Richardsons Westgarth was the largest builder of marine engines in the world.
Thomas Richardson & Sons
In 1838 Thomas Richardson (1793 -1850), a timber merchant turned shipbuilder, established an iron foundry in the village of Castle Eden, Durham.
In 1847 Richardson relocated to the Hartlepool Iron Works at Middleton, situated between West Hartlepool and Old Hartlepool. The firm built colliery engines, and employed around 300 people.
In 1850 Richardson was succeeded by his son, Thomas (1821 -1890). By 1857 the firm was building ship engines and boilers.
Thomas Richardson & Sons, engineers and ironfounders, entered receivership in 1875, after amassing debts of £280,000.
In 1879 the firm built its 636th pair of steamer engines. In 1886 Thomas Richardson & Sons produced twelve marine engines; the second largest total of any firm in Britain that year.
In 1888 Donald Barns Morison (1860 -1925), a skilled engineer, became general manager of the company. By 1890 the works could produce 30 to 40 sets of engines every year.
By 1898 Richardsons was a household name in Hartlepool, and the firm had a worldwide reputation in the shipping trade. It was the oldest established firm in the Parliamentary borough.
Richardson died in 1890, and was succeeded as proprietor by his son, 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”.
In 1900 the Hartlepool Engine Works covered over nine acres.
Richardson Westgarth & Co
In 1900 T Richardson & Sons merged with Furness Westgarth & Co of Middlesbrough and W Allan & Co of Sunderland to form Richardson Westgarth & Co. 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.
In 1901 Richardson Westgarth & Co built 55 engines with a combined horsepower of 106,300; more than any other firm in the world that year.
In 1901 Tom Westgarth toured American and Continental iron, steel and engineering works. 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.
The pooling of resources that Richardson Westgarth represented allowed the company to diversify its product range and pool its research and development talent. Some manufacturing was consolidated at Hartlepool. The affiliation with Christopher Furness also gave the firm a ready market with his shipbuilding firms of Furness Withy and Irvine & Co.
The company 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.
The firm had never built an engine for the Admiralty, and at the beginning of the First World War, orders were slack. So the firm 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. In 1917 alone, 51 ships were engined in 52 weeks. The firm built its first turbine engines during this period. The firm also built 28 turbines for generating electric power onshore.
At the request of the Admiralty, the firm 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.
The firm 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.
The firm constructed its first diesel engine in 1923.
In 1924 D B Morison retired, and was succeeded as chairman by Tom Westgarth.
A trade depression effected shipping particularly badly, and in 1938 Richardsons Westgarth merged with North-Eastern Marine Engineering Co of Wallsend and George Clark Ltd of Sunderland. 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.
In 1962 Richardsons Westgarth and Weir Group of Glasgow merged their seawater desalination businesses as Weir Westgarth to create a world leader in the field. In 1964 Weir Westgarth offices were relocated from West Hartlepool to Glasgow. In 1967 Weir Group bought out the Richardsons Westgarth stake in the venture, although the Weir Westgarth name was retained.
In 1973 Richardsons Westgarth was Britain’s largest manufacturer of slow speed marine diesel engines.
The firm’s Hartlepool operations were closed in 1982.
In 1999 Richardsons Westgarth, which had reinvented itself as a steel stockholder headquartered in Kidderminster, was acquired by Klockner, a German metals trader, for £25 million.
In 2005 Weir Westgarth was acquired by Veolia Water and offices were relocated to East Kilbride.