Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Andrew Laing

From Graces Guide

Andrew Laing (c1856-1931), Managing Director of the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Co.

c.1856 Born in Edinburgh son of George Laing and his wife Janet nee Thomson[1]

1901 Jane Laing 68, lived in Newcastle upon Tyne with her son Andrew Laing 44, engineer and Catherine Laing 34[2]

1911 Jane Laing 78, lived in Newcastle with Andrew Laing 55, general manager, marine engineering, Jane Laing 53, Catherine Laing 47[3]

1915 Member of the Departmental Committee on Bulkheads

1917 Member of North-East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders

1931 of 15 Osborne Road, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne when he died[4]

1932 Long detailed article on his work by Engineer Vice-Admiral Sir Reginald W. Skelton.[5]

1931 Obituary [6]

ANDREW LAING, an Original Member of the Institute, died on January 24, 1931 at his home in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, at the age of seventy-five. He had been active to within a few days of his death, when he caught a chill, and pneumonia supervened. At a Memorial Service held in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Cathedral, the Institute was represented by Mr. C. E. Pearson, Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of the North-East Coast Local Section.

The making of engines and machinery, and the building of ships since the age of iron hulls, have attracted to these industries a never-ceasing recruitment of men who have made their mark in invention and as administrators. One could make a very long list of names of eminently successful men who have taken the keenest delight in hard work and a determination to aim at the very best in their productions. But for this type of man, never missing, in command of our ship-yards, and in their every department, it seems doubtful if Britain would still remain the leader in ship construction. Among those whose names would figure, with distinguished honour, as masters of their craft would be found the name of Andrew Laing, who, from boyhood until his death, was engaged in the shipbuilding industry, commencing as an engineering mechanic, continuing as a draughtsman in a shipyard, and becoming a world-famed designer of marine engines.

By the mechanical genius of Andrew Laing the speed of ships was greatly increased; it is estimated that he was instrumental in reducing the time of the crossing of Atlantic liners by 27 hours, incidentally effecting a considerable economy in fuel cost. A very long tally of well-known vessels engined by Andrew Laing could be made; it would include Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Umbria, Etruria, Campania, Lucania, Invernia, Carpathia, Franconia, Mauretania. During the war Mr. Laing engined at Wallsend no fewer than 68 vessels, naval and mercantile.

Besides being managing director of Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company, Mr. Laing was a director of Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson.

Notwithstanding his intense application to his business, Mr. Laing found time to be of service in many directions of value to others. He was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Naval Architects, the North-East Coast Institution of Engineers, the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, the American Society of Naval Engineers, and the Marine Engineers of New York. He was an active member of various technical committees connected with shipping; and was considered the greatest marine engine-builder of his time, both at home and abroad.

In May 1917 His Majesty bestowed on Mr. Laing the honour of C.B.E. in recognition of the services he had rendered to the nation and to his profession. -JOHN SCOTT.

1931 Obituary [7]


The marine engineering profession has suffered a very severe loss in the death of Mr. Andrew Laing, the managing director of the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company, Ltd., of Wallsend-on-Tyne. Mr. Laing was in London about a week before his death and attended to business matters with his wonted zest and interest. He caught a chill, double pneumonia supervened, and he died at his home, 15, Osborne-road. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on Saturday afternoon last, January 24th. Despite his seventy-five years, Mi1. Laing led an active and creative life full of interest to the end.

He was born in Edinburgh, anti received his early education at the Normal School in that city. With the intention of entering the business of his father, namely, that of a contractor and builder, young Laing completed his studies at the private school of •lames Baillie at Morningside, an establishment which was then famed for its business bent. At an early age he expressed an intense desire to become an engineer, and with that end in view was duly apprenticed to the firm of Messrs. Hogg and Walker, of Edinburgh, millwrights and engineers. The

training which he received with that firm proved most valuable to Inin in later life, for besides acquiring a wide knowledge of engineering practice, he found many opportunities of developing his own resources. An important part of the experience Mr. Laing that time was an intimate knowledge of the control of costs and the general financial side of engineering work, which stood him in good stead in the positions he was subsequently called upon to take up.

