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 163,160 pages of information and 245,627 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.

The Basic Industries of Great Britain by Aberconway: Chapter XVI

From Graces Guide




It would be difficult to say whether the River Clyde has made Glasgow, or whether Glasgow — the metropolis of the coal- and iron-fields of central Scotland — has made the Clyde; but the 20 miles of river between the Tail of the Bank off Greenock and the Broomielaw Bridge have during the last fifty years built more ships than any other river in the world, except perhaps the Tyne whilst the demands on the shipyards of the Clyde have made Glasgow the great engineering centre of the world. No fewer than forty shipbuilding firms occupy the banks of the Clyde; of these twenty include in their business the making of engines and boilers, while twenty firms are makers of marine engines and boilers and do not build ships.

It is more than 120 years since the Glasgow district became famous for its "Millwright Engineers." Henry Bell had successfully applied Watt's steam engine to marine propulsion, and the Comet the first steamship — opened the way to Robert Napier, the pioneer of the Clyde, who founded his famous firm in 1823. The shipyards, which have since made the river famous, undoubtedly owe their origin to the enterprise of the engine-builders of that day, and were more or less associated in early times with the Napiers. All the old firms still exist, though many now carry on business under other names. The Clydebank firm of James and George Thomson is now, under Sir Thomas Bell, K.B.E., as Managing Director, part of the undertaking of John Brown and Co, the steel and armour-plate makers of Sheffield. John Elder's yard, from which were launched the Alaska, the Arizona, and the other early types of "Atlantic Greyhounds," continues under the name of the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co., while the business of Robert Napier and Sons (the firm which, under the direction of Dr. Kirk, invented the triple expansion engine) is now owned by the steel and iron firm of William Beardmore and Co, which transferred the shipyard and engine works to Dalmuir.

On the other hand, the business of Scott and Co, of Greenock, carried on by that family for 200 years, is still known as Scott's Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Its Chairman represents the sixth generation of that name. The yard of Caird and Co, at Greenock, of which Patrick Caird, the Chairman of the Glasgow and South-Western Railway Co., was the head, has been acquired by Harland and Wolff, of Belfast, while that of William Denny and Brothers, of Dumbarton, is managed, under the chairmanship of Mr. Maurice E. Denny, by members of the same family.

There have been many changes in the constitution of the Clyde firms during the past decade, but the general tendency has been rather towards the consolidation of interests and the elimination of smaller and weaker concerns than any increase in the undertakings engaged in the Clyde industries. Names familiar ten years ago, and some representing active working firms at much more recent dates, have passed out of the list. A number of the concerns have been absorbed by large companies, and their works are now being carried on as parts of more extensive undertakings. Others have gone out of existence without passing on their business to successors. The result is, that while the productive capacity of the area is now far greater than ever it was in previous years, the controlling power is in a much smaller number of hands, and there are fewer actual establishments than before the War.

Harland and Wolff

Among the consolidation of interests on the Clyde, those headed by Harland and Wolff and by Lithgows are the chief. The great Belfast firm, of which the late Rt. Hon. Viscount Pirrie, K.P., was the head, came to the Clyde in 1911, when it acquired the London and Glasgow Iron Shipbuilding Co's shipyard, together with the adjoining yard of Mackie and Thomson, and Robert Napier and Sons' old yard, which had ere this been vacated by William Beardmore and Co. All these well-known names disappeared, and the three Govan establishments were laid out as one large modern shipyard, which is at present almost exclusively devoted to the construction of large motor-ships. The engineering works of the Old London and Glasgow Co. were greatly extended, and adapted for the construction of Diesel engines. In 1916 Harland and Wolff acquired the yard of Caird and Co, Greenock. It also acquired a controlling financial interest in the shipyard of David and William Henderson and Co of Partick, there establishing Diesel engine works for ocean-going motor-boats and of A. and J. Inglis, of Pointhouse, and of Archibald McMillan and Son, of Dumbarton. It finally, with John Brown and Co, as already mentioned, acquired a large share in the great steel works at Motherwell of David Colville and Sons, together with their collieries, from which these firms obtain a substantial proportion of the material required for their own shipyards.

