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The Blythswood Shipyard at Scotstoun, Glasgow, was set up on 6th of October 1919 on a greenfield site adjacent to and partly owned by the famous Yarrow & Company Shipyard. The two men behind this new shipbuilding venture were Hugh H. Macmillan (one of the well-known MacMillan shipbuilding family of Dumbarton and ex-General Manager at Fairfield of Govan) and Donald Bremner (formerly the owner of the Inch Yard of Dunlop, Bremner & Company of Port Glasgow, and ex-John Brown of Clydebank) It can be safely assumed that the main inspiration behind their new venture was associated with the post-WWI freight boom that was taking a grip at that time, and their business acumen was rewarded before long with the award of orders for the construction of five oil tanker vessels.
Shortly after formation of the Company, construction began of a five-berth Yard, with slipways having a length of 500 feet. The No. 2 Berth was 120 feet in width and on more than one occasion Blythswood used this Slip to build two vessels simultaneously side by side, concurrent use of its berth in this manner enabling Blythswood to reduce construction time.
The Blythswood Yard demonstrated some other unique shipbuilding tactics, which showed its individuality and expertise, but one of these had its drawbacks. This was the practice of delaying the deck plating work until a late stage of the build, in order to enable maximum crane access for the installation of tank or cargo hold steelwork, piping, etc. Whilst providing these benefits, together with accelerated construction times, the less attractive aspect was the creation of unsafe working conditions resulting in a higher incidence of accidents.
As a result of the world-wide slump that took place in the early 1920’s, two of the five tanker orders were cancelled. The first vessel from this new Yard, and the first of a long tradition of oil tanker buildings, was launched in the autumn of 1922, and completed fitting out in December of that year, at a cost of £ 308,803. This was the vessel S.S. BRITISH ARCHITECT, Yard No. 1, GRT 7,388 tons, built for the British Tanker Company of London, which remained in service until 1953 when she arrived at Port Glasgow, on the Clyde, on 6th May for breaking up.
The other two oil tankers, Yard Nos. 2 and 3, also launched in 1922, were two identical vessels of GRT 7,337 tons, built for the Sheridan Steamship Company Limited, S.S. TOCO and S.S. CHUKY. All three vessels were fitted out with triple-expansion steam reciprocating engines, manufactured by Dunsmuir & Jackson Limited of Glasgow.
The Blythswood Shipbuilding Company became synonymous with the design and building of crude oil and petroleum product carriers. The Yard specialised in the hull constructions and, unlike other major shipbuilding yards on the Clyde, never built marine engines, and had no facilities at the Scotstoun Yard for the fitting out of vessels with propulsion machinery. After launching, completed vessels were moved up or down river for installation of engines and fitting out. Most fitting-out work of Blythswood-built ships was carried out at either Finnieston Quay or Stobcross Quay on the Upper Clyde, Whiteinch, or Greenock.
The main Suppliers of marine engines for Blythswood ships were well-known Scottish engineering firms such as David Rowan, Barclay Curle, J & G Kincaid and Scotts of Greenock.
During 1923, the Yard was not to launch any new ships, but early that year it received orders for three tramp ships, two for the Newcastle firm of Robert S. Dalgleish for their Dalgleish Steam Shipping Company Limited, and one for Cardiff firm of Owen & Watkin Williams & Company.
This latter vessel was the twin-screw 11,000 DWT motorship M.V. SILURIAN, which was launched on 29th May 1924 and completed on 30th October 1924. This engines-aft pioneer of the modern bulk carrier was fitted out, at Dalmuir, with two TOSI six-cylinder diesel oil engines, which were built under licence by William Beardmore & Company Limited, at their Dalmuir Yard, and gave the laden vessel a service speed of 11 knots.
She was equipped with all-electric auxiliaries and, at the time of her construction, was the largest ocean-going single-deck motorship in the world. Fitted out with 24 foot wide hatches, she was equipped with sixteen 5-ton derricks.
Due to the collapse in freight rates, her Owners sold the vessel to the Furness Withy Group in 1927 and, shortly later, under her new name of M.V. CYNTHIANA, she was wrecked whilst on a passage from the Pacific North-West Coast of America.
The other two 1924 tramp vessels were steamers, fitted out with triple expansion steam reciprocating engines manufactured by J. & G. Kincaid Company of Greenock on the Lower Clyde. With these new orders, 1924 was to become a more significant year in the development of the Yard, with the launching of these three new tramp vessels.
In 1925/1926, the Yard returned to oil tanker construction, building the M.V. O. A. KNUDSEN of GRT 9,026 tons, for Norweginan Owners Dampskibsaktieselscabet Jeanette Skinner / Knut Knudsen of Haugesund, the M.V. STORSTAD of GRT 8,998 tons, for Klaveness Dampskibsaktieselskab / A. F. Klaveness & Company A/S of Oslo, and the small coastal oil tanker S.S. PASS OF MELFORT for the Bulk Oil Steamship Company The oil engines for the two larger Norwegian vessels, as well as the steam engine for the smaller coastal tanker, were all manufactured and installed by J. & G. Kincaid & Company Limited of Greenock.
