Croft Street Shipyard
John Hodgson, Robert Soulsby, Union Co-Operative Shipbuilding Society (1868 - 1902)
Types built here:
Customers (Not Exhaustive):
Joseph Hodgson and Robert Soulsby founded the shipbuilding and repair business of “Hodgson & Soulsby” sometime in the early 1860’s.
Determining the exact date that the business started is difficult. The first launch recorded in a newspaper was the 300 ton brig “Ann” in August 1862 but Joseph Hodgson described himself as a shipbuilder in the March 1861 census. The “Ann” was launched from Crofton Mill: Joseph Hodgson’s father Joseph Hodgson Senior, who ran a corn milling and ship owning business from the site, owned the Mills. He had died in 1858 but the ownership of the site stayed with the family. A “ship building yard” is marked on the 1860 First edition Ordnance Survey map alongside Crofton Mills and this is probably the Hodgson & Soulsby Yard. The site looks quite small and this probably restricted them to building smaller two masted vessels such as brigs.
A grandson of Robert Soulsby, Sydney Soulsby, stated in a newspaper article that Joseph Hodgson was a sleeping partner and Robert and his brother John were the designers and had a reputation for designing fast, yacht like vessels.
The Newcastle Courant mentions a further ship launch in August 1868 a barque the “Mitford”. She was designed to carry 28 “keels” of coal, this was probably over 600 tons of cargo. She was launched at Cowpen Quay which indicates that Hodgson & Soulsby had moved down river, probably to larger premises. These were the ex Bowman & Drummond yard at Cowpen Quay. George Bowman of Bowman & Drummond died in September 1862(59). Hodgson & Soulsby bought the yard in 1863.
The Union Co-Operative Shipbuilding Society took up the running of this yard in 1868. It was formed by Richard Lough and his partner Heron, with the latter operating it until its closure in 1902. They produced predominantly fishing vessels, and only ever constructed them out of wood. These vessels were mainly for local fishing companies in North Shields, Newcastle etc but gained a good reputation for solid and well built traditional vessels. They did also produce steamers, such as the Rambler built in 1898 for the Rambler Fishing Co. in North Shields. There were also passenger and surveying steamers, such as a ship built for Mr Watkins of London for use in the Mediterranean in 1896.
Their work was vastly dwarfed by the work of the Blyth Shipbuilding Co., though. In 1890, the Co-Operative were constructing 118 tons a year, while the larger company was producing 7259. Their lack of, or resistance to growth spelled the end to their tenure at Crofton Mills in the turn of the century. This is reported on in the Shields Daily News in 1902, with not a single vessel being launched for some time. In fact, the last appears to be the Ethelbald, a steam drifter for the Saxon Steam Fishing Co in North Shields.
Part of the site was later swallowed up into the Blyth Shipbuilding Co. complex.
Thanks to Gavin McLelland for providing and writing up this excellent information on the early years of the Crofton Mills yard.
Ordnance Survey, 1861
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