Richardsons Westgarth was the largest builder of marine engines in the world.
Thomas Richardson & Sons
Thomas Richardson (1793 -1850), a timber merchant turned shipbuilder, established an iron foundry in the village of Castle Eden, Durham in 1838.
Richardson relocated to more spacious premises at Middleton, situated between West Hartlepool and Old Hartlepool, from 1846. The Hartlepool Iron Works was used to build colliery engines, and employed around 300 people.
Thomas Richardson was succeeded by his son, also called Thomas Richardson (1821 -1890), from 1850. The first marine engine was built in 1851.
Thomas Richardson & Sons, engineers and ironfounders, entered into receivership in 1875, after amassing debts of £280,000.
Thomas Richardson & Sons built its 636th pair of steamer engines in 1879.
Thomas Richardson & Sons produced twelve marine engines in 1886; the second largest total of any firm in Britain that year.
Donald Barns Morison (1860 -1925), a skilled engineer, became general manager of the business from 1888. The works could produce 30 to 40 sets of engines every year by 1890
Richardsons was a household name in Hartlepool by 1898, and the firm had a worldwide reputation in the shipping trade. It was the oldest established firm in the Parliamentary borough.
Thomas Richardson died in 1890, and was succeeded as proprietor by his son, also called Thomas Richardson (1846 – 1906). By this time Richardsons was one of the leading marine engineering works in the world, and employed around 2,000 people.
Thomas Richardson was knighted in 1897. In 1898 the Hartlepool Mail reported, “Sir Thomas is a Varsity man, but that has by no means damaged his capabilities as a man of business”.
The Hartlepool Engine Works covered over nine acres by 1900.
Richardson Westgarth & Co
T Richardson & Sons merged with Furness Westgarth & Co of Middlesbrough and W Allan & Co of Sunderland to form Richardson Westgarth & Co in 1900. The company employed thousands of people and had a share capital of £700,000.
Sir Christopher Furness was chairman, Sir Thomas Richardson was vice-chairman, and William John Richardson (1852 – 1918), W Allan and Stephen Furness were directors. Tom Westgarth (1852 – 1934) and D B Morison were joint-managing directors.
Sir Christopher Furness was the largest single shareholder, and between them, the Furness and Richardson families had £450,000 to £500,000 invested in the company.
The merger allowed Richardson Westgarth to diversify its product range and combine its research and development talent. Some manufacturing was consolidated at Hartlepool. The affiliation with Christopher Furness also gave the company a ready market with his shipbuilding firms of Furness Withy and Irvine & Co.
Richardson Westgarth & Co built 55 engines with a combined horsepower of 106,300 in 1901; more than any other business in the world that year.
Tom Westgarth toured American and Continental iron, steel and engineering works in 1901. Upon his return, he warned that foreign competitors were gaining on British manufacturers. He called upon British workers to lose less time, take fewer holidays and to be more adaptable to changing conditions in order to ensure that indigenous industry remained competitive.
In 1911 Sir Christopher Furness criticised the irresponsibility of trade union leaders who identified foremost with political theories over practical business sense.
Richardson Westgarth employed 3,500 people in 1911, well within the top 100 largest British manufacturing employers.
Tom Westgarth retired from active control of the company in 1912 due to illness, but remained as a director.
Richardson Westgarth had never built an engine for the Admiralty, and at the beginning of the First World War, orders were slack. So the company wrote a letter to the government advertising its services, and war orders began from 1915. Between that time and the end of 1920, the firm engined 202 vessels, including 59 for the Admiralty, 57 for the Ministry of Shipping and 86 for the Mercantile Marine, with a total horsepower of 685,000. 51 ships were engined in 52 weeks in 1917 alone.
Richardson Westgarth built its first turbine engines during this period. The company also built 28 turbines for generating electric power onshore.
At the request of the Admiralty, Richardson Westgarth opened a shell manufacturing plant at Middlesbrough in 1915. Tom Westgarth supervised the project, and eventually, 4, 6 and 8 inch shells were being produced at the rate of 1,000 a week.
Investment in plant and machinery between 1915 and 1920 totalled over £300,000.
Following the death of W J Richardson in 1918, D B Morison became chairman and managing director.
Richardson Westgarth produced the largest number of marine engines in Britain in 1920, with a total horsepower of 96,000. Worldwide, the company ranked sixth among marine engine builders, behind five American firms. However, the profitability of the marine engines business had declined substantially since the pre-War period.
Richardson Westgarth constructed its first diesel engine in 1923.
D B Morison retired in 1924, and was succeeded as chairman by Tom Westgarth.
Merger and recent history
A trade depression affected shipping particularly badly, and Richardson Westgarth merged with North-Eastern Marine Engineering Co of Wallsend and George Clark Ltd of Sunderland in 1938. The new venture took on the Richardsons Westgarth name, but North-Eastern Marine Engineering held the largest stake, and company headquarters were transferred to Wallsend.
Richardsons Westgarth and Weir Group of Glasgow merged their seawater desalination businesses as Weir Westgarth to create a world leader in the field in 1962. Weir Westgarth offices were relocated from West Hartlepool to Glasgow from 1964. Weir Group bought out the Richardsons Westgarth stake in the venture in 1967, although the Weir Westgarth name was retained.
Turbine and generator production came to an end in Hartlepool in 1967, with the closure of the South Works, and the loss of around 400 jobs.
Richardsons Westgarth was the largest manufacturer of slow-speed marine diesel engines in Britain in 1973.
North-Eastern Marine Engineering and George Clark, which were profitable, were subject to compulsory nationalisation by the British Government in 1977.
Throughout the early to mid-1980s, Richardsons Westgarth divested all of its remaining engineering operations, which had become loss-making, and focused on its steel stockholding business, which remained profitable.
The nationalised boilermaking operations in Hartlepool were closed with the loss of 250 jobs in 1982.
RW Transmissions of Hebburn, a loss-making subsidiary engaged in gear manufacturing, was divested in 1984. This marked the end of Richardsons Westgarth’s association with the North East of England.
Richardsons Westgarth was acquired by Klockner, a German metals trader, for £25 million in 2000 to create the second largest steel distributor in Britain.
Meanwhile Weir Westgarth was acquired by Veolia Water in 2005 and offices were relocated to East Kilbride.