Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,152 pages of information and 245,599 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.

Cammell, Laird and Co

From Graces Guide
The Sand Pump Dredger Leviathan. 1909.


The Sand Pump Dredger Leviathan. 1909.
The Sand Pump Dredger Leviathan. Pump Engines. 1909.
The Sand Pump Dredger Leviathan. Sand Pump.1909.
1909. The ferry steamer Guanabacoa.
1909. The ferry steamer Guanabacoa.
1910. HMS Swift.
February 1911.
1913. The largest ingot in the world.
1920. Cunard Liner Samaria.
1920. Fullagar marine oil engine.
January 1923.
1923. Diesel-electric fruit carrying ship La Playa. BTH supplied the propulsion motors and generators
January 1924.
July 1924.
December 1924.
1926. Blue Star Liner Almeda.
May 1929.
1939. Transatlantic Liner RMS Mauretania.
1939. "Mauretania" Interior.
1939. "Mauretania" Interior.
1960. "Devonshire".
View from the tower of St Mary's Church (Birkenhead Priory). On the left is No. 4 dock, where the Confederate raider CSS Alabama was built by John Laird, Sons and Co. No. 5 Dock on the right
No. 5 Dock
Yard at Birkenhead viewed from Liverpool waterfront, 2016

Cammell, Laird and Co. of Birkenhead, Cheshire and Cyclops Steel and Iron Works, Sheffield.

Cammell, Laird and Co. was formed in 1903 when the Sheffield company Charles Cammell and Co took over the Birkenhead years of Laird Brothers. This enabled the new company to manufacture armoured warships within its own jurisdiction, which was an arrangement favoured by the Royal Navy at the time. It continued trading until 1953.

1903 Company name changed. The business of the Mulliner and Wigeley Co was acquired[1], and later that year, the business of shipbuilders and engineers, Laird Brothers of Birkenhead, was purchased and the name was changed to its present title. [2]

1900s After establishing itself, the new company set out on a programme of modernisation. More land was acquired at the Southern end of the Birkenhead yard. The area of the yard was increased to 98.5 acres and it had the largest private wet dock in Britain. However, this period of expansion also happened at almost exactly the same moment as the freight slump. Consequently, only small ships were built at this time. Financial losses were made on all ships up to 1909. William, John and Henry Laird had died, and the company was now managed by their sons J. Macgregor Laird (son of John, senior partner), Roy M. Laird and J. W. P. Laird. Ratsey Bevis was also a fourth director. [3]

1905 Coventry Ordnance Works was set up by a consortium of British shipbuilding firms John Brown, Cammell, Laird and Co and Fairfield in order to compete with the duopoly of Vickers and Armstrong Whitworth.

1907 In Sheffield, constructed a turbine under licence from Parsons Marine Steam Turbine Co[4].

1909 The yard completed the largest sand pump dredger in the world: Leviathan. From here onwards, the yard made longer passenger/cargo liners mainly for South American companies. Later, passenger liners were made for Norwegian-Amerika line.

1909 The Solway Works was incorporated in a new company, the Workington Iron and Steel Co Ltd, [5], together with a number of other businesses.

1912 The largest floating dock in the world was completed for the Admiralty in 1912. It was 640 feet long and weighed 32,000 tons. By 1912, there were no longer any members of the Laird family on the board, the Chairman became William Lionel Hitchens who remained in post until 1940.

1914 Manufacturers of all kinds of Steel, Files, Tyres, Axles, Springs, Buffers, Rails and Accessories, Forgings and Castings for all purposes, Armour and projectiles. Engineers and Boilermakers. Shipbuilding in all its branches.[6]

1914 The train ferry Leonard was launched on 17th January; it served as a floating bridge for the crossing of the Lawrence River and Quebec by the National Transcontinental Railway Company of Canada. The bridge itself was completed in 1920 and Leonard became redundant, being later converted into a tanker.

WWI During the War, the yard made submarines as well as liners and continued manufacturing ships for Norway (who were neutral during the War and therefore exempt from the British Governments restriction on manufacturing for other countries). In addition five light cruisers of "C" class, six destroyers, two escorts and eight submarines were built during the war.

WWI During the War, the Birkenhead yard refitted and converted several steamers for war service, the yard also made seaplane carriers, and repaired over 500 ships. In addition, three "WAR" standard tramps were completed towards the end of the war along with two "AO" type tankers.

1915 Cammell Laird founded the National Projectile Factory at Nottingham [7].

1917 Nottingham factory was reorganised to produce 18 pounder and 6 inch field guns, and became a National Ordnance Factory

1920s The vessel Fullagar is regarded as the first ocean-going ship with an all-welded structure. There are articles and illustrations of this engine in The Engineer in Jan & Feb. [8]

1920 Mr R. S. Johnson joined the company board and assists Sir G. J. Carter at The Birkenhead Works.[9]

In the early 1920s the yard won a number of contracts to build battleships, destroyers and liners. Most of the work carried out by the yard at this time was for the Admiralty.

Between 1920 and 1930 over 44 passenger/cargo liners, banana ships and cargo ships were completed too.

1923 Read more about the details of the Penistone Works - Yorkshire Steel and Iron Works - here.

1924 Advert says they are steelmakers, shipbuilders, engineers, railway carriage and wagon makers. Works at Sheffield, Nottingham, Penistone and Birkenhead. [10]

1925 Annual Review "Like other firms, Cammell Laird and Co. suffered from foreign competition and price-cutting during the past year, and in the annual review of their activities they dealt with this point, and with the depression in shipbuilding. Railway materials such as tyres, axles and springs, had always been one of the company's chief lines of production, and the demand for them was fairly satisfactory. The new tyre plant at Penistone was admirably adapted to very rapid and economic production, and the Cyclops Works (Sheffield) turned out axles with equal facility. During 1925 the railway rolling stock industry continued to suffer from the effects of the general trade depression. Conditions improved slightly in comparison with the previous year. Competition from continental manufacturers, possessing as they did strong advantages in respect of wages, cost of material etc. remained very keen.

In such circumstances, the steel carriage and wagon works of the firm at Nottingham were well employed during the year, while several important orders, which were to serve to keep the factory busy for some time to come, were now in hand. There was a slight improvement in the rolling stock business of the Leeds Forge Co, but owing to keen foreign competition prices remained very low. In spite of abnormal conditions, however the company was successful in securing a number of important orders, both for home and foreign railways. The plant for the production of pressed steel parts for rolling stock has been fairly well-employed.

A large number of pressed steel bogies were supplied to the home railways for carriage stock, and a number of carriage underframes have been ordered for the Indian State Railways. The steel works, boiler furnace and plate departments have only worked intermittently throughout the year. The slump in shipbuilding was reflected in the number of corrugated furnaces made, which was somewhat less that in the preceding twelve months. The year was probably the worst within memory for the Lancashire boiler trade, and the tonnage from the plate department was slightly below that of 1924. There were however, encouraging signs of an improvement in the cotton industry, upon which the Lancashire boiler trade depended to a large extent. As so many renewals were necessary as soon as normal conditions were obtained, some improvement in this department was confidently anticipated in the coming year."[11]

1926 April: W. L. Hichens was chairman of the company.[12]

1926 July: Received an order from London and North Eastern Railway for two additional Sentinel-Cammell coaches and thirty-four all steel luggage brake vans. The firm's associated company, the Midland Railway Carriage and Wagon Co has also received an order from the London and North-Eastern Railway for four articulated trains comprising thirty two coaches in all.[13]

1926 December: Restarted the tyre mills at Penistone.[14]

1927-8 The Nottingham factory produced 40 motor coaches and 120 trailer coaches for the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway electrification. They were transported from the factory on bogies hauled by a Fowler traction engine to a newly-built wharf on the River Trent. There, they were each lifted by sheerlegs onto one of five barges built for Cammell Laird by Joseph S. Watson and Co, and towed to Hull Docks for shipment.[15]

1927 See Aberconway for information on the company and its history

1927 Also see Aberconway for information on the company and its history

1927 Also see Aberconway for information on the company and its history.

1927 Robert S. Johnson, who had previously been a director of Workman, Clark and Co was appointed Managing Director following the death of Sir George Carter. He remained in control of the Birkenhead yard upon becoming chairman in 1942 until his death in 1951. Johnson's son Robert W. Johnson was then appointed as Managing director and maintained control over the into the 1960s.

