Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 148,337 pages of information and 233,846 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

William Lithgow

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Sir William James Lithgow, 2nd Baronet (born 10 May 1934) grew up as heir to an exceptionally successful Scottish shipbuilding company, Lithgows, and inherited it in 1952 when it was the largest private shipbuilding concern in the world. Economic and political changes, especially the nationalisation of British shipbuilding in the 1970s, meant that Sir William could not simply follow in the footsteps of his father, Sir James Lithgow, and his grandfather, William Lithgow. He led the family business in new directions, and now oversees companies with a focus on engineering, salmon farming and other marine and agricultural matters. He describes himself as an "industrialist and farmer". Since 1999 his son James has been chairman of the Lithgow Group, with Sir William as vice-chairman.

Sir William is the son of Sir James and Lady Gwendolyn Lithgow, whose family homes were Gleddoch House, at Langbank on the Clyde a few miles from their shipyards at Port Glasgow, and Ormsary, their country estate in Knapdale. He was educated at Winchester College, and is a Chartered Engineer and Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. His father died when he was eighteen, and his mother acted as chairman of the family company until 1959. In 1967 he married Mary Claire Hill and they have a daughter and two sons.

British shipbuilding was then facing serious competition from the Far East, as well as other challenges.[4] In the late 1960s a government enquiry into the UK shipbuilding industry led to a merger between Lithgows and Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Co of Greenock. This became Scott-Lithgow in 1970, but in 1977 the government nationalised the company under the control of the British Shipbuilders Corporation.

Sir William and others involved challenged the amount of compensation they were offered and ended up taking their case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. The press reported his views about the wider implications of his experience, which he related to the Thatcher government's privatisation policies and the forthcoming expiry of the British lease on Hong Kong. When he finally lost his legal battle in 1986 he told The Times that his claim had started as a "squalid argument about money" but had come to be about "fundamental property rights which are part of the basis of the free world". On other occasions he has expressed strong views publicly on subjects ranging from the importance of wealth creation to weaknesses in ferry services to the Scottish islands.


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