It was in the early days of March, 1877, that he was appointed to his first position in the designing department of John Elder and Co., of Govan, Glasgow, a firm which at a later date became the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Ltd. At the time when he entered the Govan drawing-office the engineering department of the works was under the charge of the late Dr. Kirk, and it was Dr.

Kirk’s successor, Mr. Bryce Douglas, who in 1881 appointed Mr. Laing chief draughtsman in the engineering department. Four years later he took on the additional duties of assistant manager, and in 1887 was appointed general manager, with full control of the engine works, by the late Sir William Pearce. He held that position until 1890, when he was elected a director of the Fairfield Company. That office he continued to fill with great success until October, 1896, when he left the Clyde to become the general manager of the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company, Ltd.

The period of eighteen years dirring which Mr. Laing was with the Fairfield Company was particularly noteworthy for the progress made in the design anil construction of steam propelling machinery, particularly for fast Atlantic liners. During it no less than twenty-seven hours were taken off the time required for the Atlantic passage, and the increase in the indicated horse-power of liners was about 30.600. with a great reduction in the fuel expended. The first engines with which Mr. Laing bogan his acquaintance with fast liner machinery were those of the “ Arizona,” in which three-cylinder compound engines were installed. The “ Alaska ” was laid down shortly afterwards, and other outstanding liners for which Mr. Laing designed the engines were the “ Oregon ” and the Cunard Line ships “ Umbria,” “ Etruria,” “ Campania ” and “ Lucania.” The engines for the “Campania,” it may be recalled, had five cylinders, with the high and low-pressure cylinders placed tandem-wise on both the forward and after crunks, the intermediate cylinder being placed in the middle. This arrangement of cylinders was first introduced by Mr. Laing on the North German Lloyd liner “ Lahn,” for which company seventeen ships were built nt the Fair-field yard. Other noteworthy liners of this period included several for the Union-Castle Line, the last being the “ Dunvegan Castle,” with 8500 I.H.P. engines. Mr. Laing's work at the Fairfield yard gained for him a wide reputation, both in this country and on the Continent, especially in Germany, on account of the ships he engined for the Hamburg-America and North German Lloyd lines. He also designed several sets of engines for naval vessels and fast cross-Channel steamers. Jn his eighteen years at Fairfield machinery aggregating 677,000 I.H.P. was constructed, for most of which he was directly responsible. Bofore he left for the Tyne he planned and carried out large extensions at the Fairfield yard, including new engine and boiler shops and fitting-out basins and a set of 130-ton shear legs. Mr. Laing also completely reorganised the machinery equipment of the engine works.

At the time he joined the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company, Ltd., at the end of 1896 as general manager and director, the works of that com-pany were mainly laiil out for the building of small and medium-sized engines, but he prepared and undertook a far-reaching scheme of reorganisation, which brought the plant quite up to date and made possible the economic construction of machinery for large naval vessels and the largest passenger and cargo liners. Under his direction the ship repairing department at Wallsend was greatly developed, anil some noteworthy repair jobs were carried out. The principal Cunard Line ships, the machinery of which was built at Wallsend by Mr. Laing, included the “ Invernia,” “Carpathia,” “Franconia,” and the '‘Mauretania,” the last-named liner being Mr. Laing’s crowning achievement. The design and construction of the quadruple-screw 70,000 S.H.P. turbines for the “ Mauretania ” was carried out under his close personal supervision, and the success of the design may be best judged by the remarkable performance of that liner over a period of twenty-three years. When it was decided to recondition her turbines about two years ago Mr. Laing’s advice was sought, and the record-breaking performance which the ship gave after her machinery had been reconditioned was largely due to the interest he took in that work.

The account of the work done by Mr. Laing at Wallsend would not be complete without some reference to the steamers and warships other than those already mentioned which were engined by the firm. One outstanding ship engined at Wallsend was the powerful ice breaker “ Ernuik.” which was built for the Russian Government by Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth and Co., Ltd. During the war no less than sixty-eight naval and mercantile ships were engined at Wallsend, amongst them two battleships, four cruisers, twenty-six torpedo-boat destroyers, besides submarines, sloops, mine-sweepers train ferries and ice-breakers. Some of the largest machinery installations completed under Mr. Laing’s supervision were those of the battleships “ Queen Elizabeth ’ and “ Malaya ” and the mystery ship ” Furious,” which was later used as an aircraft carrier. The total tonnage represented by this machinery was over a million anil a quarter.

