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Wellington Street, Shipyard


55.130962, -1.510354

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Charles Clark & Henry Taylor (1810), George Bowman & Thomas Drummond (1830s - 1862), John Hodgson & Robert Soulsby (1863), Blyth Shipbuilding Co

Types built here:

Keel, Barque, Brigantine, Hopper, Schooner, Screw Steamer, Paddle Steamer

Customers (Not Exhaustive):

Government of Russia

Estimated Output:


Construction Materials:

Wood, Iron



Last Updated:



The yard at Wellington Street (now Burt Street) was opened by Mr Charles Clark and Mr Henry Taylor in 1810. They constructed a small slip that was extant through to the 1860s but was obsolete by this time. Little is known about their early work, but they were later taken over by Bowman & Drummond, who constructed an entirely new slipway at the site.

They commenced work around the 1830s, with contemporary newspapers advertisement their schooners for private sale, which had the ability to carry 6 keels of coal and were measuring 62 ft in length. This appears to be one of the larger vessels they'd built for the coal trade before the 1850s. They were still operating into this decade though, with new ship notices popping up for their keels and barques through the next 10 years.

In was in September 1862 that George Bowman died. It appears Robert Soulsby ceased continuing the business as Hodgson & Soulsby took up the yard a year later. They had already been operating at Crofton Mills, and probably expanded for further capacity.

In 1870 they launch a brigantine/ barquentine (sources vary) the “Smiling Morn’” which was renowned for its speed. It once averaged 12 knots on a trip between the Baltic and Blyth.

Hodgson & Soulsby continue their business through the 1870’s until October 1878 when another Blyth shipyard Chapman, Towers & Horne went into liquidation. Chapman, Towers and Horn had tried to build the first iron ship in Blyth but failed and the vessel was never completed. Hodgson & Soulsby then bought the Chapman & Horne yard from their creditors in August 1879. This yard had been owned previously by the Robinsons.

The 1860 First edition OS maps show 3 shipbuilding yards in central Blyth two north of the Flanker, a narrow creek running through the town that has since been filled in and one south. C.E. Baldwin states that the Bowman and Drummond yard was north of the Flanker. So Hodgson & Soulsby probably amalgamated the two yards north of the flanker by buying the Chapman & Horne / Robinsons Yard in 1879.

It was at this point that their business really took off. In November of 1879 they contracted to build two 170’ long steam powered iron screw hoppers. These hoppers were for the Russian government and were launched on the 22nd and 27th of April 1879 and by August 1880 they had launched 4 more vessels including the “Plessey”, an Iron screw steamer about 260’ long with 170 Nominal Horse Power Compound engine. Over the next two or so years they launched at least 21 iron vessels. The launches attracted many people, sometimes two thousand or more. Several sources state or imply that Hodgson & Soulsby introduced iron shipbuilding to Blyth. Chapman, Towers & Horn were the first to start an iron ship, Hodgson & Soulsby were the first to launch a ship so perhaps they can claim this honour. In the 1881 census Joseph Hodgson claims to employ 300 labourers and 50 boys in his Shipyard. At that time the total male population of Blyth was about 1500 so they probably employed about a third of the male working population and supported numerous others.

In their summary of the regions shipbuilding on the 29th of December 1882 the Newcastle Courant was upbeat, stating that Hodgson & Soulsby were fully employed and 1883 will open with “a bright prospect” for shipbuilding in Blyth, but something was going on behind the scenes.

In mid March in the Leeds Mercury a prospectus for the purchase of shares in the “Blyth Shipbuilding Company” was published. This firm had been formed following an agreement made between Joseph Hodgson and Robert Soulsby on one part and John Martin Winter and William Stains Vaughan on the other. The agreement was made on the 23rd of February 1883 and a call for capital announced in mid March. The new firms’ board included the following

· William S. Vaughan, Engineer of Newcastle -U-Tyne – Chairman

· Joseph Hodgson, Shipbuilder of Blyth

· Rowland Mawson, Ship Owner of Newcastle -U-Tyne

· Walter Scott, Constructor of Newcastle -U-Tyne

· James A Game, Merchant of Newcastle-U-Tyne

John Martin Winter was the Company Secretary. The firm was based at 16 Market Street, Newcastle U Tyne, also John Winters address.

The new firm bought the freehold, buildings, erections, plant and machinery owned by Hodgson & Soulsby. The facilities were modern and substantial and the yard had six berths, five of which had ships on them. The prospectus also mentioned that the existing contracts were to be completed on favourable terms.

In late April Blyth Shipbuilding Company launched what was probably its first vessel a 260’ steamer for Morrel Brothers of Swansea.

Then in mid May Hodgson & Soulsby went into liquidation with liabilities of £40,000 compared with assets of £17,000. The announcement of the failure on the 14th of May brought depression to the town with talk of theatre shows to be cancelled. Quite why the failure of the firm which had effectively been bought out by the Blyth Shipbuilding Company caused so much distress is not clear. It is also not clear why Hodgson & Soulsby went into liquidation when it had been sold. This may have been an accounting “trick” to avoid some liabilities being passed onto the new firm.

Why did Joseph and Robert involve others? In early February 1883 the Newcastle Courant mentions that land to the north of Hodgson & Soulsby yard was being cleared for the construction of a shipyard and there was also talk of a third yard on Lord Ridley’s land. It may be that in order to compete with these new firms or perhaps frustrate their plans more money was needed and the only way to obtain it was to invite more investors.

I have identified 24 vessels built by the firm over the 20 or so years it was in existence. The majority were built for local or east coast firms though at least four were built for foreign owners, one the “Karraweera” for an Australian firm. Of the 24 vessels I have found the fate of 19 of them. Only two of these were broken up, two were sunk by enemy fire but the remaining 15 disappeared, foundered, were crushed in ice or wrecked on rocks or other obstructions. None remain, the longest lasting vessel was the “Ville de Cette”: launched in September 1880 and broken up in Istambul in 1956 a life of 76 years not bad considering that cargo ships are generally held to have an economic life of about 20 -25 years.

I have located pictures of the “Ealing” and the “Karaweera”. These were two of the larger vessels built by Hodgson & Soulsby and show vertical stemmed vessels with rounded, counter sterns typical of the period. The shading on the sketch of the Karaweera seems to indicate a fine entry at the bow whereas the Ealing has bluffer bow and more width around the forward cargo hold. The Karaweera was designed for mixed goods and passenger service and would have needed a higher speed than a plain cargo vessel. Both ships also have masts rigged for fore and aft sails. The photo of the Karaweera, taken in 1902, about 20 years after her launch, shows the masts are still rigged for carrying sails, they must have therefore been some use or they no doubt would have been discarded to reduce maintenance costs. The lower section of the masts would also have been used in harbour to support derricks to load and unload cargo. (these can also be seen in photo of the wrecked Karaweera.)

As shipbuilders generally built their vessels based on the previous hulls it his highly likely that the other ships built be Hodgson & Soulsby would not have been that different from these two.

Where information on the ships engines are available they show that the vessels were generally moved to either the Tyne or the Tees to have their engines fitted, most often at Black, Hawthorn & Co. on the Tyne. One vessel the “Baines Hawkins” had its engines supplied by a Blyth firm; Hawks, Crawshey & Co.

All engines identified to date are 2 Cylinder Compound, surface condensing type.

The history of Hodgson & Soulsby was kindly written by Gavin McLelland, an ancestor of Hodgson.

Please note I have not included Blyth Shipbuilding Co. in this entry, as this will be a seperate record.

'Sketches of The Coal Mines in Northumberland and Durham' T.H.Hair, published in 1844

Ordnance Survey, 1897

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