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Smith's Dock Shipbuilders 1908 - 1987




taken from Seaworks book written by
Macdonald & Len Tabner


James and George Edwards acquired Hepples shipyard at North Shields, under the title of Edwards Brothers. They com­menced building steam trawlers for which they soon gained a good reputation.
Edwards Brothers yard lay sandwiched between the ship-repair yards of 1 l.S. Edwards and Sons (their father) and T. & W. Smith. The three yards amalgamated to become Smiths Dock Company Limited.

So great  was the demand  for the  yard's trawlers that it became impossible to cope with the large numbers of potential orders. It was decided that a new yard should be established, possibly on the   River Tees,  where the Conservancy Commission was offering cheap riverside sites.


After talks with the T.C.C., and an inspection of possible sites. Smith's director, James Edwards, took a provisional option on 16 acres at South Bank. The land was largely mudflats and only visible at low tide.

Smith's Dock  bought the South  Bank site and agreed to provide two dry docks in addition to the proposed shipyard.
Excavation work began in April. Earth from the excavations plus 160,000 cubic feet of slag was used to build up the level of the surrounding land. On 22 October the coping stone was laid for the first  dock.  The event  was celebrated   with  a  grand  banquet  at Middlesbrough Town Hall.

On 8 February the first ships were docked in the two new dry docks. Bullard King's Umvolosi, a regular visitor to the Tees, and the Danish vessel. Fredricksborg. In the autumn the coaster, Mountcharles, was launched, yard No. 416. This was the last sea-going vessel to be built by Smith's at North Shields.

Shipbuilding started at the South Bank yard. The first ship launched was the dredger Priestman (417).In this first year 33 vessels were launched including yard No. 427, the first whalecatcher to be

built by Smith's.


The yard became the only one of the six shipyards on the Tees to have its own engine-works. Engine no. 1 was fitted into the trawler Lord Percy (489).


Work began on two new dry docks. Twenty-seven vessels were  launched,  including  three   minesweepers for the Imperial Russian Navy.

1922 - 1927
This was a period of feast and famine. Of the seven shipyards on the Tees in 1920 only three remained by 1927. At Smith's the situation was partly relieved by the conversion of a number of large merchant ships into whale factories. An interesting ship built in 1925 was Lochside II (yard no. 809) designed to carry beer casks between Montrosc and Newcastle.

An order for eight Canadian lake steamers heralded the start of a good year during which 23 ships were launched.


The boom continued and 49 ships were launched in 1929 at South Bank. So large was the order book that towards the end of the year the old Ropners Yard at Stockton was purchased. This yard had closed in 1925. 4,000 men were employed at South Bank during this time.


Craig-Taylors, the last of the Thornaby yards, was closed. At South Bank Smith's launched 30 ships, and nine ships from their Stockton yard. But, at the end of the year restrictions on whaling caused the bubble to burst.


Only two ships launched at South   Bank, and two  from Stockton. Yard No. 923 S.S. Dulwich launched on 3 March was the last ship to be launched at Stockton. By June the Stockton yard was


The worst  year of all, only one ship,  the French  motor trawler, Fismes (951) was launched.


Grimsby Town got into the first division and the first of the Football Team trawlers, Arsenal (952) was launched.
1934 - 1937
Plenty of work again mainly with whalecatchers and trawler orders. In 1937 the Patricia (1033), was launched for Trinity 1 louse. This diesel electric powered vessel was allowed to precede the

Royal Yacht at Fleet Reviews.

Our Bembridge (1040) was lunched on 17.07. for Trinity House as a first prototype pilot cutter powered by two diesel engines coming from Polar Engines, Glasgow. The  Munich crisis brought orders tor  two naval boom defence vessels, Barnsley (1055) and Barnstone (1056) and four 'Tree' class armed trawlers to be completed in 1939.
Drawings were prepared for the Coastal Patrol vessel based on the 1936 whalccatcher Southern Pride (1018) and the keel was laid in July. War was declared on 3 September. A touch of humor brightened the grim times with the launch of the cargo vessel Norman Prime (1066) in November.
In January came the launch of the first corvette (Coastal Patrol vessel). The Gladiolus (1075) was one of 12 'Flower Class' corvettes launched in 1940. The French Corvette La Bastiase was lost while on sea trials. She went down on the day France surrendered, and a number of Smith's men perished with her.

Seven 'Flower' class corvettes and six armed trawlers were completed. Two 'River' class twin screw corvettes were launched towards the end of the year.


The ' River' class corvettes were now referred to as 'Frigates' and ten were launched this year.


The first of the improved  'Flower' class corvettes was launched, the Hadleigh Castle.


Loch Eil, the last frigate was launched one week after V.E. day. The penultimate frigate Loch Carron was renamed Surprise and in 1953 acted as 'stand-in' for the  Royal Yacht at the Coronation
Fleet Review.


The first post-war cargoship launched at South Bank was the S.S. Arakaka (1157). The years ahead were busy ones. Whalecatchers, Norwegian and Swedish coastal vessels, Dutch lake tankers, French colliers, and in 1950 the biggest ship the yard had built, the Lumen (1197), a British motor tanker of 10,146 gt.

