Doxford of Sunderland was the largest shipbuilder, and the largest manufacturer of marine engines in the world.
The business is established
William Doxford (1812–1882) established a shipyard at Coxgreen, Sunderland, from 1840. He built wooden sailing ships.
Doxford relocated the works to Pallion, Sunderland from 1858. Here, he began to build composite vessels; ships made from both wood and iron. From this time he was joined by his eldest son, William Theodore Doxford (1841 – 1916).
Business expanded after the firm launched its first iron vessel in 1865.
A larger yard with a five berth capacity was acquired in 1870.
The first government contract, an order for three gunboats, arrived in 1872.
The engineering works were opened in 1878. The marine engines business was to become as important as shipbuilding to the firm.
The firm built the largest steamer afloat, the 4,500 ton Grecian, in 1879.
William Doxford Sr died in 1882, and Theodore William Doxford became the head of the business.
Theodore William Doxford was a firm supporter of trade unions, and stated his belief that, “the stronger the unions are the less likely there will be strikes”.
William Doxford & Sons is incorporated
The business was incorporated as William Doxford & Sons with a capital of £200,000, all owned by the Doxford family, in 1891.
William Doxford & Sons launched the first turret-deck steamer in 1892. The Samoa, the largest cargo vessel in the world, was launched in 1892.
William Doxford & Sons launched the largest cargo-carrying vessel ever built in England or Scotland in 1896. The Algoa, with a carrying capacity of 11,300 tons, was the second largest ship afloat.
William Theodore Doxford was knighted in 1900.
William Doxford & Sons laid down the largest private crane in the world in 1900.
William Doxford & Sons made a limited public offering of shares in 1900. The company had a share capital of £500,000. The works covered 32 acres.
The original five berths were replaced with three berths of greater length, each with the capacity for a 12,000 ton ship, from 1904.
William Doxford & Sons held the “Blue Ribbon” for the largest output of any British shipyard in 1905 and 1907. 20 vessels were launched in 1905 with a gross tonnage of 86,532. Output in 1906 was much larger, at 106,000 tons, although the shipyard did not win the Blue Ribbon that year.
William Doxford & Sons constructed its first oil-powered engine in 1912.
During the First World War the shipyard and engineering works concentrated on the construction of destroyers. 21 destroyers were built between 1914 and 1918.
Loss of independence and eventual closure
The Northumberland Shipbuilding Company, controlled by the Sperling Group, acquired William Doxford & Sons for over £3 million in 1919. Chaired by Viscount Furness (1883 – 1940), the combine was one of the largest industrial companies in Europe.
The Doxford opposed-piston, airless injection oil engine was introduced from 1921.
At one point during the 1930s, 90 percent of the world’s diesel marine engines were designed or being built by William Doxford & Sons.
Charles David Doxford died in 1935, the last member of the Doxford family to take an active interest in the management of the business.
William Doxford & Sons launched its largest vessel to date, the 16,500 ton Charlton Venus tanker, in 1951.
The Doxford engine held a 25 to 30 percent global market share throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. The Doxford engine was also produced under licence by 25 different businesses around the world. However foreign competitors such as Sulzer Brothers of Switzerland and Burmeister & Wain of Denmark had begun to take market share.
The Sunderland Shipbuilding Dry Docks and Engineering Company was acquired in 1961. The amalgamation brought the largest engineering works on the River Wear and three shipyards under a single owner.
William Doxford & Sons was acquired by Court Line in 1972. Court Line ran into financial difficulties, and Doxford was starved of investment for research and development.
467 engine making jobs were lost in 1979.
The last Doxford engine was made in 1980. Across its history, 1,200 Doxford engines were sold.
The three Wearside yards of Sunderland Shipbuilders were closed with the loss of 2,500 jobs in 1990.