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 163,167 pages of information and 245,637 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.

Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson: 1934 Review

From Graces Guide

Note: This is a sub-section of Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson

Note: This is an abridged version of a chapter in British Commerce and Industry 1934

The organization represents a group of companies which includes the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Co on the Tyne and Barclay, Curle and Co at Glasgow, in addition to the Wallsend Shipyards and Drydocks at Wallsend, and the Neptune Shipyard and Engine Works at Walker-on-Tyne.

As builders of all types of craft the Swan Hunter group is probably the largest in England. On eight occasions within thirty years its annual output of tonnage has exceeded that of any other group of yards in the world. It also holds the world's record output for any one year with a total of 37 ships of 213,229 gross tons, in 1930.

The varied character of its activities may be gauged from a reference to its output. This includes ocean liners, general cargo boats, oil tankers, fruit ships, refrigerator ships, whaling factories, cross channel, lake and river steamers, cable ships, ice breakers, train ferries, and warships — such as cruisers, destroyers, submarines and sloops. In addition to the foregoing many floating docks of all types and sizes have been built at Wallsend.

In the medium liner class alone a total of over 250 boats have been built by the company for British and foreign owners; and as regards the world's largest liners, the Cunarder RMS Mauretania, which was built at Wallsend, held the blue riband of the Atlantic for twenty-two years—until it fell to a much larger and post-war boat in 1929. It is doubtful whether any liner, present or future, can remain the unchallenged queen of the Atlantic for so long a period again.

The latest figures of ships under construction in the world are gratifying in that the British proportion is approaching the average pre-war normal figure, which was around fifty per cent. of the whole. The Swan Hunter yards, although not fully occupied, have an imposing list of contracts in operation or recently completed, including passenger boats, oil tankers, an important ship to carry refrigerated cargoes, train ferries, and three warships. The most important ship launched in England in 1933 was the Port Chalmers, built at Wallsend for the Commonwealth and Dominion Line. Like a number previously built for the same line, it carries refrigerated cargoes, dairy produce and fruit from Australia and New Zealand to the United Kingdom.

Another important ship, launched in 1933, and an example of the latest development in shipbuilding, was the Peter G. Campbell, built for carrying oil in bulk on the Great Lakes and canals of Canada. This ship was built entirely on the new method of electric welding in which Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson are the pioneers. No riveting whatever was used, the entire hull, frames, beams, decks and bulkheads being electrically welded throughout. The result was a lighter and stronger structure than is obtainable by the ordinary method of riveting. On the way out to Canada she encountered very severe weather and was battered by storms, but she arrived at Montreal with her hull staunch and in every way satisfactory. Her first cargo of petrol was loaded before she had been in port many hours, and she began her work immediately on the Ottawa River.

Among the passenger ships recently built or under construction by the firm are the El Kantara for express service between the South of France and Algiers; the Prestolonaslednik Petar for service in the Adriatic Sea; a 10,000-ton twin-screw motorship for the Melbourne Steamship Co.; the Malaita built by Barclay, Curle and Co, the associated company on the Clyde, for Burns Philp and Co of Sydney, New South Wales.

For the Polish British Steamship Co of Gdynia, Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson recently built a general cargo steamer to develop the trade between Great Britain and Poland.

They now have in hand a large oil-tank motorship for the Eagle Oil and Transport Co, and a similar tankship, the eighteenth, for the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Co; a twin-screw motorship, the seventh, for the Commonwealth and Dominion Line to carry refrigerated cargoes, propelled by Wallsend-Sulzer oil engines; two cargo and passenger steamships for the China Merchant Steam Navigation Co, and two similar ships at the Barclay Curle establishment on the Clyde.

Train ferries have come increasingly into favour since 1918, and from Swan and Hunter's Neptune Works there was recently delivered a most interesting example to the Chinese Ministry of Railways, the s.s. Chanykiang, for service on the Yangtse Kiang between Nanking and Pukow, thus forming a link in the railway service between Peiping (formerly called Peking) and Shanghai. The Changkiang went out under her own steam, and was safely delivered at her destination at Nanking — a most remarkable achievement for a ship not designed for an ocean passage. In the Mediterranean she encountered a terrific storm but stood the strain admirably, and emerged from the ordeal practically none the worse for wear.

There are also under construction at the Neptune Works three important train ferries for the Southern Railway, to be known as Twickenham Ferry, Hampton Ferry and Shepperton Ferry. The first of these was safely launched on the 15th March, 1934. These three train ferries will undertake the carriage of either sleeping cars or goods trains between Dover and Dunkerque — a new service of the Southern Railway. Each ship will carry twelve sleeping cars or alternatively forty loaded goods wagons. Furthermore, on the upper deck is a steel house which will accommodate twenty-five motor cars. These train ferries will be propelled by turbines driving twin-screws.

The latest floating dock built at Wallsend was towed the record distance of 14,000 nautical miles (equal to 16,121 land miles) from the Tyne to Wellington, New Zealand. The occasion of its official trials at Wellington, New Zealand, was marked by the attendance of the Governor-General and Lady Bledisloe. This dock has a lifting capacity of 17,000 tons. Swan and Hunter have the distinction of having built more floating docks than any other firm in the world. Of the larger docks built by them mention may be made of the Singapore Naval Base dock, with a lifting capacity of 55,000 tons, and the Admiralty dock at Devonport, lifting 33,000 tons.

Dismantling of redundant shipyards by voluntary agreement among British builders has proceeded for some years, and approximately one hundred building berths in over twenty separate yards were thus put out of commission by 1934. Mr. J. Denham Christie, Chairman of the Swan Hunter Group, has summarized his views, and of the leaders of the industry, on the subject by stating that for many years to come, all the new ships required can be built in about half the existing number of yards. For this reason, Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson have preferred to suffer a distinct capital loss for the time being by disposing, under the general scheme of the industry, of one yard on the Wear and one on the Clyde. Yet he believed that as trade improved, the shareholders of the company would benefit, as the saving in overhead charges would enable the company to build at lower costs and so regain more orders, home and foreign. At the same time the shareholders of the company had the satisfaction of feeling that they were making their contribution to the reconstruction of the industry, and consequently to the common good.

The Swan and Hunter yards and engineering works extend over eighty acres on the Tyne alone, and their equipment is among the finest in the world. Outstanding in interest are the four glass-roofed sheds which enclose some of the building berths, the largest of which is 700 feet long and over 50 feet high, with over 100 feet clearance in width. All are fitted with electric travelling cranes which deposit materials as required in any part of the hulls. On the river itself is the 150-ton floating crane, named Titan, which is available for the heaviest work.

There are three graving docks on the Tyne and two on the Clyde. The smallest is 490 feet long, and the largest, recently completed by Barclay Curle on the Clyde, is 620 feet long. Engineering shops, boiler works, and repairs departments complete the equipment of the group. As an example of the capacity of even one section of the group, the repairs department of Barclay Curle and Co. alone is now capable of handling up to one million tons of shipping a year, and the two graving docks at Elderslie, combined with the works at Govan, constitute the largest and most important works of the kind on the Clyde.


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