John Brown & Company: Wikis


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John Brown & Company
Former type Public
Fate Ceased shipbuilding
Successor Shipyard sold to Marathon Oil, 1972
John Brown Engineering acquired by Trafalgar House, 1986
Founded 1851
Defunct 1986
Headquarters Clydebank, UK
Industry Shipbuilding

John Brown and Company of Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, was a pre-eminent marine engineering and shipbuilding firm, responsible for building many notable ships.





The shipyard was founded by James and George Thomson,[1] brothers who had worked for the famous engineer Robert Napier. The Thomson brothers named the yard J&G Thomson after their Glasgow foundry, established in Anderston in 1847. In 1851 they opened a shipyard at Cessnock,[1] launching their first ship, named the Jackal, in 1852. They quickly established a reputation in building prestigious passenger ships, building the Jura for Cunard in 1854 and the record breaking Russia in 1867.

The company moved to the Barns o' Clyde (later re-named Clydebank) near the village of Dalmuir in 1871.[1] The location at the confluence of the River Clyde, with the tributary River Cart at Newshot Isle, allowed very large ships to be launched. Despite severe financial difficulties the company developed a reputation based on engineering quality and innovation.

John Brown and Company, a Sheffield-based steel-manufacturer took over J&G Thomson's Clydebank yard in 1899.[1]

In the early 1900s, the company innovated marine engineering technology through the development of the Brown-Curtis turbine,[1] which had been originally developed and patented by the U.S. company International Curtis Marine Turbine Co. The performance of these engines impressed the Royal Navy which, as a consequence, placed orders for many of its major warships with John Brown. They also became the shipbuilders of choice for the Cunard Line, building their flagship liners; the RMS Lusitania and RMS Aquitania. The company also established the Coventry Ordnance Works joint venture with Yarrow Shipbuilders and others in 1905. In 1909, the company also bought a stake in Sociedad Española de Construcción Naval.

RMS Queen Elizabeth on the Slipway at Clydebank, circa 1938.

The end of World War I, and the subsequent famine of naval orders hit British shipbuilding extremely hard, and John Brown only just survived. Three great ships saved the yard, they were the RMS Empress of Britain and the giant Cunard White Star Liners: the RMS Queen Mary and the RMS Queen Elizabeth.[1]

World War II and after

Indefatigable is launched, December 1942.

The yard made a valuable contribution to the war effort, building and repairing many battleships. The immediate post war period saw a severe reduction in warship orders which was balanced by a prolonged boom in merchant shipbuilding to replace tonnage lost during the war, the most notable vessels constructed during this period were the RMS Caronia and the HMY Britannia. By the end of the 1950s, however, the rise of other shipbuilding nations in Europe, Korea and Japan, newly recapitalised and highly productive, using new methods such as Modular design, made many British yards, which had continued to use outmoded working practices and largely obsolete equipment, uncompetitive.[1] At Clydebank, the management pursued a strategy of tendering for a series of break-even contracts, most notably the Kungsholm liner, in the hope of weathering the storm and maintaining production in anticipation of a new high-profile contract from Cunard for a new liner, but due to rising costs and inflationary pressures, the company suffered major and unsustainable losses as a result. By the mid 1960s, John Brown & Co's management, warned that its shipyard was uneconomic and potentially faced closure.[1] The last order for the Royal Navy came in the form of the Fearless class landing platform dock, HMS Intrepid, which was launched in 1964 before undergoing trials and commissioning in 1967.

The last passenger liner order eventually came from Cunard with RMS Queen Elizabeth 2, but in 1968 the yard merged into Upper Clyde Shipbuilders,[2] which collapsed in 1971.[3] The last true ship to be built at the yard, the bulk grain carrier, Alisa, was completed in 1972.[1] The Clydebank shipyard continued to operate from 1972 under the ownership of Marathon Oil and then UiE Scotland from 1980 until 2001, constructing oil platforms in support of the North Sea oil fields.[4]

The commercially successful John Brown Engineering division of the company, which manufactured pipelines and industrial gas turbines and included other subsidiaries like Markham & Co., continued to trade independently until 1986, when it was acquired by Trafalgar House, which also owned who also owned the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company.[5]

In 1996 Trafalgar House itself was purchased by Kvaerner.[6] It later was split, with Kvaerner retaining some assets, which became Kvaerner Energy, and Yukos obtaining John Brown Hydrocarbons and Davy Process Technology, both in based in London.[7] In 2000 Kvaerner Energy closed its gas turbine manufacturing in Clydebank with the loss of 200 jobs, finally ending the link between John Brown and Clydebank, with the site demolished in 2002. John Brown Hydrocarbons was sold to CB&I in 2003 and renamed CB&I John Brown, and later CB&I UK Limited.[8] A new Gas Turbine servicing and maintenance company formed by former management headed by Mr. Duncan Wilson and engineers from John Brown Engineering, named John Brown Engineering Gas Turbines Ltd has also been re-established in East Kilbride in 2001.

Regeneration of the Clydebank site

HMY Britannia at pierhead on the River Mersey, Liverpool.

A comprehensive regeneration plan for the site is currently being implemented by West Dunbartonshire Council and Scottish Enterprise. The masterplan is based around making the Clydebank waterfront more accessible to the public, and the plans include; restoring the historic Titan Crane originally built by Sir William Arrol & Co. for the Clyde shipyard,[9] the construction of a new campus for Clydebank College which opened in August 8, improved infrastructure, modern offices and a light industrial estate, and new housing, retail and leisure facilities. It was hoped that the Queen Elizabeth 2 would have been brought back to the city and the river of her birth as part of the plan. On 18 June 2007 the Cunard Line announced that the ship would be sold to Dubai as a floating hotel.[10]

Ships built by John Brown and Company

Ships built by John Brown included:

Royal Yacht

Aircraft carrier







Paddle Steamers


External links

Coordinates: 55°53′52″N 4°24′16″W / 55.897786°N 4.404423°W / 55.897786; -4.404423


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