Laird Brothers of Birkenhead were shipbuilders.
1828 the yard moved into shipbuilding. William went into business with his son John as William Laird and Son. John Laird realised that the techniques of making boilers could be applied to making ships. The company soon became pre-eminent in the manufacture of iron ships and made major advances in propulsion.
1830s The first shipbuilding order was for a 60-ton lighter and their first innovation, which was the use of bulkheads, was put to use in the small paddle steamer Garryowen in 1834. In addition, the yard made a number of iron gunboats. John Laird's brother Macgregor Laird was also establishing his own yard on the Liverpool bank from 1832. Macgregor Laird was also known as a human rights activist for African peoples, and regularly undertook voyages into the interior of Africa.
1838-42 See 1839-1842 Marine Engine Makers for details of engines made for the Admiralty
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 also ordered his river steamer Ma Robert from the yard. Macgregor founded the African Steamship Co which, after his death, was sold on to Elder Dempster and Co.
1855 New Iron Mortar Boats launched (John Laird)
1861 John Laird, the elder, retired in order to become an MP. His brother Macgregor Laird also died this year. Henry Hyndman Laird was admitted into the co-partnership
1862 The business became Messrs. Laird Brothers, with William Laird aas the senior partner. From this point onwards the yard built up a formidable reputation as a merchant shipbuilder. The yard also built the Confederate commence 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.
1863 Two vessels were under construction, said to be "for the Emperor of China", widely understood to refer to the American Confederate forces
1866 Designed a new turret ship, HMS Captain, to the specification of the Admiralty. The First Lord ordered the ship but without clear division of responsibility between the Admiralty and Lairds. Unfortunately the capability for assessing the ability to recover from heeling was not well developed at that time and Laird's estimates of the height of the centre of gravity were erroneous.
1870 On one of her first voyages, HMS Captain capsized with great loss of life
1870s The first of a long line of Cock tugs was made: Storm Cock.
From 1870-1900 over 270 merchant ships were made by the yard
1881 Messrs. Laird Brothers, Shipbuilders and Engineers, of the Birkenhead Iron Works, Birkenhead, gave notice of their intention to build a slip of timber piles in extension of their Works at Birkenhead
1888 Triple Expansion Engines for SS City of Berlin
1890s The yard made a series of armour-clad battleships for the Royal Navy along with torpedo boat destroyers. This led on to orders coming in from Argentinean, Chilean, Portuguese and Russian navies. The armour plating had been manufactured by Charles Cammell and Co and consequently the two companies were merged in 1903 to become Cammell, Laird and Co. This meant that armoured warships could be built by one company, which was more convenient for the Royal Navy. The company was already of limited liability status.
1891 For description of works see 1891 The Practical Engineer
1902 Laird Brothers and John Jones and Sons formed the Tranmere Bay Development Co Ltd. in March 1902 to undertake work on a 98.5 acre site at Tranmere, up-river from the existing yard. This development was complete by 1906.
Sources of Information
- The Engineer 1863/03/13
- The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy, by J. R. Hill, Bryan Ranft
- London Gazette 27 September 1881