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Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson

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Title: Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: C-class cruiser, V and W-class destroyer, HMS Wild Swan (D62), Arabis-class sloop, HMS Tyrian (R67), HMS Coventry (D43)
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Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson

Swan Hunter
Industry Shipbuilding
Naval architecture
Founded 1880
Headquarters River Tyne, England
Key people Jaap Kroese, (Chairman)
Jan Veldhuizen, (Managing Director)
Employees 200 (2008)

Swan Hunter, formerly known as "Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson", is a shipbuilding design, engineering and management company.[1] The company was one of the best known shipbuilding companies in the world but ceased shipbuilding operations on Tyneside in 2006.

Based in Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, the company was responsible for some of the greatest ships of the early 20th century — most famously, the RMS Mauretania which held the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic, and the RMS Carpathia which rescued the survivors from the RMS Titanic.

At its apex, the company represented the combined forces of three powerful shipbuilding families: Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson.


Swan & Hunter was founded by George Burton Hunter, who formed a partnership with the widow of Charles Sheridan Swan (the owner of a Wallsend Shipbuilding business established in 1852 by Dr Charles Mitchell)[2] under the name in 1880.[3]

In 1903, C.S. Swan & Hunter merged with Wigham Richardson (founded by John Wigham Richardson as Neptune Works in 1860), specifically to bid for the prestigious contract to build RMS Mauretania on behalf of Cunard.[4] Their bid was successful, and the new company, Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd, went on to build what was to become, in its day, the most famous ocean going liner in the world. Also in 1903 the Company took a controlling interest in the Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Company, which was an early licensed manufacturer of Parsons turbine engines, which enabled the Mauretania to achieve its great speed.[5] The Mauretania was launched from Wallsend on 20 September 1906 by the Duchess of Roxburghe.[6] The firm expanded rapidly in the early part of the twentieth century, acquiring the Glasgow-based Barclay Curle in 1912.[5]

In 1966 Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson merged with Smith's Dock Co to form Associated Shipbuilders, later to become Swan Hunter Group.[7] Following the publication of the Geddes Report recommending rationalisation in British shipbuilding, the Company went on to acquire Clelands Shipbuilding Company[8] and John Readhead & Sons in 1967.[9] Meanwhile Swan Hunter inherited both the Naval Yard at High Walker on the River Tyne of Vickers-Armstrongs[8] and the Hebburn Yard of Hawthorn Leslie in 1968.[9] In 1973 further expansion came with the purchase of Palmers Dock at Hebburn from Vickers-Armstrongs.[10]

Then in 1977, Swan Hunter Group was nationalised as part of British Shipbuilders.[7] The flagship of the Royal Navy, HMS Ark Royal was built at Swan Hunter during this period, entering service in 1985.[11]

The Company was privatised again in 1987 but decided to close its Neptune Yard in 1988.[12] It was then forced to call in the receivers when the UK government awarded the contract for HMS Ocean to Kvaerner Govan in 1993.[13] The Receiver took steps to break up the business.[14] However the main shipyard in Wallsend was bought out from receivership by Jaap Kroese, a Dutch millionaire.[7] The yard subsequently undertook several ad-hoc ship repair and conversion projects for private-sector customers.[15]

In 2000 Swan Hunter was awarded the contract to design and build two (Auxiliary) Landing Ship Dock ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary with two other ships being built by BAE Systems Naval Ships: the cost of the two Swan Hunter ships was to be £210 million including £62 million for lead yard services, with an inservice date of 2004.[16] By July 2006, the costs had risen to £309 million and only one ship had been delivered. As result of this, the second ship RFA Lyme Bay was transferred to BAE Govan for completion.[17]

In 2001 Swan Hunter acquired Kvaerner's Port Clarence offshore yard at Teesside[18] but then in 2006 sold it to Wilton Engineering Group.[19]

In November 2006, after the failure to complete Lyme Bay within budget and resulting exclusion from future Royal Navy shipbuilding projects, Jaap Kroese announced that the business was effectively finished and placed the Wallsend Yard's iconic cranes up for sale. He also said that he was actively looking for a buyer for the land.[20] In April 2007, Swan Hunter's cranes, along with its floating dock and other equipment, were sold to Bharati Shipyards, India's second largest private sector shipbuilder. The entire plant machinery and equipment from Swan Hunter was dismantled and transported to India over six months to be rebuilt at Bharati Shipyards.[21]

In 2008 the company said it was concentrating on ship design with just under 200 people employed.[1][22]


The Company owned three main yards:

All three were on the north side of River Tyne. The company also owned the Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Company, the yard that built the engines for the Mauretania, from 1903 until the 1980s. At various times Swan Hunter also owned Palmers Hebburn Yard, Hawthorn Leslie Hebburn Yard and Readheads at South Shields which were all on the south side of the River Tyne.

