On this page, I intend to publish my research into the
Shipbuilders of Aberdeen. There is much available on the internet, but
unfortunately, what’s currently available online is scattered and doesn’t
readily give the full picture. Shipbuilding in Aberdeen is mentioned as
early as 1475 when 3 armed ships were fitted out at Aberdeen for the service
of the king, the cost being defrayed by the inhabitants of the town. In
1540, there are records regarding a further ship being built, and in 1587
six barques were built to pursue English pirates. However, it was the
latter part of the 18th century before Aberdeen became Scotland’s
leading shipbuilding port. It was here that the world-famous Aberdeen Bow
first adorned the ‘Scottish Maid’ a schooner in 1839. Over 3,000 ships were
built in Aberdeen, from world famous yards such as Alexander Hall, Hall
Russell, the Duthie’s, the Stephen’s, John Lewis, John Humphrey, Walter
Hood, and many more smaller concerns.
Aberdeen shipbuilders in the mid-1800’s played a
significant role in the establishment of other shipyards in the UK and
around the World. On the Clyde, Glasgow (Stephen), on the Tyne,
Newcastle (Leslie, Coutts, and Mitchell), and on the
Mersey, Liverpool (Rennie). And, Worldwide; St. Petersburg, Russia (Mitchell),
Canada (Rennie), Nagasaki, Japan (Hall Russell). They also
played their part in the development of foreign navies, Japan (A. Hall),
Argentina, Chile, Italy and Russia (Mitchell). Many of the patrol
craft built by Hall Russell in the 1970’s and 1980’s when decommissioned
were bought by foreign navies.
Charles Mitchell, and John Coutts were so respected on the
Tyne that they were referred to as the ‘Three Wise Men’ from Aberdeen.
Aberdeen shipbuilder Alexander Stephen in 1850
opened a shipyard at Kelvinhaugh on the Clyde specifically to build iron
ships. The Kelvinhaugh company (although later relocated to Linthouse)
continued in business affectionately known as ‘Stephens’ and built 697
ships, and continued in business on the Clyde until 1968. (Comedian and
folk singer Billy Connolly served his apprenticeship as a welder at
was another Aberdeen shipbuilder who had success elsewhere. He relocated to
the Tyne, and in 1853 established his own shipyard ‘A. Leslie & Co.’ on an
8-acre site at Hebburn Quay, Newcastle. William Rennie had a
shipyard at Footdee, Aberdeen, c1825 to c1839. He also worked as a
freelance Naval Architect and is known to have designed ships for shipyards
in Aberdeen, Canada, Glasgow, and Liverpool.
Bruce, BSc., I.Mar.Eng., MIMarEST.
St.Helena - a remote
island in the Atlantic [The Ship was built by Hall Russell Ltd as ship No 1000, and was the last
fully fitted-out ship we built.] Every third week, a British Royal Mail ship begins its journey from
Cape Town to Saint Helena, the remote island in the Atlantic where Napoleon
was once in exile. It’s like the end of the world in the middle of the
Atlantic. Five days, with a northwesterly course, and only then do the sheer
black cliffs appear in front of RMS St. Helena. The island’s 45000 residents
are often waiting impatiently for the ship’s arrival and panic if the
schedule changes. Director Thomas Denzel and his team went on the journey to
Saint Helena and met the people living on the island. Many of the residents
are descendants of people who were sent into exile there by the British
crown - the most famous among them, the French Emperor Napoleon. This is a
report about life at the end of the world, loneliness, unique vegetation,
and a very special journey.
Shipbuilding - 1940's
British Council Film Collection
CharlieDeanArchives / Archival Footage
S.S. British Sovereign
(1950-1959) A B.P. Film with thanks to Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. of Barrow-in-Furness.
Produced by Associated British-Pathe Ltd. Written by Jack Howells,
Commentary by Ian Sadler,
of the launch of the clipper ship ‘Thermopylae’
A stainless-steel water-jet
cut image of the clipper ship ‘Thermopylae’ was erected at the south end of
York Street, Footdee, Aberdeen (Directly across the street to where the ship
was built) to commemorate the 150-year anniversary of her launch.
‘Thermopylae’ was built in
1868 by Walter Hood & Co., Aberdeen for prominent Aberdeen ship-owner George
Thompson Junior, owner of the Aberdeen Line.
She was a composite ship,
meaning her frames were made of iron and her planks of wood. This wood was
the finest East Indian Teak, which at the time gave her the highest
classification offered by Lloyds Register of Shipping.
