Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,173 pages of information and 245,641 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.

J. Samuel White and Co

From Graces Guide
February 1911.


1920. SS Argone.
1922.The Penlee Motor Lifeboat.
1929. Lifeboat Building at West Cowes, Isle of Wight.
1929. The Shipyard, East Cowes, Isle of Wight.
1929. Joiners' Shop East Cowes, Isle of Wight.
1929. The Large Boat Shop, East Cowes.
1929. The Shipyard and Engine Works, Cowes.
1929. The Shipyard and Engine Works, Cowes.
1929. Turbine Blading and Rotor Testing Shop. Cowes.
1929. Pipe Bending Shop with the Bonn Bending Machine.Cowes.
1929. Propeller Shafting in the Turning Shop. Cowes.
1933. 24 B.H.P. Four Cylinder Marine Engine.
1943 April.
January 1947.
1951. Marine steam turbines, land and marine water-tube boilers, oil fuel burning equipment and Clinsol strainers.
April 1952.
June 1953.
1960. Marine steam turbines, land and marine water-tube boilers, oil fuel burning equipment and Clinsol strainers.
c 1950's (?) refrigerating unit.
Badge on refrigerating unit.

J. Samuel White (J. S. White) of Cowes, Isle of Wight was a British shipbuilding firm.


The company, which took its name from John Samuel White, came to prominence during the Victorian era. During the 20th Century it specialised in building destroyers for both the Royal Navy and export customers. Maker of stationary engines. [1]

1694 A shipyard was established at Cowes that continued to supply ships to the Admiralty for more than 200 years[2]

17th century: The Whites were building ships at Broadstairs for the Iceland fisheries and the Russian trade.

1746 John White was head of the firm.

1802 In his book "Wight, Biography of an Island" Paul Hyland explains that the company moved from Broadstairs (Kent) to Cowes in 1802, where they began work on the 'Thetis' Yard on the 'salterns' and marsh between the Medina and Arctic roads.

1805 Company was founded by John White. For some years, John White constructed small, special lifeboats[3].

Records indicate that by the 1850s White's docks, with its steam sawmills and engine shops, and the mast and block shops, provided work for around 500 craftsmen.

1856 Messrs John and Robert White, shipbuilders of Cowes, subscribed £20 to the Smith Testimonial Fund, commemorating the work of F. P. Smith in promoting the screw propeller.

1864 John's son, John Samuel White, had the idea of applying high speed engines to the lifeboats. He collaborated with George Belliss of Birmingham to implement this, with work conducted at the Falcon yard in East Cowes[4].

1880s The shipbuilding, which established the reputation of the yard, began in the 1880s when the company expanded into a number of yards. By the mid 1880s the yard's repertoire consisted of torpedo boats, yachts, pinnacles, cutters, small sailing ships and composite paddle steamers.

Constructed tea clippers and some early liners for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co and the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co[5]

1889 Took over John White's Medina Dock Works, on the opposite side of the Medina to Falcon Works; used for engineering work and construction of small steam ships[6]. An engine building department was later established there.

1891 Became a Private company.

1894/5 The company's Falcon yard built its first destroyers for the Royal Navy.

1896 Andrew Forster was appointed chief draughtsman and manager's assistant, later becoming Engineering Manager.

Forster invented the "White-Forster" water-tube boiler, and the "White-Forster " automatic feed-water regulator, and the "Dummyless" turbine, etc.

1898 Incorporated as a limited company: J. Samuel White and Co Ltd. The company expanded further with the regular construction of turbines, boilers, steam and diesel engines; the west Cowes site became an engineering works.

1905/11 Twenty five destroyers were completed between 1905 and 1911, fitted with the White-Forster water tube boiler which was a speciality of the company.

1910s Built the Wight seaplane in various forms. Formation of an aviation department.

1913-1917 For a list of the models and prices of Marine Motors see the 1917 Red Book under the White-Brons name.

1914 Engineers, boilermakers and builders of ships, aero and hydro-aeroplanes, torpedo boats, destroyers, fast steam yachts, shallow draught, stern wheel or screw in tunnel vessels, steam, petrol and paraffin motor launches, "White-Forster" water tube boilers, marine oil fuel installations, "White-Diesel" marine oil engines, "White" paraffin oil engines, marine turbines, marine steam reciprocating engines. Employees 2,000. [7]

WWI During the War, the yard built 16 destroyers, five patrol boats, six "Q" ships and two submarines. The company's Howes yard also produced a number of destroyers in record time by increasing its workforce and modernising its fitting out facilities. Built a new factory at Somerton, near Cowes[8] which after the war was sold to Selsdon Aero and Engineering Co.

1918 A controlling interest in the business was acquired by Archibald Mitchelson of A. Mitchelson and Co[9]

1919 Company made public.

1920 Description of the engines fitted to H.M. Monitor Marshall Ney apparently built some years previously

1920 April. SS Argonne. [10]

1920s The Cowes yard moved into merchant ship production as war ship orders had dried up. There was a slump in merchant orders too, and this led to the yard accepting orders for small ships: tank barges, excursion steamers steam yachts and ferries.

