John Brown and Co Ltd Engineers and Shipbuilders, Clydebank

Slipway and derricks
Black and white photograph, c.1900s
Associated Newspapers Ltd (Daily Mail)
RCAHMS: Sir William Arrol and Co Collection

HMS Arcadia on slipway
Black and white photograph, 1959
RCAHMS: Sir William Arrol and Co Collection

Tower crane being erected by Sir William Arrol and Co
Black and white photograph, 1959
RCAHMS: Sir William Arrol and Co Collection

John Brown and Company took over an existing shipyard at Clydebank in 1899, and developed into one of the leading firms in the world, constructing many notable warships and liners. The yard’s location at the confluence of the River Clyde, with the tributary River Cart, enabled ships of massive scale to be launched.

John Brown built several ships that played important roles in both World Wars, including RMS Lusitania (a passenger liner torpedoed by Germany in 1915), and battlecruisers such as HMS Hood, HMS Tiger and HMS Repulse that served in the First World War. HMS Vanguard, the last battleship built in the world, and the aircraft carrier HMS Indefatigable were constructed in the 1940s.

Naval orders ground to a halt in the interwar period, hitting British shipbuilding extremely hard. John Brown only just survived in the 1920s, thanks to orders for the giant Cunard White Star Liners RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth.

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. By the end of the 1950s, however, the rise of other shipbuilding nations made many British yards, which had continued to use outmoded working practices and largely obsolete equipment, uncompetitive.

The last passenger liner order eventually came from Cunard with RMS Queen Elizabeth II but the yard had merged into Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, which collapsed amidst much controversy in 1971. The last true ship to be built at the yard, the bulk grain carrier, Alisa, was completed in 1972.