In 1928, the Yard was acquired by the Northumberland Shipbuilding Company Limited, of Howdon-on-Tyne and, over the following 36 years, built a further 114 ships, in addition to the 11 ships built prior to 1928. A close relationship was formed between the Yard and Furness, Withy & Company Limited, with tankers under the management of Houlder Brothers, and cargo-liners for their Pacific coast of Canada / USA service and the round-the-world-service of their Prince Line.
In 1929, the Yard built a collier of 5,276 GRT for the Berwindmoor Steamship Company, which was unique insofar as she was probably the world’s first ship to use pulversised fuel. The vessel, S.S. BERWINDLEA, ran her trials on 31st of July 1929.
During the war years, the Blythswood Yard responded impressively to the demands and exigencies of those difficult times, delivering no less than 13 deep-sea oil tankers, 5 cargo-liners and 4 coastal oil tankers, a very creditable performance for a Yard of this size and amounting to 146,206 GRT of shipping. Considering the high rate of tonnage losses through enemy action at sea throughout the first three years of the war, the contribution of 22 ships to the Allied cause from the berths of the Blythswood Yard during the war years was indeed a magnificent achievement for what was relatively speaking a small shipyard.
In 1941, with a heavy build programme and order book, the Yard received some damage during German aircraft bombing attacks on the Clyde. The Yard Management responded by acquiring some 9 acres of land across the River, at Braehead, to which they transferred auxiliary departments of the Yard such as the Plumbers and Joiners shops, etc. (Adjacent to and on the East side of the Braehead Power Station, today the site of a major new ‘showpiece’ shopping complex)
Many of the Blythswood-built vessels were to play a significant part throughout the 1939-1945 War at Sea, as described later in more detail, none less than the epic and heroic experiences of the 1938-built oil tanker M.V. SAN DEMETRIO of the Eagle Oil & Shipping Company, and the stubborness of M.V. IMPERIAL TRANSPORT, which resolutely refused to succumb to all that the enemy could throw at her.
In the busy years from 1946 through until the late 1950’s, the Yard returned healthy profits, largely due to the careful management of its Managing Director, Mr. C. Brown, and Director and General Manager, Mr. W. A. Livsey, a man commanding the respect of his workforce and highly regarded by Shipbuilders and Shipowners alike.
In a speech delivered at a dinner held in the Blythswood Boardroom in December 1957, attended by the Yard’s Foremen, Senior Staff and Management accompanied with their wives, Director and G.M. Mr. Livsey paid homage to their founder and mentor, Mr Hugh H. Mac Millan, who had died during this year and whose leadership and inspiration was reflected in the current Management and workforce who were justifiably proud of the Yard’s achievements. Thanking those in attendance for their part in maintaining this proud tradition, Mr. Livsey pondered on what the future might hold for the Yard.
Two significant Blythswood men of the day were Mr. Alex M. Rae, who held the important position of Chief Draughtsman from 1922 through 1948, and Mr. James K. Buchanan who held the position from 1948 through 1964. Alex Ray saw the construction of Yard Numbers 1 through 86, and James Buchanan saw the construction of Yard Numbers 87 through 129.
During his speech, Mr. Livsey referred to the occasion of the launch of the British Tanker Company’s 16,800 DWT vessel M.V. BRITISH CHANCELLOR in 1954, when B.P. presented Blythswood with the original bell from their S.S. BRITISH ARCHITECT of 1922, the Yard’s first ship production. Since that day, the bell was rung on the launch day of every ship sent down the ways of the Blythswood Yard.
There is a certain poignancy in these musings in late 1957, insofar as the Blythswood Yard was about to experience the same developments happening elsewhere up and down the River Clyde and affecting other British Shipbuilding Yards across the British Isles. Handsome as were the products and fine lines coming out of this Yard, much admired by shipowners and shipbuilders alike, the reality was that Blythswood vessels were beginning to become uncompetitive when compared with the mass production pre-fabricated and almost all-welded creations from other more progressive Yards.
At this time most Blythswood vessels were still built in the traditional manner, heavily riveted, with the result that competing Yards were quoting lower prices and slightly shorter build times. Tenders were not converting to orders and some orders were being revoked shortly after award. A major change in ship type and size as well as construction methods was already taking place and would have a major influence on the future of shipbuilding in Europe.
In hindsight, it could be said that this was the start of the end for the Blythswood Yard. Yet a further exacerbation of the problem was the commencement around that time of a decline in the mercantile marine structure as it had been for the previous half-century and the beginning of the large tanker construction programme and movement of freight by the containerised method. For a Yard with a berth length limitation of 500 feet, and no site potential for expansion, it was already evident that future prospects were not good.