Ships built by Swan Hunter

Naval vessels Commercial vessels
  • MV Achiever (circa 1984)
  • Atlantic Causeway (1969)
  • Atlantic Conveyor (1970)
  • Augustina (1927)
  • Aurania (1916)
  • Ascania (1911)
  • MV Badagry Palm (1) (1956)
  • MV Bamenda Palm (1) (1958)
  • British Admiral (1917)
  • British Character (1941)
  • British Colony (1927)
  • British Diligence (1937)
  • British Dominion (1928)
  • British Empress (1917)
  • British Endurance (1936)
  • British Fame (1936)
  • British Fusilier (1923)
  • British Governor (1926)
  • British Gratitude (1942)
  • British Grenadier (1922)
  • British Gunner (1922)
  • British Harmony (1941)
  • British Hussar (1923)
  • British Influence (1939)
  • British Motorist (1924)
  • British Petrol (1925)
  • British Pluck (1928)
  • British Resolution (1937)
  • British Respect (1943)
  • British Sailor (1918)
  • British Scout (1922)
  • British Star (1918)
  • British Tenacity (1939)
  • British Thrift (1928)
  • British Union (1927)
  • British Virtue (1945)
  • British Viscount (1921)
  • RMS Carpathia (1902)
  • City of Canterbury (1922)[23]
  • MV Derbyshire (1976)
  • TSS Dover (1965) for British Rail
  • SS Dwarka (1947)
  • MV Elmina Palm (1957)
  • MV Enugu Palm (1958)
  • Franconia (1910)
  • MV Ghandara (circa 1976)
  • MV Ibadan Palm (1959)
  • MV Ikeja Palm (1961)
  • MV Ilesha Palm (1961)
  • MV Ilorin Palm (1959)
  • MV Sir Parkes (1951)
  • Imbricaria (1935)
  • SS Ivernia (1899)
  • MV Kano Palm (1958)
  • MV Katsina Palm (1957)
  • MV Kowloon Bridge (1973)
  • SS Kyle (1913)
  • RMS Laconia (1911)
  • RMS Laconia (1921)
  • MV Lagos Palm (1961)
  • TS Leda (1952)
  • Lida (1938)
  • MV Lobito Palm (1960)
  • MV Matadi Palm (1970)
  • RMS Mauretania (1906)
  • MV Megantic (1962)
  • Mitra (1912)
  • Mytilus (1916)
  • Neverita (1944)
  • MV Opopo Palm (1942)
  • MV Port Fairy (1928)
  • TEV Rangatira (1971)
  • Spartan (1890)
  • MV Stephano (1965)
  • Toiler (1910)[24]
  • SS Volo (1938)
  • Vistafjord/Saga Ruby (1972)
Cable ships
  • Alert
  • All America
  • Ariel
  • Bullfinch
  • Bullfrog
  • Bullhead
  • Cambria
  • Colonia
  • Dominia
  • Edward Wilshaw
  • Emile Baudot
  • Guardian
  • Iris
  • John W. Mackay
  • Lord Kelvin
  • Marie Louise Mackay
  • Monarch
  • Pacific Guardian (1984)
  • Patrol
  • Recorder
  • Sir Eric Sharp (Launched 1988 - renamed CS IT Intrepid )
  • St. Margarets
  • Stanley Angwin
  • Telconia

Bulk Carrier

  • MV Hoegh (circa 1986) (Correct name is MV Hoegh Duke 1984)
  • Robkap IV (1977)

Research Vessels


  • Shell Supplier (1946)
  • Velutina (1950)
  • Velletia (1952)
  • Helix (1953)
  • Helcion (1954)
  • Heldia (1955)
  • Helisoma (1956)
  • Volvula (1956)
  • Llanishen (1957)
  • Zaphon (1957)
  • Varicella (1959)
  • Solen (1961)
  • Ottawa (1964)
  • Sir Winston Churchill (1964)
  • Clementine Churchill (1965)
  • Narica (1967)
  • Nacella (1968)
  • Esso Northumbria (1969)
  • Esso Hibernia (1970)
  • Texaco Great Britain (1971)
  • London Lion (1972)
  • World Unicorn (1973)
  • Windsor Lion (1974)
  • Tyne Pride (1975)
  • Everett F. Wells (1976)
  • BP Achiever (1983)

See also


External links

  • Official Website
  • Tyne and Wear Archives Service
  • Iconic images of tankers being built at Swan Hunter 1970s
  • Oral histories from ex-Swan Hunter shipyard workers and images of the site, collected by Tyne & Wear Museums & Archives Service.

Coordinates: 54°59′12″N 1°31′43″W / 54.98675°N 1.52856°W / 54.98675; -1.52856

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