Ailsa Shipbuilding Co.Ltd Troon & Ayr - Part 1

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Bill Harvey
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Ailsa Shipbuilding Co.Ltd Troon & Ayr - Part 1

Post by Bill Harvey » Sun Sep 26, 2010 2:57 pm



Back in 1870
The 3rd. Marquis of Ailsa (1847 - 1938) had established himself as a local boatbuilder at Maybole. Subsequently he restyled as the Culzean Steam Launch & Yacht Works, at Culzean, Ayrshire.
Another source, Lloyds Register of Yachts, quotes

In 1883
The company was transferred, as the Culzean Shipbuilding & Engineering Company Ltd., to the Maidens Yard, Girvan, Ayrshire.

Also in 1883,
McKnight, McCredie & Company, had established themselves at Ayr, in a similar field. (restyled as S. McKnight & Company, when in April 1885, Alexander McCredie moved to become manager of the Maidens Yard of the Culzean Shipbuilding & Engineering Company Ltd.),

In May 1886
The company activity was transferred to the yard hitherto occupied by the then defunct Troon Shipbuilding Company, at Troon, Ayrshire, which had been established in 1810 by the 4th.Duke of Portland and had ceased trading in 1885/86.

The Marquis of Ailsa operated the new Troon venture under the auspices of the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company

Under his family guidance the new Company began to forge out a reputation as quality shipbuilders specialising in the smaller sizes of vessels.

54 hour working week introduced.

Friday 11th November 1899:
Watchman discovered a fire in a two storey building at the north end of the yard, the upper part utilised as the joiners and polishers shops and the lower as the boatbuilding shed. The building was burned to the ground with damage estimated at £15,000 although that was covered by insurance. The loss however did not affect the completion of FLESWICK, which was launched 14th December 1899 by Miss Mary Crockett one of the first tracers employed by Ailsa.

11th January 1900
As part of the restoration of the burnt building, installation of electricity had been installed. From this date the offices and yard were illuminated with electric lighting.

On Friday 31st May 1901
The Marquis of Ailsa agreed that Ailsa Shipbuilding Company should be reformed as the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company LIMITED and the assets of the old company be duly sold to the new concern.

26th September 1901
Ailsa Shipbuilding Company Ltd. registered, and the aforementioned transfer of assets undertaken.

In November 1902,
Ailsa Shipbuilding Company Ltd., had sufficient equity to purchase the assets and goodwill of S. McKnight & Company of Ayr, a few miles up the the coast, and to incorporate that yard into his own operational plans.
The two vessels under construction as Ayr yard No's 65 & 66 were completed by Ailsa Shipbuilding Company Ltd., whilst the title S. McKnight & Company Ltd., disappeared.

7th August 1903:
A revised offer of £1796 for new engine shop at Troon by Sir Wm. Arrol received by Marquess of Ailsa at Culzean.

15th April 1904:
Directors agreed the erection of the new shop for the construction of steam engines, for completion by 1907

6th September 1904:
Quote of £12,900 for hull; £5,450 for machinery
Total £18,350 for repeat of Gransha (Yd.No.96) for Shamrock Shipping Company, of Larne

1st November 1904:
Letter sent to the Admiralty requesting a place on the list of shipbuilders for vessels up to 300 feet long.
Two graving docks at Troon 289 x 37 feet and 375 x 48 feet
One patent slipway at Ayr believed to be one of the largest and best equipped in UK, capable of taking vessels up to 2,000 tons.

15th November 1905:
Letter of confirmation received from Hugh Craig, Belfast, for yard No. 156 - AILSA CRAIG £11,500 (£3,450 engine & boiler)

23rd February 1906:
Tender submission of £34,400 (£12,700 machinery) for yard No.165 ANNAN.

Shipbuilder’s first inhouse built engine (No.1) was installed in KELPIE yard No.157.

29th April 1908 - Directors of the Company were noted as:-
The Most Noble Archibald Kennedy, The Marquess of Ailsa,
Culzean Castle Peer.
Adam Wood esq. Portland Villa, Troon Coal Master.
Peter Wallace, Troon Shipbuilder.
William H. Wallace, Troon Shipbuilder.

EMPLOYEE STATE ON 12th January 1910

Total Earnings Total Earnings Total Earnings
Management & Clerical 4 £ 174 41 £ 3,107 12 £ 1,072
Apprentices & under 21’s 43 £ 913 70 £ 2,500 50 £ 610
Others 105 £ 6,850 356 £29,112 75 £ 6,102
152 £ 7,937 467 £35,219 137 £7,784
(1 Female) (8 Females) (2 Females)

30th March 1910:
A Mr. Patterson appointed as manager of the Ayr yard at £6 weekly.

