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 162,526 pages of information and 244,521 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.

John Laird, Sons and Co

From Graces Guide

of Birkenhead

1824 William Laird established the Birkenhead Iron Works to manufacture boilers.

1828 John Laird realised that the techniques of making boilers could be applied to making ships. William went into business with his son John as William Laird and Son. The company soon became pre-eminent in the manufacture of iron ships and made major advances in propulsion.

c.1830 The first shipbuilding order was for a 60-ton lighter, the Wye, for use on inland waterways in Ireland.

1832 His brother Macgregor Laird was also establishing his own yard on the Liverpool bank from 1832.

1833 Built a paddle-steamer, the Lady Lansdowne. Like the Wye it was built in sections for reassembly in Ireland.

1834 An early innovation was the use of bulkheads in the small paddle steamer Garryowen. In addition, the yard made a number of iron gunboats.

1834 Built another prefabricated vessel, the John Randolph, for G. B. Lamar of Savannah, the first iron ship to be built for an American owner.

1835 Prefabricated riverboats became a speciality - the Tigris and Euphrates in 1835, with which F. R. Chesney explored the Euphrates.

1837 The Rainbow was the 10th ship built by Mr Laird on the patented principles intended to ensure safety[1]; the Rainbow was the largest iron ship of its day.

Also constructed the Robert F. Stockton, a screw-steamer; and the Dover for the Admiralty in 1839.

1838-42 See 1839-1842 Marine Engine Makers for details of engines made for the Admiralty

1839 Laird was an advocate of iron ships; he built, in secrecy and on speculation, the first iron warship, the paddle-steamer Nemesis. He appointed William Hall to command her

1840 Laird sent the Nemesis as a private armed steamer to the First Opium War. Her voyage out was the longest yet by a steam-assisted vessel, and she reached China in January 1841.

1841 Nemesis was bought by the East India Co.

1841 Death of William Laird

1842 John Laird's were constructing 2 large iron ships - one as a light ship, the other for the East India Company[2]

1845 Built HMS Birkenhead, one of the first iron-hulled ships built for the Royal Navy. She was designed as a steam frigate, but was converted to a troopship before being commissioned.

1850s The site of the yard was acquired by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board for Birkenhead Docks. John Laird moved to a new site between Monks Ferry and Tranmere Pool. This was known as the North Yard. The famous explorer Dr. Livingstone ordered his river steamer Ma Robert from the yard.

1853 John Laird's yard was at Canning St, Birkenhead[3]

1853 Built the 'Manx Fairy'. Offered for sale by auction. 'First class schoomer-rigged Iron built paddle wheel steamer ..... About 333 tons, builders' measuremnent, or 188 nett per register, fitted with a pair of oscillating engines made by, Faucett and Preston, of Liverpool, of 200 nominal collective horse-power, 55 inch cylinders 4 feet stroke, tubular boilers, donkey engine, and feathering floats. Dimensions: Length 165 feet, breadth 22 feet 6 inches, depth of hold l2 feet 6 inches, draught of water fully laden 10 feet, unladen, with water in boilers and coal in bunkers, 8 feet 6 inches, average speed per hour 12 miles. .....'[4]

1855 New Iron Mortar Boats launched (John Laird) and gunboats for service in the Crimean War,

1858 Built the river boat Ma Robert for David Livingstone.

1860 On 1st January John Laird's sons William and John were admitted as member of the firms, and the title was changed to John Laird, Sons and Co.

1861 John Laird retired from John Laird, Sons and Co; the business was carried on by William and John Junior in co-partnership with Henry Hyndman Laird[5]

1862 The company name became Laird Brothers when Henry joined his brothers as owners and managers. From this point onwards the yard built up a formidable reputation as a merchant shipbuilder. The yard also built the Confederate commerce raider Alabama in 1862. This ship was responsible for sinking over 60 Union merchantmen before meeting its end in 1864 when it was hit and sunk.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Liverpool Mercury, October 20, 1837
  2. The Times, Sep 24, 1842
  3. Gore's Directory of Liverpool & its Environs, 1853
  4. Liverpool Mercury - Monday 19 October 1857
  5. London Gazette 5 November 1861
  • Biography of John Laird, ODNB