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Leith Shipyards

A history of the Ships built at the Henry Robb Shipyard in Leith, Scotland. Also a testimony to the men who built the Ships and to all who sailed in them.
 
     
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Leith Shipyards

 
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A Brief History of Henry Robb Shipyards

 

Prior to the emergence of yards like Henry Robb shipbuilding had been a mainstay of employement in the Port o Leith for many, many years.

Shipbuilding in (old) Leith

Although the Forth ranks next to the Clyde among Scottish shipbuilding districts, yet the shipbuilding industry in Leith has not kept pace with the progress of the Port. During the first half of the nineteenth century Leith gave promise of being one of the great shipbuilding centres of the country, but the Clyde seems to have drawn the trade away from the Port. It has five shipyards in which vessels up to four hundred feet can be built and engined, but now most work is done in the branch of ship repairing. It has six public and two private dry docks, all thoroughly equipped for cleaning and repairing ships. Vessels can there be overhauled without shifting port, a great convenience and economy.

One of the oldest shipbuilding firms in Leith was Messrs. Sime and Rankin's, which built several warships in the days of the old "wooden walls." Their yard, now built on, was opposite the Custom House, but their dry dock, dating from 1720, and the oldest in Leith still remains, between the Shore and Sandport Street, and now forms the repairing dock of Messrs. Marr and Company.

SIRIUSThe Steam Ship SIRIUS

At the Old Dock gates is the yard of Messrs. Menzies, a firm which has been established for over a century, and which has sent out many fine ships in its day. In 1837 Messrs. Menzies built the Sirius, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic, which she did in eighteen days, arriving a few hours before the Great Western, which had set out three days after her. The Sirius ran out of coal, and had to keep her furnaces going with timber and resin. The picture of the launch of the Royal Mail steamship Forth, of one thousand nine hundred and forty tons, from the yard of Messrs. Menzies in 1841—a painting greatly prized by the firm—shows that the launching of a vessel in Leith in those times, like the annual departure of the whaling fleet on its perilous voyage, was a notable event—the day being quite a gala day.

The greater part of the new tonnage launched at Leith is usually from the yard of Messrs. Ramage and Ferguson. The firm have built about ninety high-class steam yachts, and it is in connection with yacht building that their name is best known; but, in addition to yachts, they have also turned out many fine types of sailing ships, and passenger and cargo steamers, including light-draft passenger vessels for service in China.

A notable vessel recently built (early 1930's) was the five-masted sailing ship KØbenhavn, built for the East Asiatic Company, Copenhagen, and which is unique in being fitted with a 650 h.p. Diesel engine. The vessel is one of the largest sailing ships in the world. Messrs. Ramage and Ferguson's engine works have recently been modernized, and a large number of new machines fitted which enable them to cope with all branches of marine engineering. The boiler shop is capable of building boilers of the largest size.

Other shipbuilding firms are Messrs. Hawthorns, Messrs. Cran and Somerville, Messrs. Robb, and Messrs. Morton. Since the war a principal feature of the work of all the firms we have named has been the altering and equipping of the vessels surrendered by the Germans. In 1919, for instance, Messrs. Cran and Somerville alone dealt with over thirty surrendered merchant ships. The Port has also had a large share in refitting for their ordinary commercial service those merchant ships which the Admiralty had called into its service, and which had done splendid duty in patrolling, mine-sweeping, or transport.

Kobenhaven The Kobenhavn

 For more on the Kobenhaven see the next page.

 

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Comments   

 
0 #12 Bruce Partington 2016-07-15 21:10
I served my apprenticeship at Henry Robb as a Shipwright. I worked there from 1962 to 1972 and worked on 20 odd ships, barges, tugs and tankers plus RFA Engadine.
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0 #11 graeme white 2015-09-13 13:07
i worked at menzies robb in the sixties as a brassmoulder the photo of the dredger was where the foundry was a mister woods was the manager of the yard he was a ruthles man who pay men off at the flick of coin
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0 #10 Jennifer Steadwood 2015-06-18 22:22
My grandfather George Petford Steadwood, was like a secretary, he kept the minutes of meetings at the dockyards, he wrote them in old copperplate handwriting, my father David Linkstone Steadwood was a chap who caught rivets and hammered them home into the metal. I have photos of work mates of both eras.
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0 #9 M R Ross 2015-03-02 14:14
The chairman of BS refered to was J Graham Day, a solicitor. He succeeded Sir Robert Atkinson. day was appointed by Mrs T and in a meeting I attended shortly after his appointment, made it very clear that his remit was to sell the warshipbuilding yards.
I started in Robbs in leith, but only stayed for a year, before moving to Brooke Marine and finally Govan. What is missing from this paper is the international nature of shipbuilding. Keynes commented about the "loss" we suffered from the failures of the Luftwaffe to flatten more of UK industry. The problem that bedevilled UK shipbuilding was a failure to rationalise and invest after the war in a few large yards (Robbs would have been a casualty), built around dry docks, with an internationally competitive supply chain eg. steel plate. It was not poor industrial relations but woeful management and political neglect, that sunk UK shipbuilding. Ironically we still managed to design yards in Korea and the Middle East
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0 #8 Margaret Fraser 2014-03-09 02:01
My father, William Jenkins, was a ship draftsman, and worked at Henry Robb's shipyard during WWII. He became shipyard manager and I recall a visit to the yard by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Somewhere in the archives is a newspaper photo of the royal couple touring the yard and my father (complete with bowler hat).
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0 #7 John Spink 2014-01-22 12:45
Just had a brief look but will come back. Looks fascinating
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+1 #6 Ken Garden 2014-01-19 22:10
Worked at the Leith yard briefly in 1982. Just before the Falklands war, on the Trinity lighthouse ship 'Patricia' I recall how the yard was starved of investment. Everything was old & clapped out, cranes. Buildings, machinery etc. Our tea shack was a rotting portacabin and my mate and I had a pop rivet nailed into the wall of this rotting hulk of a cabin on which to hang our jackets. All in all I recall the place being a cold windswept depressing dump. That said the guys were great
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0 #5 Graham Hamilton 2013-10-29 02:12
Do any of the ship drawings still exist. I am looking for the drawings in order to make a model of the Wolraade Woltemade which was a tug built by Robb Caledon in the 1970's.
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+2 #4 Malcolm Robb 2012-01-29 13:55
My father, Magnus Robb - no relation to Henry - worked at Henry Robbs during WWII. I trained as a Radio Officer at Leith Nautical college in the 1970's and recall the launch of a tugboat at Robbs. It is sad that the dcks are no longer a the vibrant industry that they were. :sad: Splendid website!
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+2 #3 Gordon Reidie 2011-12-28 14:39
What an interesting site , I served my apprenticeship in "Robbs" from 1972 to 1977 approx . It was a great place to serve an apprenticeship although it was very tough and always freezing cold . I have fond memories of my time in Leith docks . :-)
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