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 149,687 pages of information and 235,430 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.

Joseph L. Thompson and Sons

From Graces Guide
Model of 'Empire Liberty' displayed at Sunderland Museum. The ship was built in 1941 by J. L. Thompson and Sons

Joseph L. Thompson and Sons of Sunderland

They became the largest and most famous of all the Sunderland shipbuilding yards. Based in North Sands and located in an arc around to the North dock

1846 Company founded.

1846 It was established by Robert Thompson. Thompson set up the company at North Sands with his three sons and manufactured their first small sailing ship, Pearl, in the same year.

1854 Thompson's son of the same name left the company in 1854 to set up his own yard: Robert Thompson and Sons.

1860 Robert senior died in 1860 and the business was taken over by Joseph Lowes Thompson (his son).

1871 The yard changed its name to Joseph L. Thompson in February 1871.

1875 Joseph L. Thompson retired in 1875 and his three sons Robert, Joseph Lowes and Charles carried on the business.

1882 The yard had the highest output of any Wear shipbuilder.

1883 The yard produced sixteen ships of 30,495 tons. The yard expanded during this period dominating the river frontage.

1885 Half of the yard's output was in steel.

1886 The yard manufactured liners for a number of companies.

1887 Rubens was the first ship they built of steel; she was rammed and sunk at her moorings in the river by a collier. She was repaired and soon began her career.

1888 No more iron ships were built.

1893 Joseph L Thompson II retired. His brother, Robert, remained as manager.

1894 Private company.

1894 The limited liability company Joseph L. Thompson & Sons Ltd was registered by Robert on 12th July. James Marr and Peter Phorson joined the Board of Directors. The first ship to be made by the yard was Amyl and the yard was the leading Wear shipbuilder and the fourth largest in the world for the third year running.

1894 Antwerp Exhibition. Showed a model of SS Coogee

Built SS Coogee for Messrs. Huddert Parker and Co of Melbourne

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

1900 The yard built almost exclusively for the transatlantic trades. Notably, the New York & Pacific Steamship Co. Ltd (Grace Line) had fifteen ships made for them between 1898-1912. Also in this year the yard lost its position as head of the river to Laing.

1901 Sir James Marr became chairman and managing Director of the yard, also joining the board of Sir James Laing and Sons in 1909.

1904-07 The average output during this period for the yard was 46,226 tons.

1907 The output of 12 ships of 48,178 tons was a record for the yard. This stood until the Great War. The freight slump of 1910 reduced the output of the yard.

1908 Robert Thompson died and his sons Norman Thompson and Cyril Thompson joined the yard.

1909 Harris and Dixon Ltd, London shipowners, brokers and tanker charterers, had their first ship, Brinkburn, built at the yard and ordered ten tramps over the next ten years. Many other tramps were built for other companies during this period too.

1913 Four ore-carriers were built for the Rederi A/B Lulea-Ofoten. This company later became the well known Grangesberg-Oxelosund Company.

1914 Directory: Listed as Ship Builders of North Sands and repairing works at Manor Quay, Williamson Street, Sunderland

WWI The yard's output was 17 ships of 91,486 tons.

1920-22 The yard made substantial profits in the post war period but there was a dramatic slump during the 1920/21 period due to cancelled orders and a strike at the yard.

1923 The yard did very little during this year.

1924 Orders began to pick up with two small ships, two tramps and four motor-driven cargo-liners for Silver Line Ltd, whose managers Stanley and John Thompson were part of the Thompson family and favoured the yard with orders up to 1930.

1929 The Wall Street Crash and subsequent depression impacted on all shipbuilding yards.

1930 The yard ran out of work during this year and did not produce any ships for the next five years.

1933 Robert Thompson Jnr’s yard closed in 1933.

1935 Designers at the yard produced the Maierform bow, fine stern with streamlined rudder which was the most efficient hull shape. Two Silver Line ships, Silverlarch and Silverpine, originally built by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson, were re-engined at the yard. the whole of the stern was cut down to the waterline to remove the old engine and insert the new one. The stern was reshaped and lengthened by three feet. This had never been done before by shipbuilders or repairers with a vessel afloat.

1936-39 The yard produced a total of 18 Thompson Economy steam tramps. These ships had lower coal fuel consumption than earlier steam tramps of the same size.

1938 The motor tanker Sandanger was launched for Westfal-Larsen of Bergen. The launch was watched by a crowd of thousands. She was the biggest ship launched on the river since 1914. Sir Norman Thompson requested Government assistance for the four Wear yards closed due to lack of orders and another four on the brink of extinction. The Government responded with the Shipping Loan scheme in 1939.

WWII The yard's output reached 40 ships during the War. In 1940 the yard built the first of 23 standard "Empire" tramps. These were capable of carrying 10,000 tons of cargo at 11 knots and were powered by a relatively small 2500 horse power engine. The yard was seriously damaged by bombs during Spring 1943 and required substantial rebuilding. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the yard on 14th March 1943 to boost morale. The yard produced three fast cargo-liners powered by two steam turbines during 1944/45 after the repairs to the damaged yard had been completed.

1946 The yard returned to making tankers and built 38 over the next 20 years. These vessels increased in size each year.

1946 Took over John Crown and Sons but that yard continued building under its own name until 1960.

1954 The yard became a subsidiary of Sunderland Shipbuilding, Dry Dock and Engineering Co This was made up of the Thompson, Laing and Crown yards and the repairer T. W. Greenwell and Co.

1960 The North Sands yard was reorganised on land that had previously been occupied by the neighbouring Crown yard which had been purchased in 1946. A new extra large berth was created to allow supertankers and bulk carriers up to 100,000 dwt to be launched.

1961 The company changed its name to Doxford and Sunderland Shipbuilding and Engineering Co

1961 Shipbuilders and repairers.

1966 On 1st April a full merger of the yards happened. Thompson’s became the North Sands yard of the Doxford and Sunderland Group.

1966-71 The yard completed eleven bulk carriers in the range 32,300 dwt to 70,000 dwt. The latter size, known as Panamax size, was the largest to be able to use the Panama Canal.

1971 The yard began steelwork-intensive construction of four very large bulk carriers. These were the largest possible to be launched in the inner harbour of Sunderland. The slipways of the yard had to be extended and the first of these vessels was launched as Orenda on 3rd November 1971. She was fitted with the largest Doxford oil engine ever manufactured: a 9-cylinder version of 22,500 bhp.

1975 The final bulk carrier launch from the North Sands yard took place on 25th June when the 154,500 dwt Aurora was launched for P&O Bulk Carriers Ltd. The launch was watched by large crowds.

1979 J. L. Thompson’s yard was closed in 1979, although the fitting out quay was used by Doxford’s and Laing’s. The final ever launch took place at the North Sands yard on 24th May of the container carrying cargo liner Badagry Palm. Her Doxford 4-cylinder engine was one of the last manufactured and she reached speeds of over 17 knots on trials. The North Sands yard was then placed on a "care and maintenance" basis. The steel-working facilities remained intact and the Manor Quay outfitting-berth was used for ships launched by other yards in the Group.

1986 - The yard was reactivated for the construction of a huge crane barge which was capable of lifting 2000 tons for use in North Sea oilfields. This was launched in November 1986 as I.T.M. Challenger, her owners had gone into receivership and a new American buyer was found for her. She was renamed McDermott DB50. The yard has since been demolished and developed into housing, ending the centuries old shipbuilding at North Sands.

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