Blyth Shipbuilding Co., Shipyard
Blyth Iron Shipbuilding Co. (1883) Blyth Shipbuilding & Dry Docks Company Ltd. (1883 - 1967)
Types built here:
Customers (Not Exhaustive):
The Blyth Dry Docks and Shipbuilding Company inherited the docks of Hodgson & Soulsby, which is in turn the site of Blyth's first ever dry dock built by Stoveld in 1811. They were first known as the Blyth Iron Shipbuilding Co., and agreed to complete the several vessels in progress at the yard. At this time there were 500 hands at the yard with five vessels on the stocks. This coincided with the North Eastern Railway's expansion of the riverside staiths. Their starting capital was £20,000 and reached £300,000 by 1907.
Over the next year into 1884 five steamers were constructed equating 5,067 tons. These included screw steamers and hopper bargers which became the yards bread and butter. These were generally for British buyers, though one was sent to India. The company also started repairing vessels at this time, with berth capacity for five vessels. A further 100 hands were added to the yard by the end of 1884.
Througout the next decade, there was a wide reaching shipbuilding depression which hit the yard. In 1894, two large vessels had been sat dormant as a consequence of the moulders strike, which represented £40,000 in capital (around £3.5mil in 2023 money). Repair work did continue but the struggles at Blyth were emblematic of the wider national issues at this time.
Work did continue though, specifically on screw steamers for the merchant shipping companies. This is also at the time the Ordnance Survey published their maps in 1897, showing the graving docks at both Cowpen Quay and the High Quay, connected by railway from Blyth Railway Station.
It increased to an extent that by 1907 the Blyth Shipbuilding Co., had opened new offices. It coincided with the launch of the Screw Steamer "Ryhope". They stood on the river frontage at a cost of £5,000. By 1907, 141 ships had been built at the yard, and "would extend from Blyth to Coquet Island" if put in a line. This decade also saw great growth in Blyth, with the Ashington Coal Company increasing their output. This led to the harbour commissioners greatly increasing their facilities.
Despite worry of American shipbuilding, the Blyth yard continued to extend into the 1910s. Three large berths capable of taking 12,000 tons were added in part thanks to the success of their yard during WWI. The Admiralty had taken over much of their work, with the yard constructing predominantly Boom Defence Vessels (Net layers) for the war effort. Upgrades to machinery, the foundry and berths had taken place, with the frontage of the works now taking up around half a mile. It was at this time the first "aircraft carrier" was built at Blyth. The Ark Royal provided aircraft transport, with early seaplanes able to be accommodated on the vessel. She acted as a depot ship at Dardanelles and attempted to down the SMS Goeben with seaplanes. It was out of service by 1946 and sold for scrap at Panama in 1950.
The yard took on considerable war loans during WWI, totally £10,000. This was a similar trend amongst industrial companies. Several coal companies and shipyards also received funds which aided the running and expansion of the complex.
During 1920, Some 7 vessels were built at the yard and 300 repaired at the dock. This was at a time shipbuilding and repairing on the continent started to become cheaper, with steel plates £7 less expensive in Europe. Though they were busy, this forecast rang true in the decades to come. Worries are noted in the Shields Daily News of December 1920, with the board stressing "the mill would not grind with the water that was past".
The largest vessel in the company's history was launched in 1924. This was the Rio Dorado, lauunched by the Countess Wemyss and March. It was built for the Thomson Shipping Co, and was the fourth entrusted to the Blyth company. It was the largest of them, being 1000 tons larger.
After the Great Depression, coal shipments did decline in Blyth, however shipbuilding managed to stay strong into the 1930s. The second growth of activity from the Admiralty was a contributing factor in the foreseen run up to WWII. Boom defence ships had been ordered which had a positive effect on the town and its employment during a drop-off in coal output.
By the end of WWII, the yard had changed hands to Mr Moller, Mr Billmeir and Mr William Turnbull. All 3 had great experience with the Moller Line and the Stanhope Steamship Co. The yard had been bought for a quarter of a million from Mr Dalgliesh, who saved the yard during the Great Depression. Employees were retained for the yard which had grown to six berths and five graving docks by this point. Only a few years later there were considerable strikes at the yard, with 100 players withholding their labour. Most of the work from this point were tankers. 11 were built for varying companies, as well as ore carriers and coastal steamers.
The 50s saw a strong period for the yard, with the company achieving their best set of figures in 1956. Three vessels totalling a tonnage of 25,800 were constructed dispute an acute steel shorting and issues with labour. It is important to note the newspaper may be playing this off to provide confidence to local communities, however the stats show decent results across the Blyth & Tyne. This was the last decade of positivity for the yard.
The 60s saw a great decline due to rising costs and falling orders. Blyth were of course a microcosm of the wider issues British shipbuilding had into the second half of the century. By 1964 the yard were even looking into schemes producing pre-fabricated houses to keep afloat. Shipyards were a source of national pride, and it was even noted at this time developing countries sought to develop their own ships instead of buying abroad.
The last ship-naming ceremony came in January 1967. 100 employees were retained after receivership to complete the 7400 ton collier Rogate for Stephenson Clarke, a Newcastle firm. It was intended to run coal down to the power stations in the south of England. It was noted in the Newcastle Journal that "Blyth's record for building colliery is probably matchless. Now, with the Rogate, the proud tradition comes to an end".
The complex has been extensively redeveloped, now taking on other industries. 3 of the docks are still in situ, with parts of the other docks still extant on the river side.
Ordnance Survey, 1897
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