Ship’s set sail: Irvine’s Shipbuilding Co

Irvine & Co, along with William Gray & Co, helped make West Hartlepool a major centre for British shipbuilding.

Irvine Currie & Co, shipbuilders, was founded at Hartlepool by Robert Irvine (1824 – 1903) and Alexander Currie in 1863. The first vessel, an iron screw steamer, was launched in 1864. Robert Irvine took full control of the company from 1866.

Robert Irvine was succeeded in management by his son, Robert Irvine Jr (1845-1901), from 1880. By this time the firm was better known for ship-repairing than shipbuilding. An average of 300 workmen were employed.

The firm was acquired by Christopher Furness (1852 – 1912) in 1887, and renamed the Irvine Ship Building and Dry Docks Company Ltd.

Irvine’s yard was struck by fire in 1891, with damage estimated at £20,000.

The yard was considerably extended in 1897 to enable it to construct steamers of 10,000 tons deadweight. There were three large berths, and the yard employed around 1,000 men.

Robert Irvine died in 1903 and his estate was valued at £104,238.

Irvine & Co had the capacity to construct 24 steamers per annum in 1908. The Furness Withy shipyard at Middleton, Hartlepool, was acquired in 1909.

In 1911 Irvine & Co was the eighth largest shipbuilder in Britain, as measured by gross tonnage. Irvine & Co built twelve ships a year during the First World War.

The company was acquired by the Commercial Bank of London, led by Clarence C Hatry (1888 – 1965), in 1917. The company prospered during the First World War, but had to reduce its capital in 1920 following a depression in the shipbuilding industry.

The company employed 3,000 employees by 1922. The yard covered eleven acres.

The last Irvine-built vessel to use the dry dock was in 1924. The shipbuilding yard was closed in 1925-6. The company entered receivership in 1926.

Capital was further reduced from £740,000 to £157,000 in 1929. The company entered into liquidation in 1930 after accruing excessive debts.

Later that year the yard received a reprieve when it was acquired as a going-concern by a syndicate of West Hartlepool businessmen, led by Stephen Furness, with a capital of £20,000. The plan was to maintain the yard with repairing and breaking contracts until the shipbuilding industry revived.

Unfortunately Britain had an oversupply of shipyards, and in 1938 the yard was nationalised by the government and mothballed.

Attempts to reopen the yard during the Second World War were unsuccessful due to a shortage of labour. It was found to be more efficient to simply increase production at existing shipyards.

Liked it? Take a second to support Thomas Farrell on Patreon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *