John Brown's shipyard has a special place in the history of Clyde shipbuilding. The yard was started on Clydebank by brothers, J & G Thomson, in 1871, after they moved their operations from the site of the Graving Docks in Govan.
They had themselves been apprenticed to Robert Napier
(1791-1876), usually recognised as the father of shipbuilding on
the Clyde. He was a superb engineer who established his yard at
Govan, and went on to win ship building contracts both from the
Admiralty and from the Cunard Line.
The Thomsons built over 20 liners for Cunard as well for other
shipping lines. Among the other vessels they constructed were the
elegant paddle steamers which sailed up to the Western Isles and
the Highlands. These were especially popular with parties
heading north to stay at hunting lodges and Queen Victoria herself
on occasion used the service to travel to the Highlands.
In 1897 the yard was taken over by John Brown & Co.,
Sheffield steelmakers. It continued to make a variety of ships
but became best known for its great liners and warships.
Before the age of jet transatlantic flights in the 1960s the
passenger liner was in great demand, developing in size,
speed and sophistication.
For instance, the advanced 1880s liner, City of Paris,
built at Clydebank, was a steel screw steamer, 528 ft long,
weighing 10,699 tons and powered by 18,000hp compound engines. The
ill-fated Lusitania's sister ship, Aquitania, launched in 1913, was
901 ft long, weighing 47,000 tons and was driven by 60,000 hp
During the 1930s depression there was great despondency locally
when work on a new Cunard liner, no 534, was halted in December
1931. The recommencement of work in 1934 and subsequent launch of
this vessel as the Queen Mary, seemed symbolic of the resurgence in
the Clyde's fortunes. However, by the 1960s the yard was no longer
economic and was threatened with closure. It briefly became part of
Upper Clyde Shipbuilders which closed down in 1971. Thereafter the
John Brown engineering division continued in various ownerships.
The yard continued until 2001 building oil rigs and modules for
North Sea oil exploration, firstly as Marathon Shipbuilding and
then as UiE. The Queen Elizabeth 2, launched in 1967 and which
recently docked in the Clyde for a final visit before leaving for
her new mooring in Dubai, was the last great liner built at the
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