The history of Harland and Wolff is interesting, and may be referred to in this chapter. In 1858 the shipyards of Robert Hickson, on Queen's Island, Belfast, were acquired by Edward Harland, afterwards Sir Edward Harland, M.P., the manager of the firm, who took into partnership G. Wolff, M.P., and afterwards registered the firm as a limited company. In 1874 William J. Pirrie, afterwards Viscount Pirrie, K.P was taken into partnership, and on the death of Sir Edward Harland, at the beginning of this century, became irremovable Chairman, a position which he occupied till his death in 1924. The yard was originally one acre in extent, but to-day 220 acres are covered by the shipyard and the engineering works at Belfast alone. If the Clyde branches are included, the area in occupation by this great firm is about 500 acres.

Vessels built by this firm are found on every route, and most of the principal steamship lines have been amongst its clients. The Company has been identified with many important developments in its trade, such as the introduction of mid-ship passenger accommodation in the Oceanic, the pioneer vessel of the White Star Line, and many of its vessels were at the time among the largest in the world, including the White Star Adriatic, Olympic, and Britannic. During the last few years it has done much to develop the Diesel engine, single-acting and double-acting, in such large passenger liners as the Asturias and the Carnarvon Castle. Lord Pirrie spent vast sums in bringing the Clyde branch yards up to date. Unfortunately they were completed and opened just at the time when shipbuilding fell to the present low level, and as the Company's share capital had not been correspondingly increased, it was seen on Lord Pirrie's death in 1924 that the creation of these additions to the capital account on borrowed money had been a mistake. Lord Kylsant took the chairmanship of the Company and put its finances in order by the issue of £4,000,000 6 per cent. Preference Stock, which has made the capitalisation of the Company as shipbuilders, pure and simple, the largest in the world.

Amongst the remarkable enterprises of this firm are the repair works at Liverpool, Southampton and London. The magnitude of these works is such that during the War 350 Admiralty and 2,000 large merchant vessels were dealt with by them. At Southampton the firm carries out the whole of the repair works to the White Star, Union Castle and American Lines. On the Thames an agreement has been entered into with the Port of London Authorities whereby the various repairing works of that body at North Woolwich and at various docks on the Thames have been taken over by Harland and Wolff. It is interesting to add that Viscountess Pirrie is President of the Company with which her husband's name was so long connected.

Workman, Clark and Co

The other firm of importance at Belfast — Workman, Clark and Co — may be mentioned here. Its yard was founded in 1897 by Sir George S. Clark and Frank Workman on four acres of ground on the River Lagan. Starting in a small way, the business made great progress, and after engineering shops were erected in 1891, many fine vessels have been turned out by this firm. In the last few years it has fallen under the control of what is known as the "Sperling Combine" or Northumberland Shipbuilding Co, to which reference is made elsewhere in these pages.

William Beardmore and Co

The Beardmore firm, under the chairmanship of Lord Invernairn (the title under which Sir W. Beardmore was raised to the peerage), had previously laid out large new naval construction works at Dalmuir, an establishment which it still retains, and to which soon after the War was added an "East Yard," designed primarily for the construction of oil-carrying vessels and modern-sized cargo ships. Lithgows, of Port Glasgow, took over in 1918 the business of Russell and Co. This combine included also the yards of Robert Duncan and Co, William Hamilton and Co, and Dunlop, Bremner and Co, all in Port Glasgow, as well as two yards formerly owned by Russell and Co and one owned by A. Rodger and Co. It also secured a controlling interest in the Glasgow engineering firm of David Rowan and Co, and the coal and iron business of James Dunlop and Co, Glasgow. In 1926 the Dunlop Bremner Works were closed as a result of the poor demand for new tonnage. An attempt was made to consolidate other Glasgow shipbuilding firms under the management of a company called Amalgamated Industrials, but it is understood that these companies have now resumed operations individually. Within recent years one at least of these establishments has been in the market, while another has done very little business.

Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson

Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson of Wallsend-on-Tyne also went to the Clyde. They acquired a controlling interest in the firm of Barclay, Curle and Co, which had one shipyard at Whiteinch and another at Scotstoun West, and which afterwards acquired the Whiteinch Yard known long before as that of John Reid and Co, and for a short time after the War as that of the Lloyd Royal Beige (Great Britain), Ltd. Barclay, Curle and Co took over in 1925 the engineering shops in Whiteinch of the North British Diesel Engine Works, and it is not unlikely that all these Whiteinch works may be laid out as one establishment. Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson also owns the steel-making works of the Glasgow Iron and Steel Co, of Wishaw. The steel works at Motherwell of the Lanarkshire Steel Co are allied to the Belfast shipbuilding firm of Workman, Clark and Co, while the Steel Company of Scotland, having works at Hallside, Newton and Blochairn, is owned by a combine of Clyde shipbuilding firms.

The practical interest which ship owning companies have been taking in the industry of shipbuilding has continued down to the present date. The late Lord Pirrie was financially interested in a number of shipping companies such as the White Star Line, the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. and Elder Dempster and Co., and so brought the two industries into intimate touch with each other. He was behind Lamport and Holt of Liverpool, when that firm obtained a controlling interest in the shipbuilding business of Archibald McMillan and Son, of Dumbarton. The Rt. Hon Viscount Inchcape, K.C.S.I., Chairman of the Peninsular and Oriental Line, acquired an interest in the firm of Alexander Stephen and Sons, of Govan; Alfred Holt and Co., Liverpool, in that of Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. of Greenock; and Clan Line Steamers, Glasgow, in that of the Greenock Dockyard Co.

Blythswood Shipbuilding Co

The only new shipbuilding works started on the Clyde since 1914 are those of the Blythswood Shipbuilding Co, Scotstoun. For a short time this concern, and also the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co of Govan, were units in "The Sperling Combine," which was organised by a group of London financiers, but before long each of these undertakings was bought back by private shareholders, and both are now wholly independent. Local steel and iron works have, however, been extended, and made capable of increased outputs of constructional materials, but they all are now employed at very much less than their producing capacity.

Scottish Shipbuilders in general

Rather fewer than one-half of the sixty firms to which reference has been made were limited liability companies before the War, while the remainder were private concerns. The estimated capital of the private firms was about £2,000,000, while that of the limited companies until the period of the War exceeded £7,000,000. The shares in many of these are, however, privately held, and are not quoted in the open market, while the results of the companies' businesses are not disclosed. But at the present day the capital engaged is much larger and difficult to estimate. Where Preference Shares are quoted, a limited number of transactions have taken place, and these show the shares during an average of years to have been at a premium. Apart from the Fairfield Company the firms owning the largest establishments on the river—viz. John Brown and Co, William Beardmore and Co and Harland and Wolff — have so large a proportion of their respective capitals engaged from time to time in other industries that, though their shares are quoted at various prices, the trading results are not wholly attributable to business done on the Clyde.

During the period between 1865 and 1905 nearly 12,000,000 tons of shipping, ranging from the most sumptuous passenger liner and the most powerful warship to private yachts and small craft of every kind, have been constructed on the Clyde. The highest output before the War was reached in 1913, when the returns showed an output of over 750,000 tons. This production is only about three- fourths of the total building capacity of the Clyde to-day. The increase is due almost wholly to the developments which took place during the War in order to cope with the demands of the Admiralty and the British Mercantile Marine. Works of all kinds were extended, new buildings erected and new plant was installed. It was estimated at the close of the War that the shipyards of the Clyde were capable of producing one-third more tonnage than they launched in 1913, when they put into the water the record total of over 750,000 tons. At the present time they could turn out, with ease, 1,000,000 tons of new shipping per annum, if there were a demand for this amount, but they launched in the seven months ending with July 1926 only ninety-two vessels of 171,500 tons, leaving but some 340,000 tons in hand.

Although the Clyde has, within the last twelve years, vastly developed its efficiency as a shipbuilding centre, increasing, as already stated, its productive power during that period by at least one-third, its prospects in the immediate future are regarded as depressing. The alteration of the Plimsoll Load Line has had the effect of adding largely to the capacity of the tonnage of merchant vessels, and proportionately lessened the demand for new ships. The Washington Agreement has dealt the Clyde a heavy blow. One of its immediate consequences is that new warships, formerly annually voted by Parliament, have fallen to an inconsiderable number. In the judgment of those best entitled to form an authoritative opinion, so long as this Agreement remains valid, the production of ships, engines and materials in the West of Scotland will never again reach the level attained in 1913. Not only have the conditions of the Washington Agreement cut off in a great measure the constructional work for the British Navy, which was formerly a material element of prosperity of the Clyde, but a number of foreign countries accustomed to obtain their vessels from this country are now, owing to their low wages and inflated currency, producing much that they require in their own yards, and are competing, besides, against Great Britain for shipbuilding contracts in neutral markets. These Governments have, therefore, few or no orders to place here. The result is, that as the volume of orders diminishes the number of apprentices must diminish also; and, as the years go on, the skilled population of the Clyde, though leaving behind them a nucleus to serve the needs of the Navy and the home and foreign merchant ship owner, will have migrated in a considerable proportion into other industrial areas. The statistics for the past three years (see Appendix S) throw a clear light on the labour situation as it affects Glasgow and the Clyde.

The variation in the class of work turned out on the Clyde from year to year affects the relative positions occupied by the leading firms in the amount of output. In former days firms building destroyers and cruisers might be doing a more profitable and higher class work, and yet in tonnage output would stand considerably below those who had launched ordinary cargo-boats. By way of illustrating the relative positions of some of the leading yards and the class of work they turned out before the War, the following facts are of interest. To take a typical pre-War year. In 1904, the yard of Russell and Co, of Port Glasgow, had the largest output of any in the world, with 73,689 tons. The vessels were cargo-boats ranging from 2,500 to 5,000 tons. The yard maintained this position for eight years, with the exception of 1903, when John Brown and Co, of Clydebank, headed the river. Connell and Co came next, with 40,900 tons of cargo vessels; Barclay, Curle and Co were third, with 36,500 tons, including three large liners. William Denny and Brothers turned out 27,807 tons, including seven turbine steamers, in 1904. John Brown and Co took the fifth place, with 23,150 tons, having launched only two vessels that year, one, the Caronia, for the Cunard Co., of 675 ft. length over all, developing 23,000 horse-power on trials, the largest vessel built up to that year in Great Britain; the other, a Channel steamer for the Midland Railway Co. The Brown firm has since launched the Carmania, a sister vessel to the Caronia, running in the Liverpool and New York service. Each of these vessels represents five times the tonnage of the whole fleet of the Cunard Company eighty years ago. The Lusitania, constructed by the same firm, is more particularly referred to on a subsequent page. The height of each funnel on these vessels equals that of the Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square, and its diameter would allow of two locomotives passing through abreast.

The same firm has built for the Cunard Co. the Aquitania, the largest liner ever constructed in Great Britain; and for the British Government the battle cruiser Repulse, the sister ship to the Renown, built by Fairfield. [1] These were the two most powerful war vessels in the world, until the Brown firm launched and delivered the Hood, the longest, most powerfully engined, swiftest and most heavily armed warship in existence, 810 ft. in length and 105 ft. beam. According to published figures, her cost, far above that of any other then existing naval unit, was, including guns, £5,843,000. These great cruisers carried H.R.H. the Prince of Wales and also the Duke and Duchess of York in their visits to the Overseas dominions. The Japanese are building a vessel of a similar class to the Hood, with an extra knot of speed and rather greater length, but nothing approaching her is likely again to be constructed in Europe.

