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 163,404 pages of information and 245,908 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.

Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co

From Graces Guide
1889. Compound engines for SS Paris and SS Rouen.
1891. SS Tynwald.
1891. SS Tynwald.
1891. SS Tynwald.
1893. Cunard Line steamship RMS Lucania.
1893. Triple expansion engines of RMS Lucania.
1898. HMS Hermes.
1899. Castle Mail Packet Co, Kinfauns Castle.
1900. The Indian Troopship Hardinge.
1903. Launch of First-Class Battleship HMS Commonwealth.
1903. Union-Castle Line, Armadale Castle.
1903.Union-Castle Line, Armadale Castle.
1903. Orient Pacific Liner Orontes.


June 1888. John William Shepherd's collapsible lifeboat.
1903. First-Class Cruiser Donegal.
1912. Glasgow.
1929. Twin Screw Canadian Pacific Liner Empress of Japan.
1930. Canadian Pacific Liner, Empress of Japan.

of Fairfield Works, Govan, Glasgow.

The Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Limited was a British shipbuilding company in the famous Govan area on the Clyde in Scotland. [1]

Fairfields, as it is often known, was a major warship builder, turning out many vessels for the Royal Navy and other navies through the First World War and the Second World War.

1869 John Elder died; his company Randolph, Elder and Co, which built ships at the Fairfield Yard, was renamed by his widow as John Elder and Co in his memory [2].

1869 Memorandum Book of Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd[3].

In 1885 the business was registered as a limited company Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company[4] formerly Messrs. John Elder and Co.

1880s The yard concentrated on building Blue Riband record breakers. This led to many orders for express liners although, commercially speaking, the faster ships were less effective as the design required a reduction in passenger room. The yard also made steam yachts and coastal and cross-Channel packets.

1888 Glasgow Exhibition. Largest exhibitor. description in The Engineer. [5]

1888 Sir William Pearce died[6].

1889 Public quotation for the shares in Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd[7].

1889 See 1889 Shipbuilding Statistics for detail of the tonnage produced.

1889 Fast paddle steamers - SS Paris and SS Rouen[8]

1898 Richard Barnwell, managing director for the firm died, [9]and Frank Barnwell was appointed to the company.

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

1900s The yard enjoyed many orders from the Admiralty; this enabled it to ride out the cyclical slumps that shipbuilding experienced during the early part of the century. Orders came in for boat destroyers, cruisers, and battleships. Sir William G. Pearce, Chairman of the yard also founded Canadian Pacific Steamship Co and many Canadian Empresses were made by the yard for them.

1905 Dr Francis Elgar resigned as managing director but retained tho position of consulting naval architect to tho company. Mr. Alexander Gracie, who had been manager of the engineering section since 1896, was appointed managing director.[10]

1905 The company entered into a working arrangement with Cammell, Laird and Co, and acquired a large holding in the Coventry Ordnance Works[11], along with John Brown, in order to compete with the duopoly of Vickers and Armstrong Whitworth.

1907 Sir William G. Pearce died and eventually Alexander Gracie became the Managing Director. Gracie focused on continually modernising the yard.

1911 Cruiser / Battleship 'New Zealand'. [12]

1914 Listed as shipbuilders. [13]

WWI The yard built 50 warships including 24 destroyers, three cruisers, nine submarines, a train ferry and other minor craft.

1916 Last memorandum book[14].

1919 The Northumberland Shipbuilding Co purchased a large block of shares in the Company, one of a number of purchases at the start of the Northumberland Group's rise to prominence on the global shipbuilding scene.

1920 Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co, Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Co and a group of individual investors[15] formed Monmouth Shipbuilding Co to acquire the yards at Chepstow.

1920s The Govan yard continued making top-end liners, however, the slump of the early 20s slowed work until 1923. In addition the yard manufactured five refrigerated meat carriers.

1924 Advert says they are designers and constructors of all classes of warships, mail and passenger vessels, cargo boats, oil tankers, cross channel steamers, train ferries, cable ships, yachts etc. [16]

1924 the Chepstow yard, which had been constructed by the government during WWI, was sold to Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd[17] to build bridges during the inter-war years.

