John Denton, William Gray, Denton Gray & Co. (1839 - 1869), Withy Alexander, Christopher Furness, Edward Withy, Edward Alexander, Furness Withy & Co. Ltd. (1869 - 1909), Irvine's Shipbuilding and Dry Docks Co. Ltd. (1909 - 1930), Irvine's Shipbuilding and Dry Docks Co. (1930) (1930 - 1938), National Shipbuilders Security, The Admiralty
Types built here:
Customers (Not Exhaustive):
Wood, Iron, Steel
A shipyard at this site was first opened by John Pushon Denton, a Sunderland native who was surrounded by shipowningg interests all his life. His father Richard Coupland was a shipowner, and became a master mariner for his dads fleet. He also married Caroline Ord, the daughter of Robert Ord who he later built ships for.
Denton repaired ships in Hartlepool a couple years prior to setting up this yard. His first ship to bo be built was the schooner Patrel for a local owner. His second, Wingate Grange, was to be for the Ord's.
Though he continued repairing ships, the vast bulk of work came to be building almost every type of wooden vessel which traversed up the North Sea, and even financed some of the ships through shared ownership to help grow the yard.
In the early 1850s, a gridiron was added to the slipway he absorbed from the Richardson interests. Ships continued to be built for international trade, notably the South American copper ore trade, China routes, as well as local merchants both here, the Wear and the Tyne. A customer of Denton's was William Gray, a Blyth man who had expanded his drapery into Hartlepool and tapped into the booming shipping industry soon after. The Juanita was built by Denton and ordered by Gray for the Mediterranean trade, and the Ravensbourne was launched for William's sister for the China channels. Gray went into partnership with Denton in 1863 to modernise the yard for iron ships. Engines and foundries were added to make the yard one of the most dominant in the area. The company was renamed Denton Gray & Co. It was fully equipped, with the two earliest slipways retained for ship repairs.
Orders came in thick and fast, with the first being built in the same year for the Liverpool shipowner I Wilson, though subsequently sold elsewhere. Their first screw steamer was built for the Egyptian government in 1864. We can see this era of the yard on Ordnance Survey maps published in 1863, featured carpenters shops, smiths shops, boilers and furnaces. An extensive patent slip is also evident where Richardson's yard was previously.
By 1865, Denton Gray went into partnership with Richardson, Duck & Co of South Stockton, making the operation much larger and incorporating a number of yards. However this was short lived, and would revert back in the following September. However during this period the largest vessel yet was built here: The King of the Greeks, a screw steamer for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Shipping Co.
Thanks to a boom in orders just before the shipbuilding depression in later decades, the business expanded into the Pile Spence yard at West Hartlepool, which is where their portfolio gets a little more complicated. The Middleton site was getting cramped, and this yard was leased in the new dock areas for a minimum of 14 years. They could be used for both repair and construction, though new orders started to be moved to the new site fairly quickly and left the Middleton shipyard in 1869.
The complex was taken over by the partnership of Edward Withy and Edward Alexander in the same year. They originated from the Bristol area but had taken up work with Richardson Duck at Stockton. Their first vessel was completed in January 1869 here, the Maria Ysabel, for Spanish owners before the lease actually started in May. Hopper Barges were also built for the towns port to carry silt and mud.
The Dring & Pattison slipway was enlarged to provide an additional building berth in 1873 - the same year Edward Alexander retired, leaving Withy in sole ownership. The first vessel built under Withy solely was the Jeannie in 1874. A number of other vessels were built in the next few years here, notably for Richard Denton, the son of John who was the original owner, and the Marquess of Londonderry.
By 1884, Withy drew down his interests and left for pastures new at New Zealand. His majority stake was purchased by Christopher Furness who was already a vital contributor to the yard. Withy's brother Henry was made managing director. The company weathered the storm of a national shipbuilding depression, and managed to make large scale alterations to the yard. Graving docks and launches were expanded, the fitting out quay expanded and equipment extensively upgraded. The functions of the yard expanded, with the Consett Iron Co. contracting them for large steel plates, though building and repairing ships remained the dominant interest. Notably tankers, refrigerated cargo ships and passenger ships were starting to be built, including the Lady Furness which became the largest built in the town in 1897.
The company became a co-partnership with his workforce open to trade union members only. Each man could apply for ten £1 shares, making him a co-owner of the yard and wider enterprise. They became the Irvine's Shipbuilding & Dry Docks Co. from 1909, and modernised further to construct vessels for the war effort during the 1910s. The yard was fully electrified with graving docks 570 and 376ft long.
The depression of1920s hit the yard incredibly hard - there were few ships to be built at this point, with one of the last contracts only to fit out the Zabalbiede which had already been launched by the Newcastle Shipbuilding Company already hit by financial difficulties. Profits slid and cancelled contracts became the regular. The last vessel launched from the Middleton Yard was a barge for the harbour in 1924, while the Harbour Yard completed its last steam collier the same year.
The Middleton Yard lay dormant for 6 years, until a local syndicate took over under the same name. Repair work was its focus as well as shipbreaking, which continued until 1938 when the National Shipbuilders Security Corp. took over. They dismantled much of the yard, leaving only the fitting out quay and dry dock. They were important for the war effort in later years and were managed by the Admiralty. After the war, the dry dock was used occasionally by Gray and Richardsons until the 1970s, though were few and far between by this point.
Ordnance Survey, 1890s
Have we missed something, made a mistake, or have something to add? Contact us
Historic Environment Records
Durham/Northumberland: Keys to the Past
Tyne and Wear: Sitelines
HER information as described above is reproduced under the basis the resource is free of charge for education use. It is not altered unless there are grammatical errors.
Historic Maps provided by