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Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson


The Times - Engineering Supplement; 27th October 1909


The shipbuilding and engineering enterprises at Walker and Wallsend-on-the-Tyne, which have been amalgamated under the style of Swan, Hunter, and Wigham Richardson, constitute one of our most valuable resources for the constructive work of the Navy: In the actual building of warships, the company, it is true, has so far taken but a small part, and, the intelligence that it was to construct one of the destroyers of the 1909 programme caused a certain amount of surprise, but it has for years been engaged in work upon most important fleet auxiliaries and the equipment of naval bases.


At Wallsend was built the first great floating coal depot for the Navy, having a storage capacity of 12,000 tons, which is furnished with 12 Temperley transporters, and provided with an ingenious arrangement of shoots for filling sacks without shovelling. At this depot ships can coal on both sides and there is the equivalent of 1,000 yards of quay frontage. The Wallsend yard constructed the floating dock for Bermuda, which has a lifting capacity of 13,500 tons, end it has built floating docks for the Spanish, Japanese, and Natal Governments. More recently a large floating dock has been completed for Collao, which was safely towed thither from Wallsend, the voyage including the difficult navigation of the Straits of Magellan. At the present time the company is building one of the huge floating docks for Dreadnoughts, which are to have & lifting capacity of over 30,000 tons. But the operations of the Wallsend yard have not been confined to work of this class only. The magnificent turbine-driven Cunarder Mauretania was built there, which vessel was splendidly engined by the neighbouring Wallsend Slipway Company, and has made such surprising steaming records. The Cunarders Ivernia, Carpathia, and Ultonia were also built at the same establishment, where have been constructed a large number of mail and passenger steamers, yachts, cargo vessels, cable-layers, ferries for railway trains, floating workshops, oil tank steamers, and other classes of vessels. There is not a yard in the kingdom that has done more varied work or gained more useful experience than these Tyne establishments.


The Neptune Works were founded at Walker by Mr. John Wigham Richardson in 1860, the area being then four acres, and the river frontage 107 yards, and there were three shipbuilding berths, of which the longest measured 320ft.  Messrs. C. S. Swan and Hunter's shipyard dates from 1872, and the Tyne Pontoons and Dry Dock Company from 1882. These three concerns were amalgamated in 1903. Their premises lie adjacent to one another on the deep bend of the Tyne on its north bank, about three miles east of Newcastle. They have now together an area of 78 acres, with a river frontage of some 4,000ft, the shipyard and engine and boiler shops of the Neptune works being nearest to Newcastle, the dry docks department at Wallend east and north of them, and the Wallsend Shipyard at the end of the bend nearest to the sea. Branches of the North-Eastern Railway run into and through the whole of the works, and bring them into communication with the numerous local collieries and steel works. Modern machinery has been laid down for the rapid execution of work, and in addition to the shipyard the premises comprise the yard for constructing floating docks; the engine and boiler works, which have together an annual output capacity of 60,000 ihp; a dry dock, 550ft. long, 76ft. wide at the entrance, and with a depth of water over the sill of 26.5ft; and two floating docks lifting vessels up to a length of 350ft.


Perhaps it will be more useful, instead of describing the plant and equipment of the company's establishments, to give an account of the great variety of the work undertaken, which will suggest the efficiency of its resources. In the first place, reference may be made to the repairing and docking of ships. Ships have been docked for the British, United States, Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, Norwegian, Argentine, Chilean, Brazilian and Chinese Governments. The Wittekind, of the Norddeutscher Lloyd, and one or two other vessels, have been cut in two and lengthened. The Russian icebreaker Ermack was fitted with a new bow. The Australian steamship Miowera, which was stranded at Honolulu, was brought to be repaired at Wallsend, and the work was executed, including the voyage of 14,000 miles, at a smaller cost than would nave been possible at the American port. Many other repairs and alterations to ships of various classes nave been executed at these works. Evidently to the British Navy the existence of such a well-provided establishment for building ships and fleet auxiliaries and undertaking large repairs must be of the utmost value and importance in case of fighting in the North Sea.


The great variety of ships built at the yard has been indicated. The magnificence of the Mauretania, her great size, and the splendid success of her turbine machinery, will not be described here. All that need be said is that the concerns which can execute such work must be capable of doing the most important shipbuilding for the Navy. The building of the great coal depot is further proof of the resources and capacity of these establishments, and the skill and experience that directs them. A notable feature of the works is the array of four class covered shipbuilding berths, equipped with overhead travelling electric cranes, of which one is 740ft, long, with a clear width inside of 100ft, and a height of 140ft, and is capable of being lengthened to 900ft. On this berth the Mauretania was built. Twelve other building slips for vessels of various sizes make a total of 16. The platers' sheds are supplied with the most modern equipment for rolling, bending, shearing, and punching, and the reheating furnaces, operated by a gas-producer plant, are adjacent. A very valuable feature is the great floating crane, capable of lifting 150 tons and tested to much more, which has its own propelling machinery, and can facilitate work enormously. In case of a ship arriving at the mouth of the Tyne with compartments flooded and deep in the water, this crane could lift her guns or other heavy weights out of her, so that she could be docked for repair. A crane of similar power is now being completed by German firms for the Germania yard at Kiel It may be of interest to add that Messrs. Swan, Hunter, and Wigham Richardson have the English rights of the Schlick gyroscope, the object of which is to prevent the rolling of vessels in a seaway.


It is perhaps improbable that floating docks will ever entirely displace masonry graving docks, but that they have a large field of utility before them no one can doubt. Two of the largest in the world are to be built for the reception of British Dreadnoughts, and the floating dock has established its favour abroad. There is practically no  limit to the lifting capacity of these docks; they can also be constructed very rapidly and comparatively cheaply, and, besides several other merits, they have the great advantage that they con be moved from place to place. The majority of the floating docks existing in this country, and some abroad, have been constructed at the Wallsend yard of Messrs. Swan, Hunter, and Wigham Richardson. Docks of this class have been built up to 36,000 tons and they will probably be built up to 40,000 tons or more. That to be constructed for the Admiralty will embody the fruit of unrivalled experience, and will be of the most efficient "self-docking" character, and presumably of the "bolted sectional" type. The efficiency with which the construction of floating docks proceeds at Wallsend is shown by the rapidity with which they are completed. The dock for the Vulcan Company was completed with all its machinery, and was moored at its berth at Stettin ready to receive a ship, within eight and a half months from the inception of the project. A dock for Rotterdam, with a lifting capacity of 7,600 tons, was built and completed within six months.


It will be seen that Messrs. Swan, Hunter, and Wigham Richardson, while building liners and passenger, mail, and cargo boats, have so far been occupied largely with those fleet auxiliaries which are of such supreme importance to the Navy - the floating coal depot, floating docks, floating workshops, and oil-tank steamers. The Mauretania and other liners are, however, capable of being used as auxiliary cruisers. Thus the new Cunardar is fitted for an armament of 12 six-inch guns, while the coal bunkers are a protection to the engine and boiler rooms, and the rudder and both sets of steering gear are below the water-line. Possibly the Wallsend yard will yet be seen building larger vessels than destroyers for the British Navy.


Transcribed  from The Times


Raymond Forward