1924 the controlling interest in Ruths Steam Accumulator Co, was acquired by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co and James Howden and Co of Glasgow. [18]

1925 See Aberconway for information on shipbuilding h.p produced in 1904 and 1925.

1926 Sir Alexander M. Kennedy was chairman and managing director of the company.[19]

1930s Admiralty work dried up and the yard mainly focused on refit and maintenance work. One of the newer yards, the West yard was closed and then demolished in 1934. In 1935 the yard was taken over by the Lithgow Brothers. It was not until 1935 that orders started to pick back up again. The yard was manufacturing vessels for the Admiralty as the War loomed.

WWII The Govan yard made battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers as well as two sloops, three large tank landing craft and other minor craft.

Post-War: The Govan yard returned to building merchant ship replacements and ever larger tankers and ore & oil carriers.

1950s The Govan yard made liners and other Admiralty-related vessels; cruisers, frigates, missile cruisers, and a cable ship.

Late 50s: Attempted to develop nuclear powered ship in conjunction with Mitchell Engineering Co and Combustion Engineering Inc., of New York.

1961 Fairfields acquired David Rowan and Co; Govan had completed a frigate and a cruiser and several commercial carriers; the Chepstow yard had fabricated steelwork for railway bridges, buildings, factories and gantries for overhead cranes; further orders had been obtained[20]

1960s The Govan yard received orders for ten Turkish ferries and then entered a phase of modernisation.

1965 As this company it continued until 1965 when it filed for bankruptcy.

1966 In response, the yard was again reorganised as Fairfields, under guarantee by the government. The Geddes Report recommended that the yard be merged with five others, and the Fairfield yard became the Govan yard of UCS. The other major yards of the Upper Clyde - Alexander Stephen and Sons, Charles Connell and Co, Yarrow Shipbuilders and John Brown and Co - were merged to form Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS).

1966 Mabey and Johnson acquired Fairfield's Chepstow Bridge and Constructional Works. The company had contracts for steelwork for 2 power stations and several bridges[21].

1970s The British Government had stepped in and offered finance under the new name of Fairfields (Glasgow) Ltd. New working practices were introduced to address industrial action/unrest which were eventually enshrined in the Employment Protection Acts of 1977. However, the yard continued to have a top-heavy management structure, low productivity and huge debts. A new company was formed to try and address this: Govan Shipbuilders Ltd. The yard continued making large bulker vessels.

1971 UCS collapsed amid much controversy, and as part of the recovery deal, Fairfields was formed into Govan Shipbuilders which was nationalised as part of British Shipbuilders. On the breakup of British Shipbuilders under denationalisation, the former Fairfields yards were sold to the Kværner group, as Kværner (Govan).

1977 British shipbuilding was nationalised on 1st July 1977 and Govan Shipbuilders Ltd became a member of British Shipbuilders Ltd. The yard continued making very large bulkers and container ships.

1980s Container ships and Great Lakes grain carriers were the staple of the yard. the yard also made a massive passenger ferry for North Sea Ferries which cost £40M.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] Wikipedia
  2. Famous Glaswegians [2]
  3. Ship Building, Ship Repair and Allied Industries: Sources, at University of Glasgow [3]
  4. The Times, 2 June 1909
  5. The Engineer of 11th May 1888 p378
  6. The Times, 13 December 1912
  7. The Times, 20 November 1889
  8. The Engineer of 15th March 1889 p217 & p223 & p236
  9. The Engineer 1898/03/11
  10. The Engineer 1905/03/03 p228
  11. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  12. The Engineer of 7th July 1911 p24
  13. 1914 Whitakers Red Book
  14. Ship Building, Ship Repair and Allied Industries: Sources, at University of Glasgow [4]
  15. The Times, Feb 05, 1920
  16. 1924 Naval Annual Advert page xxxvii
  17. The Times, 1924
  18. The Engineer 1924/12/19
  19. The Engineer 1926/06/18
  20. The Times, Dec 05, 1961
  21. The Times, Jul 07, 1966