The Hutchinson family (Moss, Hutchinson Line) acquired a substantial shareholding in the company which remained a closed company.

Monday 22nd August 1921
JOSE MENENDEZ - Christened but not launched. Largest ship yet built at Troon.

Tuesday 23rd August 1921
JOSE MENENDEZ - Launched at 15:30 before a large crowd and was filmed by the Gaumont Company Ltd.

47 hour working week introduced.

In subsequent years hulls were often built at Ayr and towed to Troon for completion if all the Troon building berths were fully occupied.
In the years after the Great War there was a steady decline in coal exports from the South Ayrshire coalfields through Ayr resulting in a reduced use of the port facilities. Coupled with this was the great World depression when shipyards were starved of new orders as marine transportation dwindled and existing ships were laid up for lack of work.

The shortage of orders combined with the decline of Ayr as a thriving port led to the decision to close the Ayr yard and to concentrate all activities at the Troon yard.

8th August 1938
s.y. VALENA docked in No.2 dock as the first vessel since the completion of the extension work and opening ceremony where Mrs D. C. Sword cut the ribbon stretched across the mouth of the dock.

Following the death of the Marquis Of Ailsa, the yards came under the complete control of the Hutchinson family.
At that time the Troon yard boasted the following facilities:-
• Four berths capable of building ships of up to 350 feet.
• An engine works capable of engines up to 5,000 horse power.
• Two graving docks of 400 and 289 feet in length.

The Ayr yard, which had remained dormantly owned since it's closure, was requisitioned by the Admiralty and re-opened as a ship repair yard.

The Ayr yard was returned to the control of Ailsa Shipbuilding Company Ltd.

On the 1st July 1947,
The Ayr yard was finally disposed of to the Ayr Engineering & Construction Company Ltd., for the repair of railway wagons, although sporatic ship repair work did continue for a few years after sale.

Engine Workshop extended and a licence obtained for the construction of Doxford opposed piston diesel engines up to 3,500 bhp and subsequently only seven were built before production was terminated without achieving a profit.


Type. No.of Bore & Stroke Service rating Weight
Cyls (mm) r.p.m. b.h.p. in tons
40 S.B.3 3 400 x 1,300 (540 + 760) 150 800 72
44 S.B.3 3 440 x 1,440 (620 + 820) 145 1,100 85
48 S.B.3 3 480 x 1,660 (700 + 960) 135 1,400 102
52 L.B.3 3 520 x 1,080 (880 + 1,200) 120 1,900 130
56 L.B.3 3 560 x 2,160 (910 + 1,250) 120 2,300 160
44 S.B.4 4 440 x 1,440 (620 + 820) 150 1,500 110
48 S.B.4 4 480 x 1,660 (700 + 960) 135 1,900 133
56 S.B.4 4 560 x 2,160 (910 + 1,250) 120 3,000 202

Last steam machinery constructed at the yard.

Steel working shops were reconstructed and modernised at an estimated cost of £500,000.

When faced with a hostile take-over bid, Chairman Peter Hutchinson approached his old school friend -35 year old Walter Gilbey of the gin firm.
Gilbey arranged for all of the shares in the yard to be acquired by the Gilbey Gold Trust Ltd., of London, for around £600,000 during February 1970.
The trust itself was owned by Mannin Industries of the Isle of Man and Peter Hutchinson was a member of both the trust and Mannin Industries.
The Board at the time were :-
Peter Hutchinson.......….Chairman.
T. E. MacKenzie.........….Managing Director.
Robert Kemp..............….Glasgow accountant.
J. Lee..........................…Chartered Secretary.
Alisdair Buchanan.......…Chartered accountant, London.

It was stressed at the time, by Walter Gilbey, that it was not a take-over with control being moved to London, but a merger, with the Gilbey Gold Trust being moved to and administered at Troon.

On 2nd March 1970
Sir James Hutchinson was re-appointed as Chairman of Ailsa and his son Peter introduced as Vice-Chairman. It was also stated that with the merger the Ailsa secretary and accountants would also become those acting for the Trust at Troon.

Autumn 1973:
Following an appraisal of the situation regarding delays in construction and repairs etc due to the regular extremes of weather in the exposed position of the yard, an approach had been made to acquire the shipyard land from British Transport Docks Board.
The main plan was for the construction of an enclosed building hall at the yard to eliminate delays and increase productivity.
The other benefit to the company was the fact that improved working conditions would attract people of suitable skills who would otherwise prefer the comfort of the workshops for light industries that were making inroads into the local area.

Spring 1974: Land acquired from BTDB and by mid 1974 contracts had been signed for the construction of the new facility.