By way of comparison, the indicated horse-power turned out by the leading firms on the Clyde in the years 1904 and 1925 is given in the following list. Those marked with an asterisk are firms which do no shipbuilding work:

Clyde Shipbuilding by hp in 1904 and 1925

Aitchison Blair3,7003,050
Barclay, Curle and Co24,70014,700
William Beardmore and Co29,88035,730
Bergins Co12,14116,216
Bow, McLachlan and Co7,4007,278
John Brown and Co28,90028,200
Caird and Co9,500-
Campbell and Calderwood1,6905,320
Clyde Shipbuilding and Engineering Co9,7002,300
William Denny and Brothers48,80025,800
Dunsmuir and Jackson38,800*-
Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co36,50025,400
Ferguson Brothers6,3703,850
Fleming and Ferguson10,4003,700
Gleniffer Motors-3,740
D. and W. Henderson and Co16,90015,250
A. and J. Inglis2,9896,530
J. G. Kincaird and Co13,245*34,100
Lidgerwood and Co9,200-
London and Glasgow Shipbuilding Co24,000-
McKie and Baxter10,6509,250
Muir and Houston14,900*-
Rankin and Blackmore20,150*14,400
A. Rodger and Co9,400-
Ross and Duncan9,835*3,535
David Rowan and Co29,700*68,280
Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Co28,8802,600
W. Simons and Co10,2703,550
A. Stephen and Sons23,20040,500
Yarrow and Co2,7005,332



The turbine engine, invented by the Hon. Sir Charles Algernon Parsons, O.M., and originally brought into public notice at his works on the Tyne, has been commercially developed in its present form on the Clyde, by such firms as William Denny and Bros., of Dumbarton, John Brown and Co. of Clydebank, William Beardmore and Co., and The Fairfield Co., in the application of this type of propelling machinery to the largest ocean-going vessels. Sir C. Parsons' Turbinia referred to in more detail in Chapter XI, was the prototype of this class of boat, and it was followed by the ill-starred torpedo-boat destroyers Viper and Cobra, the loss of which was due, not in any sense to imperfections in the machinery, but to accidental circumstances with which the principle of turbine propulsion had nothing to do. Their performances, however, attracted great public attention, and these vessels were quickly followed by the King Edward, a boat designed by Captain John Williamson for the passenger traffic on the Firth of Clyde, which was launched by William Denny and Bros. at their Dumbarton yard. This boat was a success as regards speed and handiness, and proved, in spite of predictions to the contrary, that this type of vessel possesses sufficient manoeuvring powers for all ordinary purposes. The following year the same firm launched the Queen Alexandra, designed for the same trade. These boats were constructed in most respects on the lines of ordinary cross-channel steamers, and their success on the Clyde with regard to economy in coal consumption and to speed proved that the turbine would be equally successful if adopted in steamers for other channel services.

The Dumbarton firm soon received an order from the South-Eastern and Chatham Railway Co., and the Queen, still remembered by all who cross from Dover to Calais, proved an undoubted success. Other orders came from the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Co., and before long six turbine channel steamers were launched from the Dumbarton yard, as well as two which were launched at Barrow and on the Tyne for the Irish trade. Four others followed for the Great Western Railway Co. and the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Co. Of these boats three were built on the Clyde. The following year seven turbine steamers, in all, were launched by the Dumbarton firm; one of these vessels, a passenger and cargo steamer, the prototype of its kind, was built for the Union Steamship Co. of New Zealand. She was the first large turbine-driven vessel to make a long voyage, and her remarkable outward passage to New Zealand proved the reliability of the turbine for sea-going ships. Four of these vessels were steamers for the British India Co.'s service. They all had a comparatively high speed—not less than 18 knots, and sometimes more.

In the year 1905 the Dumbarton firm launched and completed the Channel steamers Onward and Invicta, which are still successfully running on the Folkestone and Boulogne and the Dover and Calais services. The Onward has done the 2 8 miles from pier-head to pier-head between Folkestone and Boulogne on a favourable tide in 65 minutes under ordinary conditions. These vessels have been superseded by others of more modern design, but of no greater efficiency. The Channel services are now wholly performed by turbine boats of this class, most, if not all, of which have been built on the Clyde or at Barrow.

Another important stage in the evolution of these vessels was reached when two Atlantic liners, each of 10,700 tons, for the Allan Line Co.'s service to Canada were launched, the Virginian by Stephen and Sons, of Linthouse, with turbines constructed by Parsons Marine Turbine Co., and the Victorian, by Workman Clark and Co., of Belfast. These vessels carried out their official trials in March and April 1905, respectively, and satisfactorily fulfilled their contract speed, and the former in August 1905 made the record passage from Glasgow to Montreal by Cape Race of 6 days 3 hours, at an average speed of 17.05 knots. She also made a run from Lough Foyle to Belle Isle across the Atlantic in 4 days 21 hours.

