Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

William Gray and Co

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William Gray & Company of Central Marine Engineering Works, West Hartlepool was a shipbuilding firm 1874-1963. [1]

1863 William Gray formed a shipbuilding partnership with John Punshon Denton, called Denton, Gray and Co[2]

1869 They acquired their own shipyard in Hartlepool, England.

1874 Had built up to 58 iron steamers by this year. Gray and Denton went their separate ways in 1874 due to a dispute; Gray took over the yard. William Gray and Co maintained a reputation for being in the vanguard of technological and technical innovation. The company regularly topped the output for British shipyards in the last decade of the nineteenth and early 20th century.

1875 William Gray completed a dozen small steamers.

1878 The yard had the record output for a British yard this year with 18 ships launched.

1883 Central Marine Engineering Works set up, allowing the company to manufacture their own engines on site.

1883-87 The yard expanded through the acquisition of one ten acre site (Central) and a three berth shipyard (Jackson).

1887 Towards the end of the 19th century, demand was for bigger ships which could carry more cargo. This led to the opening of another Gray shipyard at the end of the Central Dock.

1888 Missouri, a cargo-liner was the first ship to be launched from the new Central Dock yard. The company continued achieving the record output of any British yard.

1888 The company was registered on 21 December, to take over the business carried on by the firm of William Gray and Co and the Central Marine Engineering Works. [3]

1889 On 1st January the firm became a private limited company. William Gray remained as chairman, with his sons Matthew and William, and his son-in-law George Henry Baines, as directors.

1889 Quadruple Expansion Engines designed by Thomas Mudd. [4]

1890 William Gray was knighted. He was active in the civil life of Hartlepool having been the first mayor of West Hartlepool among many other achievements.

1890 They opened a new forge workshop at the engineering works. Details in 'The Engineer'. [5]

1892 Gray’s yards were always kept busy with ship building, repairing and overhauling. William Gray encouraged business by offering credit to potential ship owners. One of these was Marcus Samuel, founder of Shell Oil. The first of his ships, the Murex, cost £47,000 in 1892, but at first Samuel only paid out £6,350. At today's prices this would mean the ship would cost almost £3 million, and the amount Samuel paid was £389,000. This kind of arrangement meant that William Gray held shares in about half of the ships his yard built. This was profitable for him, but also meant that people like Samuel were able to build ships they otherwise couldn’t afford.

1892-1895 Shell oil company were key customers for the yard with eight tankers made for them during these years.

1896 Matthew Gray died in 1896, followed two years later by both Sir William Gray, and Thomas Mudd. This left Sir William’s younger son, William Cresswell Gray, as Chairman of the company.

1898 The new chairman began a series of additions to the company. He purchased Milton Forge and Engineering Co. This increased the number of marine engines, boilers, pumps and other steam driven machinery which CMEW could produce.

1898 Christopher Furness, in association with Mr. W. C. Gray, purchased the Moor Steel and Iron Works, of Stockton-on-Tees, the Stockton Malleable Iron Works, and the West Hartlepool Steel and Iron Co, which were converted into a single undertaking, the South Durham Steel and Iron Co (Limited), providing materials to build Gray’s ships.

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

1900 Two more berths for building ships had been added to the Central shipyard. Gray’s now had eleven berths, and employed 3000 men. [6]

1913 Gray’s extended the lease on their shipyards. It had been due to expire in 1925, but would now last until 1950. At the same time they leased some land a few miles away on the banks of the River Tees, near Greatham Creek. This was intended for a new shipyard, to be called Graythorp. The plans had to be put on hold, however, when the First World War started. It was to be 1924 before the Graythorp yard finally opened for business.

1900-14 200 further ships were manufactured by the yard up to the outbreak of World War I.

World War I - output was 30 cargo-liners and tramps built to private order, 13 vessels built to Admiralty order and 30 standard "WAR" tramps built for the Shipping Controller.

1914 Directory: Listed as Iron Ship Builders of The Docks, West Hartlepool. [7]

1917 King George V and Queen Mary visited the yard to boost morale. The yard had a 100-ton hammer head crane which was a Hartlepool landmark until it was demolished in the 1960s.

1918 Public company.

1920s The yard experienced a reduction in orders following the great freight slump.

1922 The yard made three ships.

1922 Name changed.

1923 The yard made seven ships.

1924 Sir William C Gray died.

1925 Capt. William Gray (Sir William Gray III) took over. He had to manage a company with significant debt.

1929 The company completed its 1,000th ship: City of Dieppe.

1930 The yard closed due to lack of orders.

1932 The yard re-opened to build a Tees pilot launch and six tramps. The yards then closed down again.

1934 The Jackson dockyard only reopened to build two ferries.

1935 The Central yard reopened briefly to build a tramp "on spec" but it wasn't sold for another two years.

1936 Orders began to rise again: 30 tramps and cargo liners and two destroyers for the Admiralty were completed up to 1939.

WWII 72 ships were manufactured and 1,750 ships were repaired by the company dry-docks.

1945-1959 an average of 7.5 ships per year were built by the yards. A number of tankers were also built.

1959 There were only two more orders on the books for two ore-carriers.

1961 Shipbuilders, repairers and marine engineers, also boiler builders, iron and brass founders and drop stampers. [8]

1961 The bulker Blanchland was the last ship to be completed by Gray.

1962 The Company went into voluntary liquidation.

1963 The various yards were either acquired, auctioned or demolished with the site of the Graythorp yard being used by Laing Offshore in 1974/75.

The Egis Yard

The EGIS Shipbuilding Company was formed in 1917. EGIS is an acronym for Ellerman, Gray, Inchcape and Strick. The yard had four berths and a fitting out quay and launched its first ship Golconda in 1919. It was a Wear shipyard based in North-East England.

1923 Having previously been absorbed into William Gray & Company (1918) Ltd, the yard began trading under the name William Gray and Co Ltd.

1925 The yard was closed due to lack of orders.

1927 Work resumed with 19 tramps completed before the Depression finished the yard off.

1930 Grays closed the yard. It had completed 34 ships.

1936 In November the yard was purchased by National Shipbuilders Security.

1938 The four berths were dismantled.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. British Shipbuilding Yards. 3 vols by Norman L. Middlemiss
  2. [1] Hartlepool Council Web Site
  3. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  4. The Engineer of 18th Jan 1889 p49
  5. The Engineer of 7th February 1890 p108 & p110
  6. The Engineer 1900/02/09 p163
  7. Kelly's Directory of Durham, 1914 p714
  8. 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
  • Hartlepool Built [2]