1928 Merger of companies in the steel industry announced, involving parts of Vickers, Vickers-Armstrongs and Cammell, Laird and Co[16]. This would involve all of the steel interests of the 3 contributing groups, except for interests in guns, ammunition and tanks. A new company would be created to take over these interests: the English Steel Corporation Ltd. The constituent parts from Cammell, Laird and Co were:

1929 The railway stock business was merged with Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co to form Metropolitan Cammell Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co (otherwise known as Metro-Cammell).

An unprecedented feat of transport, in which Sheffield has a special interest, was performed by the railway authorities, yesterday, when a huge casting, weighing 114 tons, was sent, on a specially constructed truck, from Sheffield to Openshaw.
The casting was made by Cammell Laird and Co., Ltd., and it was sent to the English Steel Corporation’s works at Openshaw.
It is the first time a casting of this weight has been moved by rail,, and the truck on which it travelled is the only one in England.
A curious feature of the journey was that it was necessary for the casting, which has been cooling for two days at Messrs. Cammell’s Laird's works, to remain warm until it reached Openshaw. It was feared that the rush of air caused by the movement of the train would make it cool too rapidly, and shrink. Both ends of the casting, which is hollow, were, therefore, bricked up to protect the inner surface of the metal.
The weight of the huge casting rested on wooden supports, and it was secured by thick iron chains. The truck was loaded and prepared for the journey in less than one hour.
A special train was used to transport the great load to Openshaw. The truck was a "weltroll", weighing 70 tons, with an overall length of 83 feet.
A similar casting, which weighed 110 tons, was sent from Sheffield to Openshaw last Sunday. It was despatched at 1.15 and it reached Openshaw at 5.40.'[17]

1930s The yard made a wide variety of ships during the 30s including tankers, ferries, Great Lakes traders, deep sea tankers and a coastal tanker. However, as with many other companies, the yards closed for two years between 1931-33 and it was only thanks to the Admiralty bringing some orders forward that it was able to reopen again. The Depression hit the yard badly, and in 1932 the company's capital had to be reduced by £3.5M. However, things picked up again from 1934/5 when a number of Admiralty orders re-stimulated the market. One of these orders was the Ark Royal, the largest vessel ever launched from the yard at a cost of £3M in 1937. From 1935-39 the Birkenhead yard completed over 20 merchant ships. On 1st June 1939 the yard's new "T" class submarine HMS Thetis sank and 99 naval and yard workers were killed.

1936 The Nottingham ordnance factory was purchased by the Government. Throughout World War Two it produced 2 pounder guns and 5.5 inch shells

WWII - The yard made a number of battleships, destroyers, sloops and submarines, in total 106 ships were manufactured during the war. This amounted to a warship every 20 days during the six and a half years of war. The repair yard also repaired over 2000 vessels of varying types.

1950s In the post-war years, the yard mainly made tanker and cargo-liner/bulk carriers although it did also make an aircraft carrier and a passenger liner too. From 1947-1982, the yard made over 60 tankers. Other important output included 39 cargo-liners (1946-66) and 15 ferries (1946-68). Finally, the yard had a consistent naval output for the twenty years of 1950-70.

1953 Private Company.

1954 With Vickers Ltd purchased the English Steel Corporation, their former steel making subsidiary, from the Holding and Realization Agency [18].

1956 Patent Shaft and Axletree Co was purchased from the Holding and Realization Agency by Cammell, Laird and Co (75%) and Metro Cammell (25%)[19].

