constructed with a long raised quarter deck, bridge-house amidships, sunk topgallant forecastle, and has Iron decks all fore and aft. The saloon and captain's cabin are in the after part, the engineers and officers are berthed in the bridge, and the forecastle fitted up separate compartments for the accommodation of seamen and firemen. The vessel is fitted with Price's patent hatchways, water ballast in aft and main holds and both peaks, steam winches, &c., and Is Intended for the London and Seaham coal trade. She Is to be fitted with a pair of compound surface condensing engines of ninety horse-power, by Mr. John Dickinson, Monkwearmouth. A number of ladles and gentlemen from Seaham Harbour assembled to witness the launch. Amongst those present were Mrs. Eminson, Mrs. Ditchfield, Mrs. Short and family, Captains Eminson, Corbet, Warham, and Hardy; Mr. Samuel Ditchfield, Mr. Thorman Warham, Mr. Clasey, Mr. Frost, and Mr. James Lindsay. On the vessel leavlng the ways she was gracefully named "Viscount Castlereagh" by Mrs. Eminson. After the usual toasts, Captain Eminson, in acknowledging the compliment paid to Mrs Eminson, expressed the uniform satisfaction the builders of the Viscount Castlereagh had given on every former occasion. All the vessels constructed for the same owners by Messrs. Short Brothers had proved eminently successful, and he had no doubt the present vessel would sustain the high reputation won her builders. The sister ship now under construction is expected to be ready for launching in about a fortnight, and is to be named after the beautiful estate of the Marquis of Londonderry, "Wynyard Park." '[1]

1887 'Messrs Short Brothers launched on Saturday afternoon an iron steamer, built to the order of a London firm of shipowners. The name of the vessel is to be the Herongate, and she is of the following dimensions:—Length, 180 feet; breadth, 25 feet; depth of hold, about 12 feet. The Herongate will be fitted with triple expansion engines, constructed by Mr John Dickinson, Monkwearmouth'[2]

1888 'LAUNCH AT SUNDERLAND. As briefly announced by us yesterday, Messrs Short Bros, launched from their yard a handsomely modelled screw-steamer, built to the order of James Knott and partners, Newcastle-on-Tyne. The vessel, which is entirely constructed of steel to the highest class in Lloyd's registry, is of the following dimensions : —Length, 290 feet; breadth,38 feet 9 inches and 20 feet depth, moulded; tonnage, gross, 1,934 tons ; nett, 1,254 tons. She is constructed on the cellular double bottom principle for water ballast throughout, and is divided into four cargo holds, with water-tight bulkheads. There is a full poop aft, with accommodation for captain and officers, the saloon being handsomely decorated with Lincrusta Walton; long raised quarterdeck connected to bridge-house amidships, with accommodation for engineers in after part of latter, and topgallant forecastle for crew. She also fitted with cutwater and figure head, which gives the vessel very handsome appearance. On leaving the ways the vessel was named the Scottish Prince, the ceremony being gracefully performed by Miss Ada May Short, daughter of the builder. The engines, which are to be fitted by Mr John Dickinson, Monkwearmouth, are of 180 nominal horse-power, triple expansion, with three cranks. The boilers, which are of steel, having a working pressure of 150lbs., and all the latest improvements. She is the seventh vessel built by Messrs Short Bros, for the same owners during the last three years.' [3]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 13 June 1878
  2. Shields Daily Gazette, Monday 25 April 1887
  3. Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 3 January 1888