Robert Irvine, Alexander Currie, Irvine Currie & Co., Robert Irvine Jnr., Christopher Furness
Types built here:
Customers (Not Exhaustive):
Robert Irvine, a Glaswegian master mariner, came to Hartlepool at the helm of ships ran by Ward Jackson between the town and Hamburg. When Ward Jackson formed his own steam navigation company, Irvine was the one appointed as a ship master and later superintendent.
Given his experience and prowess with vessels, he eventually settled and started repairing ships at the West Harbour, on a pre-existing gridiron in 1860. In 1863/64. the Harbour company advertised a small parcel of land on the middle pier. Irvine grabbed the chance to set up his own shipyard. In partnership with Alexander Currie, a man experienced in shipbuilding having worked in the Pile Spence yard, they both acquired the site and laid out a fairly basic shipyard in a tight space. This was built only a few years after the first Ordnance Survey, which gives us a near impression of the site pre-Irvine - a silted up corner of the harbour next to the extensive sidings for the coal drops and an engine house.
The company launched their first vessel here in August 1864 - an iron screw steamer for John Pile, a neighbouring shipbuilder and owner of the West Hartlepool Steam Nav. Co. It was named Island Queen. Just four other vessels were built before great expansion in 1866 to build their own graving dock. Alexander Currie also left the partnership at this time.
It was completed in 1866, built to a grade of 315ft in length to be used for construction and repair. In fact, the first vessel landing in here was William Gray's (another shipbuilder) Golden Horn, which suffered heavy damage. They had no dry dock of their own, requiring the facilities of Irvine.
The firm developed a high reputation for overhaul and repair, specifically though stranded or sunk. While we are talking about shipbuilding, it is important to note many of these yards gained much of their fortune through repair which allowed greater projects and modernisation in yards. Repair contracts flowed in through a period of building stagnancy until 1870. This restarted with the construction of a tug for the Shanghai Tug & Lighter Co. and a passenger ship for the Dublin & Liverpool SS Co., demonstrating their flexibility in orders.
Robert's wife Agnes, who presided over the opening of many of these ships, died in 1882. From this point, Robert withdrew from day to day running of the yard and eventually handed over to his son Robert Irvine Jr. This handing over saw the introduction of steel working at the yard, bringing in line with the most modern yards in the country. The biggest ship built yet at the yard came a few years later in 1887 - The Casterton. During modernisation, Christopher Furness became the principal shareholder making his shipbuilding interests in the town widespread. Irvine's son David became managing director. The yard reopened in 1898 with three building berths, a travelling crane (ft. smaller steam cranes) and an extended dry dock from 315ft to 380 ft. These changes are reflected in the 1890s Ordnance Survey map, connected by rail to the wider harbour network.
Orders increased after modernisation, leading to contracts from some of the largest operators in the country - Manchester Liners, Tyne-Tees SS and Elder Dempster to name a few. The Tyne Tees ship, New Oporto, was a mixed passenger/cargo ship destined for service between London and the ports of the North East.
By 1909, management and operations of this yard were combined with those at Middleton (https://www.northeastheritagelibrary.co.uk/shipbuilding-archive/har005/middleton-shipyard), where the Irvine's story continues.
The last order for the Harbour yard came in 1924, producing a steam collier for the Burnett Steam Shipping Co. based in Newcastle. From thereon, the dock was left disused through to the second half of the 20th century. The company went into liquidation in 1930, and the Middleton yard continued into the 40s under multiple guises. Today, the dock has been demolished and now forms part of the redeveloped harbour for residential and commercial.
Ordnance Survey, 1897
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Historic Environment Records
Durham/Northumberland: Keys to the Past
Tyne and Wear: Sitelines
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