1961 Cammell Laird (Shipbuilders and Engineers) employed 12,000 persons. Holding company for two subsidaries engaged in steel manufacturing, shipbuilding and engineering. [20]

1961 Shipbuilders and engineers, undertaking important contracts for the British, Dominion and Foreign Governments. 12,000 employees. [21]

1963 Successful in winning an order to build two of the new Polaris submarines, with Vickers being the lead contractor[22]

By 1964 The integration of the ship repairing activities with those of Grayson, Rollo and Clover Docks was proceeding well[23]

1964 Plan developed to split the operations into 3 distinct activities, each with its own management and admin activities:

  • Shipbuilding
  • Engineering, which would include Patent Shaft Steel Works, English Steel Corporation, and Metropolitan Cammell Carriage and Wagon Co.
  • Ship repairing

The shipbuilding company was not profitable due to the strength of international competition and industrial action but there was also a shortage of skilled labour on Merseyside.

1965 The Shiprepairers business acquired its main rival on the Mersey[24]

1965 June: Cammell, Laird was split into two different companies[25]:

The new ship repairing company constructed a new large dry-dock which enabled it to keep in the forefront of repairing.

1966 Acquired Scottish Aviation, the company's first step outside steel and heavy engineering[26]

1967 Formation of a new subsidiary Cammell Laird (Angelsey) Ltd[27]

1968 Received £5.5 million from the nationalization of the English Steel Corporation[28]

1968 Acquired British Federal Welder and Machine Co[29]. Bought Vickers' 50 percent share in Metro Cammell, giving complete control also of Patent Shaft works[30]

1969 The Metro Cammell business was renamed Cammell Laird (Metro)

1969 Sold its holding in Michell Bearings to Vickers[31]

1969 Acquired Solar Industries, maker of car and aircraft components[32]

1970 The company made a major loss due to problems in shipbuilding, exacerbated by the investment in establishing the capacity to build Polaris submarines, and losses on existing contracts[33]. The situation was not helped by the diversification activities making less profit than had been expected[34]. The financial crisis was averted by quick action by the Labour Government, who took a 50 percent share in the shipbuilding company[35] which was then renamed Cammell Laird Shipbuilders. The Laird Group retained the other 50% (as well as the Shiprepairing business) but by this stage, the yard’s customers were edgy about ordering from them. The shiprepair business remained with Laird Group and there was close working relationship between the two Cammell Laird companies[36]

1970 Having divested all of the steel interests, the name of Cammell Laird was changed to The Laird Group[37]. Sold the one-third holding in Brown Brothers and Co to the other 2 partners for a nominal sum[38]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Times, Mar 31, 1904
  2. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  3. British Shipbuilding Yards. 3 vols by Norman L. Middlemiss
  4. The Times, 30 October 1907
  5. [1] Wagon Cards
  6. 1914 Whitakers Red Book
  7. History of Royal Ordnance, Nottingham [2]
  8. The Engineer of 6th Feb 1920 p142 and others
  9. The Engineer 1920/05/28
  10. 1924 Naval Annual Advert page xxxv
  11. The Engineer 1926/01/01
  12. The Engineer 1926/04/02
  13. The Engineer 1926/07/16
  14. The Engineer 1926/12/24
  15. 'Via the River Trent to India' by Mike G Fell, RCHS Journal No. 236, Nov 2019
  16. The Times, 18 December 1928
  17. Sheffield Independent - Saturday 28 September 1929
  18. The Times, 15 June 1954
  19. The Times, Wednesday, May 30, 1956
  20. 1961 Guide to Key British Enterprises
  21. 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
  22. The Times, May 09, 1963
  23. The Times, Jun 11, 1964
  24. The Times (London, England), Monday, Feb 01, 1971
  25. The Times, Dec 29, 1965
  26. The Times, Apr 30, 1966
  27. The Times, Sep 21, 1967
  28. The Times, Jan 30, 1968
  29. The Times, Jun 13, 1968
  30. The Times, Dec 20, 1968
  31. The Times, Jan 01, 1969
  32. The Times, Apr 23, 1969
  33. The Times Feb 05, 1970
  34. The Times, May 08, 1970
  35. The Times, May 08, 1970
  36. The Times Feb 01, 1971
  37. The Times, Sep 26, 1970
  38. The Times, Oct 09, 1970