1922-30 Engines for the Woolwich Free Ferry

1924 Advert says they are shipbuilders and engineers and lists a range of products.

1928 New orders for warships began coming in from 1928 onwards. The company survived the Depression thanks to its established ship repairing yard in Southampton. The company also had a separate lifeboat production line, which kept the income stream flowing.

From 1933 onwards fresh orders for the Royal Navy invigorated the fortunes of the yard: destroyers, gunboats and mine-layers were made during this period.

c.1936-45 Sir Archibald Mitchelson was chairman for 9 years until his death in 1945[11]

1939 See Aircraft Industry Suppliers

WWII Built more than 350 vessels from small boats to destroyers, motor torpedo boats and landing craft. Carried out repairs and major refits to 150 vessels. The aircraft section built components for many aircraft including 14,000 sets of frames for Spitfires[12]

WWII Manufactured parts for the De Havilland Mosquito[13].

WWII "In May 1942 the Polish destroyer 'Blyskawica' was being urgently refitted at J Samuel White where it had been launched. On the night of 4th May, the Luftwaffe let fly with 200 tons of bombs, a wave of incendiaries followed by high explosives. The Blyskawica left her moorings, dropped anchor outside the harbour, and retaliated all night with such vehemence that her guns had to be doused with water, and more ammunition had to be ferried across from Portsmouth but for her, the 800 casualties and thousands of damaged buildings, including 100,000 square feet of wreckage at Whites, would have been far worse." Note: The destroyer is still preserved as possibly the world's oldest destroyer. Built in 1936, she is currently moored in Gdynia as a museum ship

1945 Was the first shipyard to build an all-welded destroyer[14]

1950s In the post war period, the yard returned to merchant ship construction and made turbine powered ferries, refrigerated fruit ships and survey vessels. However, in the Cowes yard frigates, destroyers, warships, patrol boats, lighthouse tenders and minesweepers were completed.

1960s The 60s were typified by the building of large ferries.

1961 Shipbuilders, boilermakers, marine engineers; makers of turbine machinery, oil fuel plant and plastic boats. 2,500 employees. [15]

1961 Acquired greetings card manufacturer J. Arthur Dixon[16]

1964 However, as other yards moved towards prefabrication techniques, the East Cowes yard was closed in 1964 as it was not possible to update its facilities.

1965 It was announced that the engineering businesses would be reorganised and the greeting cards business, J. Arthur Dixon, would be strengthenes[17]

1972 The West Cowes yard continued its engineering work until 1972 when it was bought by the Elliot Corporation of the USA for the production of turbo-compressors.

1974 J. Arthur Dixon was sold.

Wight Seaplane

Aircraft built in the 1910s were named after the Isle of Wight:

  • Wight Baby - single-seat seaplane
  • Wight Converted Seaplane - bomber floatplane. Two-crew biplane powered by 275 hp Rolls-Royce Mk II or the 265 hp Sunbeam Maori. 37 were built.
  • Wight Pusher Seaplane - floatplane.
  • Wight Seaplane - floatplane.

Refrigeration Units

By the 1950s the company was making small refrigerators (see photo) and Thermoplate heat exchangers.

The Sultan of Zanzibar's Barge

See J. Samuel White and Co: Sultan of Zanzibar's Barge

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Stationary Steam Engines of Great Britain by George Watkins. Vol 10
  2. The Times, Aug 27, 1919
  3. The Times, 5 January 1910
  4. The Times, 5 January 1910
  5. The Times Oct. 28, 1918
  6. The Times, Jan 05, 1910
  7. 1914 Whitakers Red Book
  8. The Times, 29 September 1919
  9. The Times Oct. 28, 1918
  10. The Engineer 1920/04/30
  11. The Times Feb. 4, 1946
  12. The Times feb. 4, 1946
  13. Mosquito by C. Martin Sharp and Michael J. F. Bowyer. Published by Crecy Books in 1995. ISBN 0-947554-41-6
  14. The Times Feb. 4, 1946
  15. 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
  16. The Times Jan. 12, 1963
  17. The Times Nov. 22, 1965
  • [1] Wikipedia
  • L. A. Ritchie, The Shipbuilding Industry: A Guide to Historical Records (1992)
  • British Shipbuilding Yards. 3 vols by Norman L. Middlemiss
  • The Engineer of 2nd April 1920 p358
  • The Engineer of 30th April 1920 p457
  • 1924 Naval Annual Advert page xvii
  • The Steam Engine in Industry by George Watkins in two volumes. Moorland Publishing. 1978. ISBN 0-903485-65-6
  • The Aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps (Military Wing) by J. M. Bruce. Published in 1982. ISBN 0-370-30084-x
  • The Encyclopedia of British Military Aircraft by Chaz Bowyer. Published in 1982. ISBN 1-85841-031-2
  • [2] Wikipedia