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British Industrial History

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Lithgows

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Lithgows, shipbuilders, of Port Glasgow

Originally known as Russell and Co until 1918 when it began its rapid ascent, eventually taking over all of the other large Port Glasgow shipyards.

1870 Company founded, a partnership between Joseph Russell, Anderson Rodger and William Todd Lithgow. Leased the Bay yard.

1878 The three partners built Falls of Clyde, a famous barque which is still on display today.

1879 Leased a second yard at Port Glasgow: Mid-Cartsdyke, which had been operated from 1874 to 1879 by J. E. Scott.

1881 The company bought the six berth Kingston yard, which meant it could now start building large capacity sailing ships to carry bulk cargoes around the world.

1882-92 The yard standardised its designs which meant that they could build ships at a fast pace. 271 ships were built during this period and in 1890 the yard broke the world output record. The company also took shares in the ships with the shipowners, which helped to sell its ships.

1891 The partnership broke up by mutual agreement. Rodger took the Bay yard (building under his own name A. Rodger and Co) and Lithgow took the Kingston and Cartsdyke (Greenock) yards still under the name Russell and Co, having been loaned some of the money for the buy-out by Russell. The men still retained a business relationship though mainly through financing and purchasing.

1900 Lithgow retained his Kingston yard and sold off his Cartsdyke one. The main product was steam tramps and the yard managed to turn a tidy profit. Throughout the early 1900s Lithgow’s yard also made tankers for a number of different companies. The yard also made over a dozen liners.

1901 Lithgow brought his elder son, James, into the business as an apprentice. Another son, Henry, eventually came into the company too.

1908 William Lithgow died on 7th June 1908. James and Henry took over the running of the Kingston yard, and set about expanding the company by taking over neighbouring yards.

1911 the company's original yard, the Bay Yard, was acquired on the death of Anderson Rodger

WWI Output from the yards was enormous: 315,141 tons. However, the yard only ever completed one naval vessel, a fast patrol boat called P21.

1919 The company renamed itself Lithgows, a private limited company. The brothers embarked on a rapid process of acquisition and expansion, adopting vertical integration and taking the company into coal mining and steelmaking.

Over a twenty year period, starting shortly before incorporation, the company expanded rapidly to absorb many companies:

By the early 1920s, the Lithgow Brothers owned all of the Port Glasgow yards stretching along the waterfront from Kingston to Bay. The yards produced ninety cargo-liners and tramps and a dozen oil tankers for Companies all around the world.

James was knighted in 1925.

1928 Acquired Ayrshire Dockyard, shipbuilders, Irvine, South Ayrshire.

Between 1920 and 1939 Lithgows launched 1.017 million tons of merchant ships, the third greatest production in Britain behind Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson and Harland and Wolff and nearly twice as much as the next ranked Clyde yard of Barclay, Curle and Co.

1930s The Kingston and Bay yards managed to ride out the Depression thanks to a combination of low overheads and shrewd business practice (i.e. being able to undercut competitors). A number of tramps, banana boats, cargo carriers and passenger ships were built while many other yards were going out of business. Sir James Lithgow set up the National Shipbuilders Security (NSS) in 1930 by approaching Montagu Norman (Governor of the Bank of England). NSS was formed to secure a core price for the building rights of any yard going into liquidation.

1931-37 The company had controlling interests in nine Clyde yards with the Lithgow Brothers themselves maintaining interests in five of these. In effect, the Lithgow Brothers used NSS to carry out their own process of business rationalisation at Port Glasgow. Consequently, they received a substantial amount of compensation when the Lithgow-owned Inch yard was sold to NSS in 1933 and the site was then closed for forty years. Although there was a public backlash about this arrangement, the brothers purchased the Govan Fairfield yard using the compensation money in 1935, preventing it from closing down. The Brothers also closed and expanded other yards during this time.

WWII The Lithgow yards produced 97 ships coming to over 1.2 million tons. These were in the form of two cargo-liners, two merchant sea craft, 33 standard Empire tramps, two merchant aircraft carriers, three short-sea traders, three transport ferries and 54 merchant ships for private owners. After the War, the yard returned to building tankers, cargo-liners and tramps.

1948 Henry Lithgow died on 28th May.

Sir James Lithgow died on 23rd February 1952 having had a period of ill health prior to this. The yards continued, and entered a new phase of tanker construction and built over 43 between the years of 1948-1960.

1950s The yards were now managed by three executive directors. Each shipyard had a shipyard manager and two assistant managers.

1955 Lithgows began their quest for full control of the Ferguson Brothers yard, by initially buying a minority interest, which led to full control in 1961.

1959 the Company entered an extensive period of modernisation and started reconstructing the Kingston yard. Following this, the Glen/East yard was modernised for the prefabrication of tankers and bulk carriers.

1961 Shipbuilders.

1961 Acquired Ferguson Brothers, shipbuilders, Port Glasgow.

From 1961-1971 over 38 large ore-carriers, bulk carriers and tankers were built by the Lithgow yards.

1960s The Geddes Report recommended the merger of many yards as a way of keeping British Shipbuilding competitive in a global marketplace. Consequently, Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Co and Lithgows merged in 1968 and a new holding company was created: Scott-Lithgow. There were also two separate operating companies Scotts' Shipbuilding Co. (1969) and Lithgows (1969).

1970s A new super-yard came into being in 1972 as a result of the merging of the Glen/East and Kingston yards. This enabled them to build four huge crude oil tankers, along with three large bulkers of Panamax size.

1977 The Scott-Lithgow yards were nationalised and became part of British Shipbuilders on 1st July. They continued making cargo-liners until orders for ships began to decline.

1980s The Lithgow yard began constructing oil-rigs. The Lithgow yards were sold to a consortium of Trafalgar House and Howard Doris for £12M on 28th March 1984. 1200 ships had been built under the Lithgow name: the Lithgow's themselves moved into electronics and hotel ownership.

Other interests

1931 the Lithgow brother agreed to merge their holdings in James Dunlop and Co with David Colville and Sons, as a consequence of which they joined the board of the Colville companies, forming Colvilles. It was decided to centralize pig iron manufacture at the former Dunlop's Clyde Iron Works.

1934 the Lithgow brothers bought the shares of the Steel Company of Scotland. Their ownership of these shares posed a threat to the growing monopoly of the Colville group in supplying the shipbuilding market, and encouraged the Colville group to incorporate the Steel Company of Scotland in its rationalization scheme.

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