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.

William Laird and Son

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of Birkenhead

1824 William Laird, with business partners William Hamilton and John Forsyth, bought land on the south bank of Wallasey Pool, an inlet of the River Mersey opposite Liverpool, adjoining the small but developing village of Birkenhead. Initially he intended to build a canal across the Wirral peninsula but that plan soon foundered. Instead, Laird set up the Birkenhead Iron Works to manufacture boilers with another partner, Daniel Horton.

1828 The partnership was dissolved. Laird and his son with his son John, a solicitor's clerk, set up a new business,William Laird and Son. This was initially a boilerworks.

1828 John realised that the techniques of making boilers could be applied to making ships. In 1828 the firm received its first order for an iron ship, to be used on the lakes of Ireland. The business rapidly expanded, as the demand for large iron steamships developed.

1829 Built a lighter (ship) made of iron 60ft long, 13ft 4 ins beam and 6 ft deep. [1]. This 60-ton lighter, the Wye, was for use on inland waterways in Ireland.

1832 Another son, Macgregor Laird, was establishing his own yard on the Liverpool bank from 1832. Macgregor Laird was also known as a human rights activist for African peoples, and undertook several voyages into the interior of Africa.

1833 Built a paddle-steamer, the Lady Lansdowne. Like the Wye it was built in sections for reassembly in Ireland.

1834 An early innovation was the use of bulkheads in the small paddle steamer Garryowen. In addition, the yard made a number of iron gunboats.

1834 Built another prefabricated vessel, the John Randolph, for G. B. Lamar of Savannah, the first iron ship to be built for an American owner.

1835 Prefabricated riverboats became a speciality - the Tigris and Euphrates, with which F. R. Chesney explored the Euphrates.

1837 The Rainbow was the 10th ship built by Mr Laird on the patented principles intended to ensure safety[2]; the Rainbow was the largest iron ship of its day.

Also constructed the Robert F. Stockton, a screw-steamer; and the Nemesis, a gunboat used in the opium wars with China; the Dover for the Admiralty in 1839.

1838-42 See 1839-1842 Marine Engine Makers for details of engines made for the Admiralty

1839 Built an armed flotilla for the East India Company.

1841 Death of William Laird

1843 'Derby Buildings, Liverpool, June 6, 1843.
"Sir,—The late fires having drawn the attention of all parties interested in their prevention to the best means of rendering future warehouses fireproof, or as nearly so as possible, I take the liberty of calling your attention to two now in progress of erection by Messrs. Holme, in Vulcan-street, Clarence Dock, and for which I am supplying the iron-work, which enters very largely into their construction. My object in thus addressing you is to call your attention, and that of any other member of the council who may feel interested in the subject, to the iron beams for carrying the floors and the amount of pressure which they will sustain. Each beam is proved on the ground with an hydraulic press before being put in its place to the extent of 35 tons weight in the centre, being equivalent to a weight on the whole floor of five tons per square yard, — a greater amount of weight by about two tons per square yard than is generally calculated to be borne by existing warehouses. Many doubts having been expressed as to the prudence of using iron beams for warehouse floors, I am desirous that any parties who entertain such doubts may have an opportunity of testing their opinion by actual experiment, the proving of the beams being daily in progress. At the same time I beg to call your attention to the other iron-work used in the construction of these warehouses, the intention being to complete them without any wood-work, so that as far as stone, brick, and iron can make a building fireproof, they shall be so. The attention of the council is also called to a new and improved mode of recessing the warehouse doors, thereby doing away with pent-houses, and affording security to passengers from the fall of goods. I should not have ventured to bring the matter thus publicly before you did I not feel that I addressed you on a subject which is becoming daily of more importance, and regarding which it is desirable to obtain as much information as possible, both as to the brat way of improving the construction of future, and altering the existing warehouses, there being in the building referred to many details connected with external iron-work which might easily adapted to the present warehouses. "I am, Sir, your most obedient humble servant, (Signed) " W. LAIRD." '[3]

1850 The Admiralty were uncertain about the ability of iron to protect warships and conducted several tests, eventually concluding that the Nemesis had been successful because it operated in warm waters whereas iron was too brittle if used in the cold waters around the British Isles[4]

1850s The site of the yard was acquired by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board for Birkenhead Docks. John Laird's moved to a new site between Monks Ferry and Tranmere Pool. This was known as the North Yard. The famous explorer Dr. Livingstone ordered his river steamer Ma Robert from the yard.

1855 New Iron Mortar Boats launched (John Laird)

1850s The Admiralty's refusal to believe in iron ships nearly broke the yard[5]

1860 On 1st January John Laird took his sons William and John into the firms, and the title was changed to John Laird, Sons and Co.

1861 John Laird retired in order to become an MP.

1862 Became Laird Brothers with William, John and Henry as owners and managers. From this point onwards the yard built up a formidable reputation as a merchant shipbuilder.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Fielden’s Magazine Vol 4
  2. Liverpool Mercury, October 20, 1837
  3. Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser - Friday 9 June 1843
  4. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy, by J. R. Hill, Bryan Ranft
  5. The Times, May 05, 1970