Around this time the British shipbuilding industry as a whole was struggling for work. Although the larger yards were being hit hard the smaller yards were fairly buoyant with work.
Ailsa were no exception and were receiving a plentiful supply of enquiries for the type of vessel in which they specialised.

The other looming “dark cloud” was the Government intervention in the shipbuilding industry, cutting back in expenditure etc. and nationalisation of yards from which Ailsa appeared to be excluded -initially.

The new enclosed building hall was officially opened by Lord Clydesmuir, President of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry.
Also present were Mr. P. C. Hutchinson Chairman and T. E. Mackenzie, Managing Director. At the opening ceremony it was stated that the Company were averaging £250,000 profit on around £4 million turnover annually and had only made a loss twice in 20 years.
The hall, costing some £750,000 can accommodate the construction of vessels up to 115 metres in length although it is only 67½ metres long. The principal idea is that the stern section of the vessel be constructed alongside the forward part. At a suitable juncture the stern would be pushed out of the hall through the 22 metres high and 22½ metres wide door, into a position that would enable the forward section to be moved across and be united with the stern.

Due to unforeseen financial problems, despite modern assets the Company’s solvency was in doubt with a written down value of £1.3 million, an approach was made to the Government regarding their taking over the yard to safeguard it’s future.

In March 1978
Agreement with shareholders and the Government was reached. British Shipbuilders would acquire the Company.

1st June 1978
The company was formally taken over by British Shipbuilders Ltd., under a subsequent batch of Government nationalisation of shipyards.
Subsequent to this it was closely associated with the Clyde yard of Ferguson Brothers (Port Glasgow) Ltd., Port Glasgow. Subsequently the group of yards was restyled as Ferguson-Ailsa Ltd., and the two vessels under construction as Ferguson yard No. 491 and 492, were completed under the new title.

In December 1986
Closure of the Troon yard was averted when it was sold to the Perth Corporation, an Australian engineering concern, controlled by entrepreneur Greg Copley, reportedly as a £7 million Christmas present to his new wife Pamela.
For the next ten years the yard was to produce no new ships, although a substantial amount of repair and refurbishment work was undertaken.
Steel structures such as dock / lock gates were also constructed for various sites around the country such as the Manchester Ship Canal. These were launched in a similar method as ships and towed to their destinations.

In 1991
The yard was traded as Ailsa-Perth Shipbuilders Ltd., a subsidiary of Perth Corporation (Holdings) Ltd.

An order for a ferry for Orkney Islands Council received as the first ship to be built for ten years.

1st Quarter 1996
The Troon yard was however suffering financial problems, brought about by the unexpected financial collapse of the associated Ailsa - Perth Engineers and Fabricators of Forth in Lanarkshire.
With a debt of £2 million at the Troon yard, their turnover was exceeding £4 million and with a healthy order book the only alternative was to call in the receivers to administer and seek a buyer for the facility, which was at the time employing 120 personel.

On 6th March 1996,
Accountants KPMG were appointed and Mr Blair Nimmo allocated the task of administrator to sort out the problem.

When tenders were invited for the yard, there were reported to be in the region of 60 interested parties, most of whom were already involved in shipbuilding and / or repair activities. The deadline for bids was set rather quickly as at 5pm 19th March 1996. Upon closure only three bids had been received.

On 25th March 1996
The new owner was announced by the receiver.
The Cathelco Group based in Chesterfield, North Derbyshire, were specialists in marine engineering with a 1995 increased turnover of £3.2 million.
Founded in 1962 by Bill Salisbury, Cathelco initially produced pipework and anti-fouling systems for nuclear submarines a system that had since been adopted by commercial operators and in 1995/6 the 2,000th system was fitted to the cruise ship CENTURY.

Orders received for three trawlers for different owners.

Orders for the fitting out of two (+ 2 options) patrol vessels GRP hulls produced elsewhere – ultimately for the MofD.

Orders for 10 landing craft for British Aerospace – ultimately for the MofD.

Order for new ferry for Calmac.

6.2000: Redundancy notices issued and 85 staff laid off pending closure and sell-off of land for redevelopment.
The site was subsequently cleared, although the dry-docks were acquired by an unspecified party with the intention of re-commencing limited ship-repair work.


Home Farm

Maidens Shipyard. (Alexander McCredie, manager)



Acquisition of the Ayr yard of S. Mcknight & Company (Ltd) formerly Mcknight, Mccredie & Company

Ayr yard mothballed.

Ayr yard re-opened as repair facility by the Government

Ayr yard returned to owners control

Ayr yard sold .

Under British Shipbuilders.
Associated with Ferguson Bros. (Port Glasgow) Ltd.



(Perth Corporation (Holdings)Ltd.)



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