She is said to have been the
fastest clipper ship ever built, and she had the honor of racing home
against the ‘Cutty Sark’, and getting home first. This was due to the great
seamanship of her master and crew and also to the quality of her build.
The image was cut by Gavin
Gatt of Precision Waterjet Cut, Methlick, Aberdeenshire
www.precisionwaterjetcut.co.uk at the request of Stanley Bruce (Author).
For more information on the
ship please read here free online the book “Walter Hood & Co., Shipbuilders,
York Street, Footdee, Aberdeen 1839 to 1881”. See book above.
Gavin Gatt (left) and Stanley Bruce (right) with
the stainless-steel image of the ‘Thermopylae’. (Photo by Ricky Somerville).
This poem is dedicated to Robert Taylor of Airdire, it was he who told me
about his mother Margaret, my wife’s grandmother naming the vessel
‘Eddystone’ at her launch in Grangemouth in 1954. Her husband Jack Taylor
was superintendent for the Clyde Shipping Company and it was him who
arranged for Margaret to do the naming. Jack played a major part in the
design of this vessel so much in fact that in the Clyde Shipping Company it
was referred to as ‘Jack’s boat’.
My heart is beating quickly,
As I enter the gates of the yard,
Guests show their invitations,
As workers clock their cards.
I’m anxious, I’m nervous,
But, excited as well,
Jack holds my hand as we head to the ship,
He knows I’m nervous, I can tell.
I see the ship up close,
And I’m amazed at its size,
“Jack, you got me into this,
Are you wise?”
I shake hands with the owners,
I meet the Chairman of the yard,
And we climb the stairs to the platform,
Where I’ve to play the trump card.
I name this ship ‘Eddystone’,
“God bless her and all who sail in her”.
And I smash the bottle on her bow.
I hear a bell ring, a man shout,
And the noise of axes and hammers from below her belly,
But she stands still,
I stand shaking in my shoes,
Thinking the worst,
“Oh no, she’s not going to move”.
Then, I sense movement,
Yes! She’s moving, what a relief,
And as if like magic, she flies down the slipway!
My heart is pounding,
As I hear the crowd cheer,
She gracefully hits the water,
And happiness replaces my fear.
In the water, she sits so beautifully,
I’ll never forget this day,
For the memories made,
Will never go away.
Steamship Documentary "Down
In The Engine Room" 2017 The Steamship Shieldhall is the largest working steamship in Britain. A
member of the National Historic Fleet she serves as a sea going tribute to
Britain's maritime heritage. This documentary gives you a behind the scenes
look at preparing the ship for sailing and a look at the non-public areas of
the ship. Built by Lobnitz & Co. of Renfrew on the River Clyde in 1955, the
Shieldhall was one of the last reciprocating steamships in the world,
running until 1985. Based in Southampton, she operates a number of sailings
each year. To book trips and find more information visit ss-shieldhall.co.uk
Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders of Scotland
A GREAT amount of valuable
scientific work, of a special character, is done by the various engineering
institutions of the country; and much of the progress latterly made in the
practical applications of science to mechanical operations, and also in the
advancement of those sciences which bear most directly upon engineering
work, is largely due to the growth of these institutions. The principal one
— that of the Institution of Civil Engineers — may be regarded as the parent
institution, not only by reason of its age, but also because of its high
standing and the quality of its work. The Institution of Civil Engineers has
contributed, in a very important degree, towards transforming engineering
from the position of a “base mechanical” calling into one which ranks high
among learned and scientific professions.
The great success and usefulness of the Institution of Civil Engineers has
gradually led to its work becoming more and more differentiated, and to
certain special branches of it being taken up by other institutions that
have been formed for the purpose. We thus find the Institutions of
Mechanical Engineers, Telegraph Engineers, Naval Architects (in which marine
engineers are included), the Iron and Steel Institute, and others. All of
these institutions are in a prosperous condition, and enrol a large number
of new members every year. They have been most successful, without
exception, both professionally and scientifically. While, on the one hand,
they have benefited their members by collecting papers and providing
opportunities of discussion upon points of vital interest to them in the
pursuit of their various callings, they have also, on the other hand,
carried scientific investigation forward in directions which would otherwise
have been much neglected. The field of science—and particularly the
inductive side of it—has been greatly extended by the able and
thorough—though often unobtrusive—work which has been done by the
It is not in the metropolis alone, however, that such institutions are now
to be found. They supply too universal a want to admit of being centred in
any one part of the country. We have just received from Glasgow the
twenty-seventh annual volume of the Transactions of a well-known and
excellent institution which exists in that city, viz. that of the Engineers
and Shipbuilders in Scotland. This Institution is not restricted to the
marine or any other special branch of engineering, but includes among its
members civil and mechanical engineers of all classes, metallurgists, marine
engineers, and shipbuilders. Its published volumes of Transactions usually
contain papers of a varied and instructive character, and very valuable
communications from some of the most eminent Clyde engineers are to be found
in them. The importance of this Institution may be judged of by the fact
that the number of its members, associates, and graduates amounts to 581.
