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British Industrial History

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Furness, Withy and Co

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Nov 1919.
May 1935.

of Baltic Chambers, West Hartlepool, ship builder and shipping company.

of Royal Liver Building, Liverpool.

1882 Christopher Furness and his brother Thomas divided the assets of the family firm between them. Christopher embarked on a career as a shipowner by forming Christopher Furness and Co, a private concern with a capital of £100,000. He acquired an interest in Edward Withy and Co[1].

1884 Furness bought the Withy company outright.

1885 Christopher Furness collaborated with Thomas Wilson to form the Wilson-Furness Line to operate services between Newcastle and New York.

During the 1880s, Furness extended his transatlantic liner operations and built up a substantial fleet of tramping vessels.

1891 Having made a large fortune in speculative shipbuilding, Furness amalgamated his fleet of 18 wholly-owned steamers and investments in 21 other ships with the West Hartlepool shipbuilding firm of E. Withy and Co, shipbuilders of Middleton Ship Yard, Hartlepool. The new concern, Furness, Withy and Co, was registered on 16 September with capital of £700,000. It would amalgamate the businesses of Mr. Christopher Furness, steamship owner, with that of Messrs. Edward Withy and Co, iron and steel steamship builders and repairers[2].

1892 The first subsidiary company was formed, the Chesapeake and Ohio SS Co Ltd and a joint service to Boston was started with Frederick Leyland and Co.

1896 The Middleton yard was modernised with berth extensions and electrical power introduced so that steel could be worked with more effectively.

1896 The Wilsons and Furness-Leyland Line was registered on 4 September, to take over the London and New York business of Thomas Wilson, Sons and Co of Hull, and the London and Boston businesses of Frederick Leyland and Co of Liverpool, and Furness, Withy and Co of London, with steamers and leasehold properties. [3]

1897 Victoria the largest vessel ever built by the Middleton yard was launched by Lady Furness in August. It was the first of many transatlantic liners built by them.

1898 Manchester Liners Ltd was formed; the rights of the Canadian and Newfoundland SS Co were acquired.

1899 See 1899 Shipbuilding Statistics for detail of the tonnage produced.

1901 The Wilsons and Furness-Leyland Line, with its London - New York service, was sold to the International Mercantile Marine Co

1902 Furness, Withy purchased Gulf Line Ltd with their trade to South Africa and Australia.

1903 The coasting service of Furness, Withy and Co was incorporated in a new company Tyne-Tees Shipping Co [4]

1906 Furness, Withy and Co took over the management of Neptune Steam Navigation Co (its fleet was purchased in 1910). Acquired Agincourt SS Co and the Norfolk and North American Steam Shipping Co.

1909 Furness amalgamated the Middleton yard with the Harbour yard acquired from Irvines. The trading name became Irvine's Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co Ltd. Asiana launched in May of the same year was the first under the new company name. Profit sharing was also introduced for workers.

1910 Furness acquired Point Line at the request of its chairman and quickly turned around the business which operated on the Philadelphia-London route

1911 Furness expanded his business empire by acquiring a 50% share in various Houlder companies. Acquired the coastal London Welsh SS Co.

1912 Purchased George Warren's White Diamond Steamship Co; a new company, George Warren and Co. (Liverpool) Ltd was formed.

1914 Purchased a half share in Johnston Line, and the remainder in 1916.

1914 Listed as shipowners, shipbuilders and colliery proprietors. [5]

WWI During the first world war the yard made 2 tankers, a tramp and two cargo liners. In addition a number of standard "B" type trams and a "Z" type tanker were also made along with some other smaller vessels.

1916 Acquired Prince Line Ltd. By this time the Furness, Withy group owned 215 ships.

The Furness Yard was built as an emergency shipyard to cope with the repair requirements of World War I. The shipyard was authorised under the wartime emergency programme and construction began in 1917 on an 85 acre site (50 acres reclaimed from tidal land) and offering 2500 feet of frontage onto the River Tees at Haverton Hill, on the north bank opposite Middlesbrough. The finished yard had twelve building berths (ranging up to 700 feet) and a fitting-out basin 1000 feet x 250 feet. It was a subsidiary within the Furness shipowning group[6].

1917 The Middleton and Harbour yard were sold to a syndicate acting through the Commercial Bank of London.

1917 Formed Rio Cape Line

1921 Formed Bermuda and West Indies Steamship Co.

1921 This was the last year that the company showed a profit due to the freight slump of the preceding year. The yards remained closed until 1930.

1922 London Welsh Co was sold to Coast Lines Ltd.

1928 Purchased a share in Cairn Line

1929 Gulf Line was placed in voluntary liquidation and their ships transferred to Bermuda and West Indies Steamship Co; took over Bowring's Red Cross Line.

1930 It was decided to liquidate the yards. The Harbour yard was sold for scrap. The Middleton yard was bought up by a syndicate of businessmen and used for shipbreaking as Irvine's Ship-building and Dry Docks Company (1930) Ltd.

1933 On the collapse of the Kylsant shipping empire, Furness, Withy obtained control of Shaw, Savill and Albion Co

1934 Amalgamated Warren Line with the Johnston Line and Neptune Steam Navigation Co to form the Johnston-Warren Line.

1936 Furness, Withy and Co took control of Shaw, Savill and Albion Co

1937 Acquired a substantial holding in Royal Mail Lines

1939 the management of Bowater SS Co was taken over.

1938 National Shipbuilders Security Ltd bought the (Middleton?) yard, dismantled the berths but left the dry-dock and fitting-out quay which was then used extensively during World War II.

1954 Acquired a substantial holding in Airwork, the airline[7]

1965 Purchased the remaining shares in Royal Mail Lines

1968 Full control obtained of Houlder Brothers and Co

1973 Acquired Kaye, Son and Co.

1980 Furness, Withy and Co was sold to C. Y. Tung, Hong Kong

The new owners gradually disposed of the ships a

1990 the Tung group sold Furness, Withy (Shipping) Ltd to Rudolf A. Oetker who controlled Hamburg South America Line.

1998 the name of the firm reverted to Furness, Withy and Co, Ltd and was still operational in 1999.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • British Shipbuilding Yards. 3 vols by Norman L. Middlemiss
  • Furness, Withy [3]
  1. Biography of Christopher Furness, ODNB [1]
  2. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  3. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  4. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  5. 1914 Whitakers Red Book
  6. Tees Built Ships [2]
  7. The Times, Jun 16, 1954
  • Information, Mediation, and Institutional Development: The Rise of large-scale enterprise in British shipping, 1870-1919 By Gordon Boyce [4]