In May, 1917, his Majesty, bestowed the honour of C.B.E. on Mr. Laing in recognition of the services he had so unselfishly given to the country and to the marine engineering profession. In addit ion to being the managing director of the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company, Ltd.. Mr. Laing was also a director of Swan, Hunter ami M igham Richardson, Ltd., and the Newcastle and Gateshead Gas Company.

His post-war work did not lack interest or creative genius. On the naval side he was directly responsible for carrying out the contract for the construction of the turbines of H.M.S. “ Nelson,” and the trials of that battleship. It is well known that for economy of fuel, both at high and low powers, no ship of this class has exceeded the standard of efficiency established by Mr. Laing’s designs. The high-speed performance of the recently completed flotilla leader “ Codrington. which was built by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson, Ltd., and engined by the Wallsend Slipway Company, was another remarkable instance of the success which attended Mr. Laing’s work.

While he shouldered with ease the heavy responsibilities which attached to his high office, he was always ready to help anil to give credit to his colleagues and assistants. The able work done by the late Mr. Robert Traill is a remarkable instance of the inspiration which Mr. Laing’s work gave to those who were privileged to co-operate with him. He was a great believer in the necessity for the team spirit, and although a born leader he was always glad to help in any difficulty which presented itself.

Apart from his official duties he found time for a remarkable amount of committee work, and those who were called upon to serve with him on the “ Cunard ” Committees, the Board of Trade Committees, the British Engineering Standards Committees, Lloyd’s Technical Committee, the Institution of Naval Architects’ Committees, the British Marine Engineering, Design and Construction Committee, and the Cast Iron Research Association Committee will not readily forget his remarkable personality or the value of his work.

He was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Naval Architects, the North-East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders, and the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, and of the American Society of Naval Engineers, and the American Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers in New York. Last March the North-East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders fittingly bestowed upon him the highest honour which it can give to its members by electing him to an honorary fellowship. He received this well-deserved honour almost with embarrassment, anil in a characteristic, reply spoke more of the work of his colleagues (ban of that which he himself had done.

Andrew Laing was perhaps the greatest marine engine builder of his day, and his name will long be honoured in our own country, in America and on the Continent of Europe. He saw propelling machinery change from the reciprocating steam engine of a few thousand horse-power, through the direct turbine to the geared turbine, culminating in the very large quadruple - screw installation for the new Cunarder now under construction, in connection with the machinery of which his advice was sought and given. He gladly accepted the newer form of propelling machinery, such as exhaust turbines and marine oil engines, and along with the system of oil firing, for which his firm is so well known, he left his own mark on all these developments. It has been granted to few men in recent years to spend such a full and useful life, and we feel sure that the example of Andrew Laing will go far to influence those who eventually must fill the great gap which his sudden death has created."

1931 Obituary[8]


It is with great regret that we have to record the removal of a name, widely known in marine engineering circles both in this country and abroad, from the active list to the engineers’ roll of honour, by the death of Mr. Andrew Laing, C.B.E., general manager and director of Messrs. Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company, Limited, on Saturday, January 24. Mr. Laing’s activities, continuous and highly successful, in the development of machinery for both the Naval and Merchant services are so marked and outstanding that it is almost superfluous to recapitulate them, but as a mark of appreciation we, nevertheless, present a brief review of his professional life. Mr. Laing was born on January 31 1856, in Edinburgh, and received what was known at that time as a commercial education, as opposed to the more usual classical one, at a school at Morningside, subjects such as architectural drawing being studied, as it was at that time taken for granted that he would continue his father’s prosperous business of a builder and contractor. The boy, however, had other ideas, and succeeded in getting them accepted, with the result that at the age of 16 he was apprenticed to an Edinburgh firm of engineers and millwrights, Messrs. Hogg and Walker. The general nature of the work undertaken by the firm was useful in providing an all-round training, and, as was often customary in small works, the apprentice passed through all the departments, including not only the drawing office but the general offices, in which he obtained some idea of the commercial side of engineering.