During the 1950’s, the Yard employed around 1,000 men and was producing ships at the rate of three per annum on average. In the period 1946-1962, the Yard completed 50 ships, of which 38 were oil tankers, 7 were cargo-liners, 2 were ore-carriers, and 3 were new sections for three WWII vessels being lengthened, deepened and widened. Including these three ship-enlargement contracts, this amounted to some 490,000 GRT of shipping.
The largest vessels to come out of the Blythswood Yard were the oil tankers S.S. NORTH MONARCH, in 1956, and the S.S. HAMILTON SLEIGH, in 1961. These vessels had a DWT of 27,600 and a GRT in excess of 18,000. 650 feet in length, their propulsion comprised Rowan-Parson steam turbines, driving a single screw shaft through double-reduction gearing, to give a vessel service speed of 16 knots.
In the early 1960’s, the Yard was awarded a contract to fabricate new mid-sections in excess of 600 feet for the WWII built T2 tankers TEXACO LONDON ( ex-ESSO UTICAM of 1944) and TEXACO BRISTOL of the Texas Oil Company, and the Canadian ‘Great Laker’ bulk carrier LAKE WINNIPEG (ex-TABLE ROCK) This vessel lengthening process was referred to as ‘jumbo-ising’. In the case of the TEXACO LONDON, the contract included having to save and install the original accommodation structure and navigating bridge to the new forebody of the ship. This work was carried out in the large (No. 3) Clyde Navigation Trust Drydock at Govan.
From early 1962, however, the Yard was reduced to the construction of pre-fabricated sections for other Yards, mobile homes and caravans. The only other ships built at the Yard were the lighthouse tender vessel M.V. FINGAL, on behalf of the Commissioners of the Northern Lighthouse Board, launched on 8th of August 1963 as Yard No. 140, and the hull of the Royal Navy Research & Survey Vessel M.V. HECLA, launched on 21st December 1964 as Yard No. 141, in a special collaboration agreement with the neighbouring Yarrow Yard Without doubt a beautiful vessel, in keeping with the traditions of the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners and Trinity House specifications, the M.V. FINGAL was a typical Blythswood creation, containing an extensive proportion of riveting in her construction.
The HECLA was one of a new class of three dual-purpose ocean survey vessels ordered from Yarrow by the Royal Navy in February 1964. In a collaboration with Yarrow, the Blythswood Yard were involved in the construction of two of these vessels, the HECLA and the HECATE, the former being built and launched from the Blythswood Yard, where the keel was laid down on 6th May 1964 and launching took place on 21st December 1964. With a displacement of 2,800 tons, the HECLA was 235’ 0” long x 49’ 0” wide x 15’ 0” depth, propulsion was diesel-electric three Davey Paxman Ventura diesel engines developing 3,850 BHP, giving the vessel a cruising speed of 14 knots.
The Blythswood Shipbuilding Company closed the Yard in the final days of 1964, selling out to the Norcross organisation. The following year the neighbouring Naval Shipbuilding Yard of Yarrow & Company had taken full control of the Blythswood Yard and the new acquisition was used by Yarrow to extend their Naval Warship Construction Yard with two covered building berths and a Module Assembly Hall.
P.S. I've always thought "That's some loft Paul Strathdee has, must have some Beardmore or Arroll structural sections propping it up to carry all these archives"
The 3 ships as ordered from Yarrow and their yard nos are,
Blythswood is rightly credited with the launch of Hecla, as you state.
Hecate, launched 31 Mar 1965, in records i have, is also credited to Blythswood, rather than Yarrow, despite being a Yarrow build. Is this due to her build slip being in their yard maybe.
Could you clarify this contradiction.
They are all prefixed H.M.S. Have you put M.V. in as they were constructed on mercantile lines.
Your 2 threads on Blythswood are most interesting.
Thats all folks. Sean. E28
HECATE. Yarrow & Co Ltd. Scotstoun.
Laid Down; 26th October 1964. Launched; 31st March 1965. Completed; 20th December 1965.
HECLA. Yarrow, Scotstoun and Blythswood.
Laid Down; 6th May 1964. Launched; 21st December 1964. Completed; 9th September 1965.
HYDRA. Yarrow, Scotstoun and Blythswood.
Laid Down; 14th August 1964. Launched; 14th July 1965. Completed; 5th May 1966.
All three were classed as 'Dual purpose deep ocean survey ships' with a combined Oceanographical and hydrographical role and were the first to be built along 'Commercial Lines' without a supplementary naval function.
They were similar to the RRS DISCOVERY which was built by Hall, Russell & Co. Ltd. Aberdeen in 1962 and the use of a commercial design would obviously speed up the design and construction of the new vessels.
The recommendation that these ships should be built to a commercial design was not well received by the Admiralty, but with some attention to stability they proved to be very successful.
All were Air Conditioned, had an ice strengthened Hull, a bow propeller, a hanger and a Wasp helicopter.
If the Admiralty had designed them they would probably have had so many modifications the build time would have been doubled, they would not have had a bow thrust...............etc.
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