The volume of Transactions just issued contains papers and discussions upon
the properties of the compound engine, the stability of ships, screw piles,
the testing of turbines, cable tramways, and other subjects. There is also a
Presidential Address, delivered by the President, Mr. James Reid, of the
Springburn Locomotive Works. Mr. Reid reviews briefly many of the latest
engineering achievements that have been recorded, or that are being
attempted. He refers to railway operations in this country and abroad,
tramways, steam-shipping, docks, harbours, canals, bridges, hydraulic and
electrical machinery, gas, and smoke combustion. Where the range of subjects
is so varied and extensive, the briefest references are usually of course
all that are possible.
Mr. Reid points out, with regard to railway traffic, the beneficial results
of lower fares and other increased facilities in not only wonderfully
augmenting the volume of third-class traffic, but also in adding, upon the
whole, to the receipts of the railway companies. “ As the downward movement
of classes is still continuing, the outcome will most likely be a general
reduction of the number of classes to two—nominally first and third, but
practically first and second.” The railway companies in this country yet
have a most useful work to do in circulating food-supplies. The Fish League
have had refrigerator cars constructed, which are working between the Scotch
ports and London; and this small commencement is capable of a very large and
urgently-needed development. A new departure in locomotive practice has been
taken by M. Anatole Mallet in France, and by Mr. F. W. Webb in England, by
compounding the engines. The results thus obtained are stated to be very
satisfactory, although the maximum economy that is practically possible can
of course only be obtained by steam-jacketing the cylinder, or by the use of
The advances that have recently been made in steamshipping are referred to.
The fastest voyage made by any steamer prior to October 23, 1883, was that
of the Alaska, in which she ran 2784 miles, between Queenstown and New York,
in 6 days, 21 hours, and 40 minutes. Mr. Reid says that this is equivalent
to a mean speed of 17 miles per hour ; but he speaks of miles in connection
with these figures as though he were dealing with ordinary statute miles.
The figures given really relate, however, to knots, or nautical miles, so
that the speed of the Alaska upon the voyage in question was at the rate of
over 19j miles per hour. Mr. Reid also says that at an average speed of 19J
miles per hour the Atlantic might be traversed in six days. The average
speed requisite for crossing the Atlantic in six days is about 19J knots, or
22-j miles, per hour, a speed which nearly amounts to that of many ordinary
The performance of the Alaska, which Mr. Reid refers to, has been much
exceeded during the present year by two Atlantic liners, the Oregon and the
America. The Oregon has crossed the Atlantic in less than 6 days, 10 hours,
thus beating the Alaska by nearly half a day. The Umbria and Etruria, the
new vessels of the Cunard Company, are expected to beat the Oregon by about
as much as the latter beat the Alaska. The Umbria is said to have attained,
upon the measured mile, a mean speed of 20J knots, or nearly 24 miles per
hour. It is possible that she may succeed in crossing the Atlantic in six
Passing from the wonderful strides thus making in steam-shipping, the
President calls attention to the chief of the large canal schemes which are
now before the world, such as the Panama Canal—which the indomitable energy
of M. de Lesseps appears likely to bring to successful completion—an
independent canal across the Isthmus of Suez, and the Manchester Ship Canal.
It is surprising, however, that, while referring to these various means for
facilitating transit across the ocean, and also to the Channel Tunnel, Mr.
Reid omits to notice the shiprailway scheme of the American engineer, Capt.
J. B. Eads, C.E., which has now been for some time before the engineering
world, and has received the approval of some of the most eminent
The principal papers contained in the volume of Transactions under notice
are those upon the compound engine viewed in its economical aspect, by Mr.