John Brown

In November of the same year, John Brown and Co of Clydebank delivered, after completion of successful trials, the very much larger Cunard liner Carmania, of 19,500 tons, which in the present year, 1927, is still on the regular mail run to New York with her original turbines, carrying 1,200,000 blades. The success of these three vessels placed the turbine engine beyond the position of experiment, and has secured for it the very highest position in marine engine-building. Orders flowed in to Clyde builders and elsewhere for still more important vessels fitted with engines of this type.

John Brown and Co, under their Managing Director, Sir Thomas Bell, who during the War was taken from the Clyde to the Admiralty to control the whole output of warships for the Royal Navy, then took up the construction of marine turbine engines on a much larger scale. At Clydebank this Company built and equipped with turbine engines the Lusitania, one of the two Leviathan Cunarders, which, subsidised by the Admiralty as available cruisers in the time of war, were financed by public money. The other, the Mauretania, built by Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson on the Tyne, is now the fastest passenger liner afloat, and is well known in the North Atlantic trade. The ill-fated Lusitania was sunk by a torpedo during the Great War, with the loss of 1,100 lives. These vessels were then the largest in the world. Their length was 786 ft. over all, and they were fitted with engines of 65,000 h.p., and fed by 1,000 tons of coal a day. Their contract minimum average ocean speed was from 24 to 25 knots in moderate weather. In accordance with the recommendation of a special committee on which the technical departments of the Admiralty were represented, the engines, which developed 65,000 h.p., were applied to four shafts, each carrying a single screw. Here again the turbine was subjected to a most critical test, as the two vessels ran under conditions of speed, size, coal consumption and passenger-carrying capacity never before fulfilled by cross-Atlantic steamers fitted with reciprocating engines. They represented a greater step in marine steam propulsion than all the progress made for more than a generation in the development of the old type. The result of these experiments was the building, by John Brown and Co., of the Aquitania, the largest though not the swiftest British-built vessel afloat.

In view of the difficult problem of constructing turbines of enormous power and a vessel embodying such exceptional conditions, a committee of the Cunard Steamship Co. on which John Brown and Co. were represented, conducted a long series of trials in order to ascertain the best details in the design actually to be adopted, and to determine the question of economy in steam in large engines of this type. These experiments and calculations made it clear that, as compared with the three sets of reciprocating engines which would have been required for a vessel of this power, the turbine principle obviates the risk of serious vibration. It reduces the diameter of the propeller shafts, whose increased rapidity of revolution renders the adoption of a smaller but more efficient screw possible. It also dispenses with crank shafts and forgings of a very expensive kind, whose construction would have presented the greatest practical difficulties.

The trials of all the original turbine steamers were carefully conducted and closely watched by the Admiralty and by shipowners. In most cases efforts were made to ascertain the economy of coal consumption. The results, as well as all later experience, point to the fact that, in the case of fast Channel steamers and large vessels, the consumption of coal at the higher speeds was relatively smaller than that with ordinary engines. In the smaller classes, however, such as yachts and destroyers and vessels fitted with single-turbine engines, the new motor did not show any marked superiority in this respect. It is seen to its highest advantage in the cruising turbine arranged in series, and in this form may be said to give an increase of power equivalent to the addition of a fourth high-pressure cylinder in an ordinary engine. But for simplicity of design and reliability in running every kind of turbine has proved its value.

The turbine has fewer working parts and shows less wear and tear than the reciprocating engine; and the great advantage of absence of vibration will, if it had no other merits, always afford a justification for its adoption in high speed vessels. It is established, however, that as a mere coal-saving appliance its value is greatest when it is run steadily with a full load, and that in these respects it compares most favourably with engines of the reciprocating type. For mercantile vessels, which run at a uniform speed, it presents unquestioned advantages not wholly shared by cruisers or battleships. These, though constructed to steam at 18 or 21 knots, rarely in ordinary usage exceed a speed of 12 knots. They cannot, therefore, at these reduced speeds expect to gain very much in respect of fuel consumption.

