The shipyard that launched more than 1,350 ships
In 1824 William Laird joined forces with his son, John, to produce an iron barge using technology borrowed from the production of boilers. They soon became one of Britain’s most important manufacturers and, in 1903, they rose to become the pre-eminent shipbuilders when they merged with Johnson Cammell & Co.
Over the course of about 185 years some 1,350 ships launched into the River Mersey from the Cammell Laird slipways. Included among them was the world’s first steel ship, the Ma Robert, built for Dr David Livingstone in 1858. He used it to explore the Zambesi River in Africa.
The last Navy ship built at the yard, HMS Unicorn, was completed in 1993.
The largest of our renowned shipyards in the UK were Harland and Wolff in Belfast, John Brown at Clydebank, Swan Hunter at Wallsend on the north bank of the Tyne and Cammell Laird on the Mersey. In 1914, they and the many other smaller yards were responsible for producing more new tonnage then the rest of the world combined.
Now, apart from military ships for our own forces, specialist leisure cruisers, research vessels, and ferries, we manufacture little.
Cheaper wage and production costs and newer, more efficient technologies have seen China rise to become the world’s number one shipbuilder
Decline of shipbuilding in the UK
The decline in the UK’s shipbuilding industry is part of the de-industrialisation of Britain. Heavy manufacturing has declined to a fraction of what it was, to be replaced by ‘lighter’, technology driven manufacturing and service industries. It is working people who have suffered most in this change. More than 1.5 million jobs in heavy industry have been lost since 1950, and with them many prized manual skills and apprenticeships.
There are few jobs today for unskilled workers. The old industrial areas of northern England, central Scotland and south Wales have been hit the hardest as they have struggled to adapt to these changes.