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Quay Walls

Gowan Shipyard

Berwick upon Tweed

55.766765, -2.004405

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Arthur Byram Gowan, Robert Gowan, AB Gowan

Types built here:

Sloop, Brig, Snow, Schooner, Brigantine, Smack, Screw Steamer, Barquentine

Customers (Not Exhaustive):

Union Shipping Company, Salters & Co, Old Shipping Co, Leith Shipping Co, Berwick Shipping Co, Commercial Shipping Co, A&R Hopper

Estimated Output:


Construction Materials:

Wood, Iron



Last Updated:



The shipyard of Arthur Byram was one of the first "modern" shipyards in the region.

The first references to Byram's work at the Ballast Quay is in 1751. The excellent site notes the first was confirmed build we know of was in 1756. In the Newcastle Courant, Byram advertises "a ship, of about 160 tons, or eight Keels...built all of the best English Oak Timber and Plank...for the coal, East Country, or Streights Trade". There are other advertisements 4 years later for a sloop for for the coal or corn trade and a new ship potentially for the Mediterranean trade.

Arthur Byram was already a qualified boat builder elsewhere. He moved to the town and received authority from the Freeman's Guild to set up a yard outside the Elizabethan walls. His bread and butter was building but also repairing, and managed to gain such a successful enterprise that he moved into 25 Palace Street - a 3 storey townhouse which still remains today.

Byram gained great reputation for the "Berwick smack", a fast moving vessel conveying goods and passengers on the route to London. They were a type of sloop, which had a single mast.

From thereon, the Byram yard constructed at least 200 vessels for the next century and a bit. Notably, brigs were built for trade to Virginia and St Petersburg, Schooners on the London to Riga route as well as coal vessels throughout the empire. Smacks continued to be popular however, and gained ever more reputation thanks to the industrialisation of the country. The sweeping urbanisation and swelling of the population meant a greater need for conveyance to the largest metropolitan areas. Produce from Northumberland to London was an important trade, and plenty of food was still carried until the much faster railway came around in the mid 19th century.

The primary operators of the smacks were the Old Shipping Company and the Union Shipping Company set up in 1764 and 1794 respectively. They were set up by Scottish merchants and were the primary buyers of Gowan ships.

Arthur Byram assed the yard to the his in law Robert due to ill health in 1789. Arthur passed away later that year and is buried in the Berwick Parish Church. At this point, they employed around 2 dozen workers paying 15 shillings.

Robert continued the work until 1802 when he died. His wife Elizabeth briefly took the reigns until passing over to their son AB Gowan (they had the same name, however we will use AB for clarity). Even during this transition period a number of smacks were still being built for the Old Shipping Company and trading routes.

AB Gowan grew the yard significantly. He obtained a 40 year lease at a cost of £27 per annum, allowing substantial upgrades to building and repair facilities. Contracts were gained for the next decades by large companies such as James Fisher of Barrow, who still operate today in the marine sector.

It is during the ownership of AB Gowan we can first see the yard on Ordnance Survey maps. A large patent slip was constructed facing the mouth of the Tweed, alongside a workshop, offices, a timber yard, saw pit and smithy. All these demonstrate the capacity AB built for wooden vessels.

AB Gowan ran the yard until 1867, when he passed away. It was taken over by his son... of the same name. In 1874, a 21 year lease was obtained to make further plans for upgrades. Arthur went into partnership with John Wilson, a Tyneside shipyard operator, to convert to iron working. Only four were ever built as for some reason orders dried up by 1878. These last iron vessels were likely the largest ever built at the town, with the slip and recent upgrades bringing about substantial capacity. The expansion of the railway will have been a major factor, as goods could simply be transported faster up and down the coast. The yards at the Tyne, Wear, Tees and Clyde also likely snapped up any prospective orders from a much smaller operation at Berwick. Supply chains in the larger cities probably meant it was much more cost effective for bulk orders. The yard was again used in the 20th century.

Arthur Gowan, the grandson of the original Arthur Gowan, became the managing director of Palmer's at Jarrow. His son Arthur Blackwood served in the Royal Engineers but died in 1916 after being declared missing. He is commemorated at St Paul's in Jarrow, and the Jarrow to Howdon ferry was named after him - the A B Gowan.

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

Ordnance Survey, 1855

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Historic Environment Records

Durham/Northumberland: Keys to the Past

Tyne and Wear: Sitelines

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