The trials of the Admiralty vessels engined on the Clyde and included in the 1905 figures have been uniformly successful. After that date important developments took place in naval construction, and new Admiralty conditions came into force, limiting the engine-room staff to a number equal to the possible complement of the ship when in war service, and providing that all bulkheads and doors must be shut, the engine-room closed down, no water allowed upon heated bearings, and limiting the amount of lubricant. Owing to the stringency of the conditions as to heated bearings, close attention was given to efficient means of forced lubrication, a system which was first successfully tried as an experiment on the engines of the Carnarvon, built by Humphreys and Tennant on the Thames. The same firm applied forced lubrication to the engines of the battleship Britannia, which it had then in hand, and the system was adopted in some of the Jarrow-built destroyers. The subject was investigated scientifically by John Brown and Co. at the Clydebank works on the engines of H.M.S. Africa. These were fitted with forced lubrication, and the system rapidly developed beyond the region of mere experiment. At the same period different designs of propellers were experimentally fitted, by the direction of the Admiralty, in the ships under construction. These vessels were fitted with the arrangement of boilers recommended by the Navy Boiler Committee — viz., partly cylindrical and partly water-tube.


Water-tube boilers were not confined to one class. For instance, the Carnarvon was fitted with Niclausse boilers, the Antrim with water-tube boilers of the large-tube Yarrow type, and the Roxburgh with Durr boilers. On the subject of boilers it may be at once stated that the engine-builders of the Clyde, though perfectly prepared to carry out any designs entrusted to them, have never encouraged the adoption of types that appear to have merely the merit of novelty. In nearly every case such boilers as are specified are actually constructed in their own shops under arrangement with the patentees of those that may be protected. The influence of the river is, therefore, against experimenting with types of boilers which can only be bought from makers in other districts and delivered complete at the Clyde yards. But the conclusions of the Navy Boiler Committee have been supported by the general engineering opinion of the district as sound in principle and capable of easy adoption in practice. Except in the case of the triple-expansion engine which was introduced by Napier and Co., for one of the first vessels running to Australia under steam, the Clyde is not associated with the development of any particular type of engine or boiler. Most of the Clyde work has been done to specification, and the results have been almost invariably successful.

Generally speaking, and always in the case of Admiralty and high-class work, the shafting, boiler-plates and other steel materials are obtained from the Glasgow district, Sheffield or from the North-east Coast of England. But in the case of cargo steamers and some twin-screw passenger steamers, the shafting and some of the heavier forgings have frequently been obtained from Germany, Belgium and even Denmark, at from 30 to 50 per cent. below British quotations. Accurate statistics on this point it is impossible to procure. But it has been asserted by steel-makers that as much as 75 per cent. of the total consumption comes from abroad. The quality and finish of Krupp's and other foreign makers' shafting have been undeniably good, but complaints have been made as to slow deliveries. There is, naturally, no lack of complaints from Sheffield firms and other makers of first-class steel forgings that their works are laid idle owing to competition from abroad. But as long as the tramp owner demands the best serviceable ship and engines at the lowest possible price, so long will cheap foreign steel find a market in the Clyde shops.

A useful light would be thrown on this interesting and very controversial subject if the Board of Trade returns would give in greater detail the nature and destination of the manufactured and semi-manufactured steel imports from each country at each port of entry. Steel castings come to the Clyde from Belgium and Germany, and occasionally there have been small importations from Germany and America of steel boiler-plates. It may be assumed, however, that the ship-plates and boiler-plates used on the Clyde are almost all of British manufacture. With all the advantages, therefore, which the Clyde enjoys, not omitting those of cheap markets, it has always had the practical monopoly in Great Britain of work for large passenger vessels, comprising the highest type of cargo-boat, in which not merely lavish decoration and the convenience of passengers have to be considered, but in which the speed of engines and the absence of vibration are all-important factors.

