Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 150,667 pages of information and 235,203 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Costain Group

From Graces Guide

Costain Group plc, construction and civil engineering company, of Maidenhead (HQ).

1865 Company founded when Richard Costain and his future brother-in-law, Richard Kneen, left the Isle of Man and moved to Liverpool as jobbing builders.

1879 Bankruptcy of partnership: "Richard Costain, of Victoria Road, Great Crosby, near Liverpool, Lancaster, and Richard Kneen, of 32 Percy Street, Southport, Lancaster, both trading under the firm o£ Costain & Kneen, at Victoria Road, Great Crosby aforesaid, builders and contractors, and at Great Crosby aforesaid and Seaforth, near Liverpool aforesaid, brick manufacturers, and also carrying on business at Sandfield Farm, Great Crosby, near Liverpool aforesaid, under the firm of Costain & Kneen."[1]

1888 The partnership of Costain and Kneen at Blundellsands and Horwich, both in the county of Lancaster, as Joiners, Builders, and Wheelwrights, was dissolved[2]; Richard Costain's three sons (Richard, William and John) later joined him in his business; Kneen moved to Horwich.

By the time of the First War, Costain had expanded through Lancashire and into south Wales where it built houses for munitions workers.

After the First War, Costain began to develop housing estates in Liverpool on its own account, primarily to offer continuity of employment to its workforce. With housing sites in Liverpool in short supply, Richard Costain sent his son William down to London to find new sites. He purchased the Walton Heath Land Company.

1923 The separate business of Richard Costain & Sons was formed.

Several executive estates in the Croydon area were developed in the mid-1920s.

By 1927 William's son, Richard Rylandes Costain was joint managing director

1929 William died; the other two brothers remained in Liverpool and William’s son, Richard Rylands Costain became sole managing director of the London Company. Under him, Richard Costain & Sons expanded its housing work, building large estates all around London, the largest being a site for 7,500 homes in South Hornchurch, started in 1934. Perhaps the best-known development of all was Dolphin Square completed in 1937.

Speculative house building was at that period the firm's main activity, some ten thousand houses being built on eight estates.

1933 The London-based Richard Costain was floated on the London Stock Exchange; the Liverpool business was not part of the flotation. By then, Costain had completed over 4,000 houses in the London area, some at prices up to £4,000. Costain continued to expand its private house-building and it was described as "one of the largest speculative house-builders and estate developers in this country before the war."

Following the flotation, Costain moved into civil engineering and worked first on the Trans-Iranian Railway and then at Abadan, Iran for BP. Losses on the railway, on Beckton sewage works and the costs of Dolphin Square caused financial problems, and Costain had to look for alternative funds when Barclays withdrew its overdraft facilities.

WWII: Costain carrying out extensive military work including airfields and ordnance factories, and it was one of the contractors building the Mulberry Harbour units.

After the War, building controls precluded any substantial return to private housebuilding and Costain took its wartime construction expertise overseas: by the mid-1950s as much as 60% of turnover was overseas. Costains was responsible for the Festival of Britain buildings, as well as many domestic contracts, and was involved in very large building and civil engineering works in many different countries.

c.1958 With the launching or absorption of specialist activities, association with other companies in joint ventures, and the formation of subsidiaries and branches in many countries, the parent company became the Costain Group.

Some small estate development was undertaken but it was not until the acquisition of the Rostance Group of Nottingham in 1962 that private housebuilding resumed on any scale. Helped also by the acquisition of the Blackpool firm of R. Fielding in 1969, Costain was building around 1,000 houses a year by the early 1970s.

The substantially increased revenues that accrued to the oil-producing states led to a construction boom in the middle east in the 1970s. Costain was a major beneficiary, particularly in the Emirates, and within a decade profits increased from little more than £1m a year to £47m. In the face of such overseas largesse, domestic housing activity declined.

By 1981 the company had been formally renamed as Costain Group plc.

In the 1980s, recognising that exceptional middle east profits could not continue, Costain sought to redeploy its extensive cash balances into coal mining, international housing and commercial property. However, over-expansion in the late 1980s led to high gearing just as international markets were turning down, problems exacerbated by a disaster in Costain’s American coal mine.

Substantial losses were incurred in the early 1990s and asset sales followed leaving Costain as a predominantly construction-oriented business.

At a dramatic low-point in 1995, the demise of Costain was predicted - incorrectly - by broadsheets in the UK. It was not expected to survive as an operating company by the end of the century.

Costain's activities are organised into two operating divisions: Natural Resources (water, waste, nuclear process and oil & gas), Infrastructure (highways, rail, power and airports).

Projects undertaken by or involving the Company have included:

  • The Dolphin Square apartments in London completed in 1937
  • A section of the Trans-Iranian Railway completed in 1939
  • Dubai International Airport completed in 1960
  • The Deep Water Harbour at Bridgetown, Barbados completed in 1961
  • The Thames Barrier completed in 1984
  • The Channel Tunnel completed in 1994
  • The Tsing Ma Bridge in Hong Kong completed in 1997
  • The Cardiff Bay Barrage completed in 1999
  • King's Cross Western Ticketing Hall completed in 2006

and in Private Finance Initiative projects.

Costain is also involved in the redevelopment of Bond Street Station due for completion in 2017.

Also see Costain Homes, Costain Mining, Costain-John Brown

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Edinburgh Gazette 8 August 1879
  2. London Gazette 11 September 1888
  • Wikipedia
  • Biography of Sir Richard Rylandes Costain, ODNB