The Last two whalecatchers built by Smith's were launched. A standard tanker was designed, M/V 529 ft x 70 ft, about 11,000 gt. The first of this class was the Atlantic Duke (1213).
The first of seven standard turbine-driven tankers built for Shell and Eagle-Oil Company was launched. This was the Hadra 556 ft X 69 ft, 12,191 gt.
The last ship equipped with a Smith's steam engine was launched, the Tynemouth (1248).

The first 'Free-Piston' gasifier built by Smith's was exhibited at Earl's Court.

The last trawler built by Smith's was launched. This was the diesel-electric powered Falstaff (1247).

The G.T.V. Rembrandt (1259) was engined with free-piston gasifiers driving a low pressure turbine. She was one of only three ships m the British Merchant Navy with this machinery.


The Norwegian bulk carrier Livanita ( 1207) was the longest ship built in the yard. The slipway was extended and a corner was removed from the Central Stores building to accommodate the length.


A lean year with the only work being some barges, a new mid-ship (1271) section for the  damaged Norwegian tanker Fernmount, and building the tanker Lucigen.

1963 - 1964
Work picked up again with three orders from Manchester Liners and four peculiar little tankers built for service on the Mekong River in Thailand.

Early in the year the ill-fated exploration rig Sea Gem came in for modifications. On 25 July the semi-submersible oil rig Ocean Prince (1279) was launched, the first such launching in the world.



A platform oil rig and two fully automated Manchester Liners were built. The Geddes  Report was published advocating that shipbuilding should be centered on the Clyde and the Tyne. On 5 July it was announced that Smith's Dock had been taken over by Swan Hunters. On 11 August it was announced that in the near future shipbuilding would be concentrated on the Tyne, leaving only repair work at South Bank.

1967 - 1968
The yard was saved by orders from Manchester Liners for four container ships. In November 1968 the first of these vessels, Manchester Challenge (1294). inaugurated the first British container service from Manchester to Montreal. In October 1968 the Haverton Hill Shipyard was taken over by the Swan Hunter Group.
1971 - 1977
This was one ot the busiest periods in the history of the Yard. The part-refrigerated vessels Aurora (1316) and Atlanta (1317) were built for Finnish owners. These were the first Finnish vessels to be built m the UK for 10 years. A multi-million pound order was placed for eight 'reefers' by an international chartering company, Island Fruit Reefers Ltd.

The first of the reefers, Edinburgh Clipper
(1318), was launched in January  1972, and the eighth one.

Liverpool Clipper
(1325), sailed away in January 1974. During this period tour container vessels were built for Manchester Liners and five reefers for Blue Star Lime. Afric Star was launched in September 1974 and exhibited in the Pool of London in February 1975.

In 1976 two offshore pipe supply vessels were completed for Star
Offshore Services.

In February 1977 the Haverton Mill yard was placed under Smith's Dock management and three orders were placed there the Starman Anglia, a heavy lift vessel and two reefers tor Blue Star. On 1 July 1977 the shipbuilding industry was nationalized. The last Manchester Liner to be built at South Bank. M/V Manchester Venture (1336), was launched on "Vesting" (Nationalization) Day. New Zealand Star (1341), the last ship built at Haverton Hill, was launched on 20 July 1978.
1978 - 1980
These were particularly difficult years, with com­plications over the contracts for the Ro-Ro ships. Cicero and Cavallo, together with problems relating to the Haverton Hill yard, which eventually ceased operations in February/March 1979.
1981 - 1983
The Ceestbay and Geestport, passenger-cargo motor-ships built for the Geest Line's West Indian banana trade, were among the most handsome ships ever built at South Bank. On com­pletion the Geestbay was exhibited in the Pool of London. A year or so later her sister ship Geestport played her part in the Falklands War.

The Carriana
Lilac (1349) and Carriana Lotus (1350), SD 14 types, were built for Hong Kong owners in 1982. Financial difficulties concerning the owners caused the ships to be laid up. and in 1983 they were bought by Cuban interests. At noon on 15 July 1982 the ship repair department ceased "trading".

The Cicero had been purchased from
its owners by a Canadian company shortly after delivery and was chartered to a Brazilian firm. The Brazilians ordered a similar Ro-Ro (Jacqueline, 1352) for their own account but financial problems caused the ship to be laid up and she finally sailed in April 1984.
The Karisma, a larger Ro-Ro, was built for another Brazilian company and created much interest by leaving the river during a tugboat embargo.
1985 - 1986
The oil rig tender/anchor handling/diving support vessel British Argyll was probably the most complex vessel ever built in the yard. Machinery difficulties caused a late delivery, but when finally completed the ship was highly successful in operation.

Work was started on tour SD 15s for Cuba in February/March 1
985. On 14 May 1986. it was announced that the yard would close. The last ship of the Cuban order, North Islands, was launched on 15 October 1986, and commissioned for service during February 1987.
1987 - a sad end of story
The yard was finally closed on 28 February 1987.
Compiled by Kenny Blythman
N.B. Numbers in brackets refer to yard building number.
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