Monday, 6 August 2012

Shipbuilding in Londonderry

Most people will be aware of Belfast's involvement in the shipbuilding industry but what they may not realise is that Norhern Ireland's second city also has a history of shipbuilding.

In 1830 the firm of Pitt Skipton & Co, the partners of which were Mr Skipton and a Lieutenant Henderson, agreed to construct what was termed a Patent Slip Dock at a cost of £4,000. This was situated at the bottom of Asylum Road. Initially this seems to have been only used for ship repairs, but Colby's 1837 Survey refers to a vessel of 180 tons register having been launched. We are told that it had been construcetd of Irish Oak and that it was calculated to carry 259 tons.

By 1839 Skipton's yard had been taken over by Capt. William Coppin a native of Kinsale, Co. Cork. The following year this gentleman added a foundry so that boilers and engines could be constructed and the slip was enlarged. Almost four hundred men were employed. The first vessel that Coppin constructed was the, "Ciy of Derry," in 1839 and in 1840 the "Barbara" was launched, with the "Maiden City," following in 1841. The next ship to be launched was the 1750 ton, steam screw powered," Great Northern." This 220 foot long vessel was at the time the largest screw-propelled steamship in the world. The ship's maiden voyage was to the East India Dock in London where it attracted much attention but no buyer. It was eventually scrapped. Coppin went on to launch four small paddle steamers but increasingly his business became one of ship repair and salvage. In the 1860's he moved his business to the new graving dock which had been constructed by the Harbour Commissioners opposite to what is now Longs Supermarket on the Strand Road. His business closed in 1873.

In an attempt to encourage shipbuilding in Londonderry the Harbour Commissioners expended some £25,000 in establishing a shipyard adjacent to their graving dock. In 1886 this was leased to Charles Joseph Bigger, (a son of William Finlay Bigger of Riverview) ,who established the Foyle Shipyard which operated from 1887 to 1892. Some 600 men were employed in the yard and there were five launching berths. In its five years of operation the yard launched twenty five vessels.

Between 1899 and 1904 the Londonderry Shipbuilding  & Engineering Company operated the yard. In 1909 one of its ships, the "Glendun," which had been launched in 1903, transported the stern framing of the Titanic from West Hartlepool to Belfast.

It was in 1912 that the shipyard was reopened for the final time by Trevisa Clarke and his North of Ireland Shipbuilding Company. Within a year the yard was employing 450 men. The years of the Great War saw considerable expansion and by 1922 the workforce stood at 2600, but that year also saw the launch of the last ship ever to be built in Londonderry (SS New York News). By October 1924 the yard had closed.

On a very much smaller scale the late 1960's/early 1970's saw Brookhall Marine advertising to build Sea Angling Craft, Cabin Cruisers and Fishing Boats. Sadly this venture also closed its doors.


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