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Arbroath: Decline of shipbuilding in 19th century
David G. Adams Reviews the Heyday of
SHIPBUILDING IN ARBROATH
Retrenchment and Decline
Stephen's yard was taken over by Andrew Young late in 1857. He was paid by Stephen's trustees to complete the clipper-barque Barracouta for the Liverpool - China tea trade but, in 1858, after completing another barque he failed and his last vessel, the brig Dawn was towed to Dundee for completion by Alexander Stephen and Sons. After the mid-1850's the largest vessels built locally were barques of up to 350 tons, the last being built in 1864. With the switch to rail for bringing in flax and jute from Dundee, fewer large vessels were needed and schooners for coastal trade constituted about half of these produced.
John Hall who may have succeeded Young in using Stephen's old yard, built twelve vessels between 1860 and 1863 of which ten were schooners. Half of his vessels were for owners in Montrose, Dundee, Leith and Wexford. Most of the schooners were around 100 tons but two, for local owners, were nearly 200 tons and may have been three-masted. D. Farquhar and Co., who may have succeeded Chisholm, Simpson and Peters, were active between 1855 and 1859 building schooners of about 100 tons and brigs up to 240 tons, one for Dundee and one for Liverpool owners. Only two vessels were built in Arbroath in 1859.
In 1860 the Arbroath Shipbuilding Company commenced building beside the public slip on the east of the harbour, a site reclaimed when the harbour was extended from 1840 and probably used previously by D. Farquhar and Chisholm, Simpson and Peters.
Similarly named shipbuilding companies were set up in Dundee and Montrose by unemployed shipcarpenters in a slump in the 1850's. but this may have been an ordinary capitalist venture as a Mr Henderson is recorded as a senior partner.
Inset:- Diagram of sailing rigs
The company built two or three vessels annually until 1870 almost two-thirds of these being schooners. Barques were built up to 1864 after which brigs of nearly 250 tons were built. The average size of schooners was also smaller than earlier, but only five of the 24 vessels built were for outsiders.
The company was the only local builder by 1864 and reformed in 1865. Their last vessel, the schooner Romala, was launched on May 6, 1872, having been commissioned by W. Cargill but was sold for £1200 for Captain Hood who had skippered two other schooners built by the firm in 1869 and 1871. there were no vessels built in the years 1873 - 75.
As at Montrose, Dundee, and Aberdeen, the great boom in building wooden sailing ships had come to an end as iron hulls and steam power began to take over. At Montrose, where there had been five yards, There was also a complete cessation of activity between 1873 and 1876.
At Arbroath, James Roney, from Stephen's Dundee yard, rented a yard and built six vessels in the period 1876 to 1881 but only two were for local owners. The six comprised two schooners, two brigantines, a 24 ton smack and the most famous, the Abertay lightship built in 1877 for Dundee Harbour Trustees and only replaced in 1939 after damage in 1937. She was used as a blockship during the war and was finally scrapped in 1945-46.
So it could be said in 1887 that shipbuilding in the mid-19th century had been one of the most important industries of the town, with three yards giving employment to hundreds of men but by then there was not one. The ropeworks ancillary to the industry situated nearby Gayfield Park and Ladyloan school had also gone. Around Grimsby and Ladyloan, where most of the shipbuilders and their men lived, had been a great concentration of granaries, ropeworks sailmakers' lofts and seafarers' taverns. Handwoven sailcloth made in Arbroath had been considered the best of its kind, but with the decline of the sailing ship this trade also disappeared.
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