The Loftsman
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



The old steel shed at Henry Robb Shipyard

We are pleased to be able to tell you that the only remaining building from the Leith Shipbuilding era is to be re-opened as an art studio for budding artists to present there work.

This is the only remaining building that Forth Ports at the time never managed to knock down, which was no surprise as it was originally built to sustain attack from German Bombers during the dark days of World War Two.

The store was built at the request of the Admiralty to help protect, all the many ship plans and drawings that were required to build all the many warships, such as Corvettes and Frigates for the Royal Navy during the six years of War.

They required a secure facility from the threat of fire from incendiary bombs dropped by German aircraft.

Hell what chance had Forth Ports of knocking it down when the German bombers could not do it.


The building was constructed the same as a traditional riveted ship's superstructure complete with riveted seams and ships portholes.

Also used as a first aid station and latterly as a chemical/paint store it is just good to report that some use has been found for the building.

There are also plans to turn some of the building into a small museum space to show some shipbuilding items from this long almost lost history of hundreds of years of the art of shipbuilding at Leith, Scotland.

The following information on the old steel shed is from ex-Henry Robb Naval architect R. Rowbottom

This is the old steel store as we used to call it in the ship drawing office. It was built during WW11 as a safe store for the plans and documents relating to the ships Robbs were building at the time, frigates, corvettes etc. I think it was built at the request of the admiralty who required a bomb proof structure.

It was built of steel, with riveted seams. The roof was steel and the frames were angle iron, just like a ship. It was never tested by a direct hit.

The nearest bomb landed on sheds at the south west corner of the Victoria Dock. The ground floor of the building was used as a first aid post as it still was in my time. It was run by a qualified nursing sister.

 I well remember being sent to retrieve plans for reference in the drawing office when I was the office boy in 1952. I used to dread going into the place as we could never really find anything quickly.

The plans had been rolled up and stuffed into pigeon holes by previous office boys who couldn't care less. The place was covered in dust upstairs and reeked of disinfectant, Detol etc from the first aid station below!

I find it very amusing that the dock commissioners had difficulty in demolishing it.

It was built to resist the Jerry bombs..we built to last in those days as we did our ships!


The new artist group can be found at the following website


It turns out that the confusing thing about the "Old Steel Shed, is in the fact that it is now sited around 150m from where it originally was.

The old listed building has in fact been moved lock stock and barrel to a new location close to the old west Pier, the shed actually used to be on the south side of the Mould Loft which was just above the old platers shed both from the Ramage & ferguson days, and the corner of the shed had been angled to allow the railway cars to pass without knocking out the corner of the building.

This could well be the only listed building in Scotland to have been moved complete from where the building originally was in the first place. Oh it looks like it has also been turned around 180 degrees.

More on the History of Leith and shipbuilding in Leith

 To be continued.



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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.
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
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.
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
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).
0 #7 John Spink 2014-01-22 12:45
Just had a brief look but will come back. Looks fascinating
+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
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.
+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!
+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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