The period of apprenticeship lasted five years, and in 1877 Mr. Laing became an engineering draughtsman with Messrs. John Elder and Company, Govan, a firm afterwards becoming the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Limited. At Fairfield Mr. Laing’s progress was remarkably rapid. He became chief engine draughtsman in 1881, assistant manager in 1885, engine works manager in 1887, and became a director of the company in 1890. The arrival of Mr. Laing at Fairfield was practically coincident with the laying of the keel of the well-known Arizona, from which vessel the modern Atlantic liner may almost be said to date. The three-cylinder compound engine was just then coming in, but in the Campania, one of the long string of names following the Arizona, a five-cylinder part-tandem, three-crank, triple-expansion engine was adopted by Mr. Laing. The history of these famous vessels and their achievement in reducing the time of the Atlantic passage will be found recorded in past issues of this journal, as will also that of numerous other vessels for the machinery of which Mr. Laing was responsible; but the facts relating to the reorganisation and extension of the works necessary for their production are not so patent. No doubt, however, some of the older generation of engineers will remember the great changes made in the old works and the accompanying quays, the increased size of the new buildings, the re-arrangement of machinery, and the pride aroused by the installation of the 130-ton sheer legs—changes due in the first place to Mr. Laing.

In October, 1896, Mr. Laing became general manager of Messrs. Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company, Limited, Wallsend-on-Tyne, and here his organising skill was again brought out. The class of work undertaken at Wallsend had hitherto been machinery for ordinary cargo vessels, with repairs and reconditioning of structures and hulls, but now' the field had to be expanded to include the greatly differing machinery of warships, with that for large liners. The works at Wallsend were reorganised without dislocation, and as a result of the increased capacity of the Tyne thereby effected, that river saw the building of liners of the Cunard type, and the expansion of naval shipbuilding both in size and type of vessel. In reminding engineers that the machinery of the Mauretania was constructed under Mr. Laing’s personal supervision, we do not overlook the fact that he was also consulted upon the reconditioning of her turbines, which enabled her to beat all her previous records after twenty-two years’ active service. A long list of noteworthy vessels might be added on the side of the mercantile marine for which the Wallsend Slipway Company provided the machinery, but it is, perhaps, more convincing to state that the horse-power of the engines put into vessels during Mr. Laing’s association "with both the Fairfield and Wallsend Companies totals something like five million.

The work for which Mr. Laing was responsible in the war period of 1914 to 1918 was remarkable both from its extent and its variety. Altogether 68 vessels were engined, including battleships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, mine-sweepers, train-ferries, ice-breakers, oil tankers and cargo vessels, and having an aggregate horse-power' of 1,346,290. Later, the propelling machinery for H.M. battleship Nelson, of 45,000 designed horse-power, was constructed under the personal supervision of Mr. Laing, and has been recognised as giving excellent results as regards fuel economy. A still more recent example of the firm’s work is the machinery for the flotilla leader H.M.S. Codrington, one of the fastest vessels in the Service. This side of Mr. Laing’s activities is of necessity somewhat barely treated, but those who came into contact with him during the strenuous days of the war cannot fail to remember the living quality of his loyalty to his country and his work. He was awarded the C.B.E. in May, 1917.

Research work had a fascination for him. He was on committees too numerous for us to mention; had done pioneer work at Fairfield on the use of steel instead of copper for pipes, on the proportions of forced-draught fans, and so forth; while at Wallsend the long series of experiments which culminated in the development of the Wallsend-Howden system of oil firing may be noted. Mr. Laing belonged to a number of professional societies, having become a member of the Institution of Naval Architects in 1893 and a vice-president in 1916. His membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers dates from 1894. He was an Honorary Fellow of the North-East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders, and a member of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland. He was also a member of The American Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, and of The American Society of Naval Engineers. In addition to being a director of the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Company, Limited, Mr. Laing also served on the board of Messrs. Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson, Limited, and on that of the Newcastle and Gateshead Gas Company.

He was always a workman with his workmen, and inspired confidence in them no less than in the firms he was connected with, a fact borne witness to by the sending of H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth straight into action without sea trials.

Mr. Laing bore his years remarkably well, and his death, following a chill caught on a visit to London, came as a great surprise to those associated with him. He leaves behind him with the latter memories of a considerateness and helpfulness not always associated with those who have themselves to bear the responsibilities of high office."

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