Developments on the Clyde

Large sums have been spent by the Clyde firms since the War in maintaining their yards and works in an up-to-date condition. The Beardmore yard at Dalmuir was designed in connection with the steel works at Parkhead belonging to the same firm. The berths are arranged so that vessels of the largest dimensions can be successfully launched, while a large fitting-out basin is fully completed with a revolving cantilever crane, intended to deal with weights up to iso tons, a very costly piece of mechanism, which has been subjected to some criticism. The berths are fitted with sheds and travelling cranes—a system now coming largely into use as a condition of economical ship construction. John Brown and Co. has spent large sums in the last ten years in developing the Clydebank yard and engine works. The firm has not neglected scientific appliances, and has fitted up an experimental tank, at a cost of about 42o,000, like that originally constructed by W. Denny and Bros. at Dumbarton, for calculating the speeds of vessels and the efficiency of propellers under varying conditions. This tank, which is 400 ft. long, with a width of 20 ft. and a depth of 9 ft., has dry and wet docks for trimming the miniature ships, modelled in wax, which are about 20 ft. in length. Their weights are automatically registered. The carriage from which the model is towed along the tank runs on rails fixed on the side walls, and is driven by electricity.

No yards in the world are better equipped than those on the Clyde, with their spacious accommodation, labour-saving appliances and fine machinery; and nothing in recent experience tends to show that they will be outstripped either at home or abroad by any other firms in the construction of the most varied and expensive types of naval architecture. Clyde builders never stick at difficulties, and though they may be beaten in price by the North-east Coast in the construction of common tramp-boats and light engines, they hold their own for low prices in high-class work. Though the district is well supplied with firms able to furnish all the necessary auxiliaries required for shipbuilding, such as capstans, windlasses, steering gear, and the various types of pumps for engines and similar appliances, many of the shipbuilding firms themselves lay out their yards for such special work. They have established departments for saw- milling, cabinet-making, brass-founding, copper-working, galvanising and the construction of electrical appliances. For ordinary work most of these auxiliaries are actually produced in the Clyde and Glasgow districts; especially in the latter, where land for engineering works is more easily and cheaply obtained than on the crowded banks of the river. As to Admiralty work, however, the specifications frequently require appliances made in other parts of the country by firms who are on the Admiralty list for those classes of machinery.

As the greater part of the cost of engine-building and boiler-making arises from the labour employed, the probability that the Clyde may continue to hold its own in the face of the competition of other districts in the United Kingdom and of the German shipyards, depends not only on the talent and energy of the draughtsman and the works manager, but also on the comparative industry and skill shown by the workman and the rate of wages he receives for his work. In this latter respect the Clyde builder, so far as unskilled labour is concerned, is not so well off as Belfast, where wages are lower. The same observation applies to the competition of German and Dutch yards, though, from other causes, this disparity has until very recently been neutralised so far as British shipyards are likely to be affected. There is little difference between the Clyde and other British rivers so far as wages go. The men in the engineering and more highly skilled trades — unlike the shipyard ironworkers — are uniformly steady and industrious, and, having for generations been employed at work demanding skill and finish, they have acquired the traditions of high-class construction for which the Clyde has always been famed.

The Clyde Trade Unions are well organised. The principal ones are the Boilermakers, the Iron Shipbuilding, the Amalgamated Engineers, the Carpenters, the Joiners, and the Blacksmiths. Since the strike of 1897 there have been few disputes of importance, and as both workmen and employers are represented by strong societies and federations, better opportunities are now afforded for adjusting differences than was formerly the case. The result of the business-like footing upon which trade disputes are now arranged has been beneficial to the employers in enabling their work to go on without interruption, and has largely increased the prosperity of the unions by preventing needless calls on their funds. There have been several demands of late for an increase in wages in certain trades, but, having regard to the low prices at which contracts are offered for shipbuilding, there does not seem any justification for these, as the outlook beyond the current year is by no means assured, and is by many considered unsatisfactory.


In Appendix R are given the outputs of Clyde shipbuilding yards for the years 1924 and 1925.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. At the present moment John Brown and Co are completing two 10,000 ton cruisers for the Australian Government, and Fairfield Co. a 10,000-ton cruiser for the British Government. The Canberra, the second Australian cruiser, was launched by H.R.H. The Princess Mary on May 31, 1927.