R. L. Weighton ; upon the stability of ships at launching, by Mr. J. H.
Biles; and on approximation to curves of stability from data for known
ships, by Messrs. F. P. Purvis and B. Kindermann. Mr. Weighton’s paper gives
a clear and able explanation of some of those properties of the compound
engine which affect its economical working ; and while there is nothing
novel or recondite in it, and it is somewhat amateurish in style, it is of
value in keeping before the minds of engineers points of fundamental
importance which it is well for them to think precisely and frequently
about; and it did good service in causing one of the longest and most
interesting discussions which took place during last year’s meetings. We
dissent entirely from an opinion expressed by one of the speakers, that “
papers brought before an Institution of this kind should either expound some
new theory, contain some novelty, or bring before them some important
addition to the mechanical details of any machine.” An exclusive striving
after mere originality is not an unmixed good ; besides which, one of the
greatest advantages of such institutions as that of the Engineers and
Shipbuilders in Scotland is that the members become familiarised by papers
and discussions which are even of a commonplace type with what is already
known and thought by the most capable men upon subjects that all engineers
require to thoroughly master. It is not novel points nor original
conceptions only which are of value to the rank and file of members ; a
still more potent cause of good is to be found in the educating and
informing influence which is exerted by well-established scientific ideas
and recorded experience'being frequently discussed, and by the constant and
ready reference to fundamental and accepted principles which this involves.
The paper on the stability of ships at launching is accompanied by curves
for various types of steamer at launching-draught, and advocates
constructing such curves, as a rule, before launching ships. It is well
worth reading, as it, and the discussion upon it, show how diverse and
inconsistent though, on the whole, vague are the views held by many
shipbuilders, both upon the necessity for ascertaining the precise degree of
stability possessed by a ship, and also as to the sufficiency of a given
amount of stability for purposes of safety. The author is somewhat ambiguous
and inaccurate in his definitions of such terms as “stability,” “stiffness,”
&c., and inconsistent and loose in his use of them : but this appears to be
a common fault with technical writers upon naval architecture, as was
pointed out by Prof. Osborne Reynolds at the British Association meetings of
last year. For instance it is stated in the paper under consideration that
“the kind of stability which is required at launching is stiffness,” and
“the question of stability at launching appears therefore to reduce itself
to one of stiffness,”—stiffness being represented by the metacentric height,
which measures the force required to incline a given vessel through small
angles from a position of rest in still water. Yet the author goes on to say
that “our only safe guide is the complete investigation of the stability of
a ship at angles considerably beyond those to which the metacentric height
is a fair measure of the stiffness.” He also speaks of the “ stability of a
ship up to 60° of inclination.” This is a strange although common misuse of
the term “stability.” Stability only exists at a position of stable
equilibrium, and what is really meant by the above-quoted sentence is not
stability at large angles of inclination, but righting force.
The other paper upon stability, which describes a method of approximation to
curves of stability from data for known ships, is interesting in showing how
some of the elements of stability vary in a ship with the ratios of draught
of water to depth, and depth to breadth; but we cannot regard it as likely
to be of much value in practice. The approximations obtained by applying the
method are only reliable when the form of the vessel for which the curve of
stability is required, and that of the one which is being used for
estimating it from, are so related to each other that any section of the one
may be obtained by projection from the corresponding one of the other.
Differences in form are excessively numerous— almost universal indeed—among
ships ; and small discrepancies of such a kind often affect stability to an
important degree. When vessels are found to belong to what is defined in the
paper as a “type-form,” the method is applicable, but where no true
type-form can be discovered for a particular ship—and this is what usually
happens in practice—the only reliable and also the readiest mode of
approximation to a curve of stability is to compute by means of Amsler’s
integrator the true length of a small number of ordinates of the curve.
There are other papers of interest in this volume which are amply deserving
of perusal, though we have not space for referring in detail to them. We may
note, however, as an indication of the active and enlightened interest taken
by Scotch engineers in scientific teaching, that the President of the
Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland—in referring at one of
the meetings to the endowment of the John Elder Chair of Naval Architecture
in Glasgow University, which is filled by Prof. F. Elgar—said that “the
Council had agreed, and were morally bound, to support the institution of a
lectureship in anticipation of a Chair of Naval Architecture in the
University.” Mr. Reid further stated that “the Council had agreed to
continue the lectureship in connection with the Chair,” and he wished it to
be known that the original intention was still to be carried out. This is a
strong practical proof of the earnestness and wise liberality of Scottish
engineers in the matter of scientific and technical education, and it is a
policy which cannot fail to largely benefit the district in time to come. It
is also one indication, out of many, of the advantages which may confidently
be looked for by engineers and scientific men as the natural outcome of such
institutions as those we have referred to.
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