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Port Glasgow Shipbuilding Notes

Port Glasgow – the Old Shipyards


In the picture of ‘The town of Port Glasgow 1820’ there is a large building in Robert Street opposite the Glasgow Road which might be mistaken for the mill building but which is Fowler’s sugarhouse, one of Port Glasgow’s former two sugar houses, it was destroyed by fire in 1869 or 1870, after which the firm removed to London and still exists. Fowler’s syrup and treacle are still well known to present day housewives.


The part of the Gourock Ropework Co’s buildings on the east side of Robert St known as the cooperage was the original cooperage belonging to the sugarhouse.


The Bay Yard which was the property of the Port Glasgow Harbour Trust has had many tenants. Alexander & James Martin, Peter Murchie, Thomas Wishart, Kirkpatrick & McIntyre, William & John Hamilton, and McFadyen & Co, but most interesting to all engaged in shipbuilding, it was the yard which in 1874 Russell & Co first commenced business, the partners being Messrs Joseph Russell, WJ Lithgow and Anderson Rodger.


In 1879 a lease was taken of the shipyard in the east end of Greenock which is now occupied by the Greenock Dockyard Co. and Kingston Yard was purchased in 1883. In 1892 the partnership was dissolved, Mr Russell retiring. Mr Lithgow took over Kingston and the Greenock Yard and Mr Anderson Rodger the Dry Dock and Bay Yard where in 1904 the last sailing ship built in Port Glasgow was launched. She was the Wellgunde for Hamburg owners.


During Rodger & Co.’s time the joiners shop was destroyed by a fire in which the late Mr Joseph Lambie, the fire master, was so severely crippled that he was crippled for the rest of his life.


There is a stone pillar in the wall at Blackstone between Ferguson Brother’s smithy and the Bay Yard. It marks the east side of the old approach to Newark castle.


I explained the meaning of that pillar to a well-known local gentleman and he passed on the information to a  party of his friends but he told me afterwards that they looked at him as if he was mad.


During the occupation of the Bay Yard by the various shipbuilding firms, a sum of ten shillings per annum was paid by them to Ardgowan Estates Ltd for that strip of ground. When the yard closed in 1938, the Harbour Trust was charged with the ten shillings and they redeemed that charge by purchasing the ground for fifty pounds.


I am not surprised at my friend’s friends for their reception of the story of the pillar, as I suppose they would be much younger than myself, and I doubt if many Port people know the story.


The harbours and Bay Yard were taken over by the Town Council under the Port Glasgow Harbour Confirmation Order 1939.


In 1780 Thomas McGill has a small yard at the foot of what is now a yard of Messrs Ferguson Brothers.


In 1873 Messrs William & John Hamilton purchased the old Newark Yard to the west of the castle where McGill had commenced shipbuilding in the previous century. In 1887 they launched from this yard the Palgrave which was the largest sailing ship then afloat. In 1890 they transferred the business to the Glen Yard. A valuable addition was made to the local shipbuilding industry when in 1903, Ferguson Brothers commenced business in the Newark Yard which had been lying derelict for some years. Prior to this they had been connected with the firm of Fleming & Ferguson, Paisley, of which their father Mr J Ferguson had been one of the founders. They have built a great variety of types all kinds of marine dredging craft(bucket & suction) floating cranes, salvage vessels, wreck lifters, research steamers, pilot vessels and tugs. In 1914 they built two paddle hospital ships for service on the Tigris, the only hospital ships built in Port Glasgow and two icebreakers for Russia.


In the same year there was built for the government of Tasmania, a bucket dredger called the Ponrabbel. She sailed from Port Glasgow under her own steam at the end of August. During the voyage she was delayed at several ports owing to war restrictions and in the month of October, the German raider Emden, came across her and about a dozen other vessels of all kinds in the Indian Ocean and sunk the lot.


The dredger was more difficult to sink than any of the other vessels, owing to the longitudinal water-tight divisions formed by the well in which the buckets work.


The most interesting ship built was the Royal research Discovery II. She was launched on 2nd November 1929 and was constructed to the order of the Crown Agents for the Colonies, for the discovery committee which acts on behalf of the government of the Falkland Islands. She was specially constructed and equipped for service in the South Atlantic and Antarctic, for surveying and charting.


Ferguson’s rarely competed with other Port Glasgow firms, the only occasion being in the years 1922 to 1928, when they built six cargo vessels. Machinery for ninety five per cent of the vessels built have been made in their own engine works. An oil well drilling barge was the most remarkable structure built in Port Glasgow yards since the church built in the Glen Yard or the floating bath by Murdoch & Murray, which was anchored at the Tail of the Bank and used as a swimming club.


With the exception of John Wood & Co. and Wm. Hamilton & Co. the firm has operated under the same title longer than any other local firm. One of the founding partners, of whom there were four, all brothers, is now managing director.


In 1909, the firm was awarded the Grand Prix of the Engineering section of the Franco-British Exhibition and in the following year in the Japan-British Exhibition awarded a gold medal in the same section. The display in each case was a collection of dredger and ship models. During the late war, the firm had a large output of Admiralty corvettes and other Admiralty vessels.

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